I have developed a pathological hatred of timelines. My old colleague, an extremely bright and gifted historian who has since left teaching to pursue a slightly mysterious career path, loved a timeline. Our schemes of work are littered with them, and as we rework our KS3 program of study this year, I was looking forward to killing them off completely. He used to include them as a recap at the start of each year, placing various time periods and groups of people (eg, Saxons) on a 2000-year spread. I don’t know how he used to do it, but the whole business is just painful for me and I mostly avoided it.
In the interests for fairness, though, I decided to give it one last try this year before weeding it out. It was a shambles. Even my brightest students evenly spaced their events along the timeline, with complete disregard for timescale. “You have to bunch the last six things tightly at the end,” I warned. “I’ve finished Miss, and I didn’t have to bunch them up!!” came the reply from more than one student. *headdesk*
So, I started to wonder, what is the point of doing the timeline? What historical purpose does it serve? Thinking about Harry Fletcher-Wood’s blog about testing what you value, I wondered – do I value the skill of timelining? It clearly has a numeracy crossover, but what makes this
better than this?
And if I don’t know the answer, why am I making them do it when it is so painful for all concerned?
In discussion with Rich Kennett, Alex Ford and Dave Stacey on Twitter, some ideas began to emerge. It’s helpful for identifying change and continuity over time. It can help with organising causation factors – long-term and short-term, chain of events and so on. Ryan Campbell, a History teacher in Jakarta, chipped in that the rise of digital history and big data require students to do more data analysis at secondary level. Dave said it was interesting and could unlock a whole new level of understanding; Alex agreed that those who completed his timeline of events of the French Revolution well were better able to explain change over time during the period.
With that in mind, I have done annotated timeline assessments for Y7 and Y8 as this term draws to a close. Both have been doing a development study: Y7 have been looking at why people migrated to Britain before 1000; Y8 have been looking at changes to the British diet since 1000. We’re only part-way through so far but, interestingly, they have all done better with plotting the events than on the first pass at the start of the unit when they plotted generic events I provided.