Ten Reasons to Visit Alabama

Over the Easter holidays I was fortunate enough to be included on a familiarisation trip to Alabama with MSG Tours, who are launching a new tour for schools there. Four History educators and one tour manager toured the sites to get a feel for how a school trip might work and what the benefits might be for students attending, all organised and planned by the tourist board – of course, called Sweet Home Alabama. Full disclosure – I didn’t pay for the trip but wasn’t asked to write this up and it’s not intended as an advert. I am a convert and can see huge benefits to taking students there. If you’re considering a school trip to the USA then you should seriously consider heading south rather than north.

1. The Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery

We visited this towards the end of our trip, on our last full day, and it caught me by surprise because I hadn’t heard of it before and therefore hadn’t really clocked it on the itinerary. However, it definitely had the biggest impact on me.

We visited the memorial first, which is dedicated to victims of lynching across the USA. It is laid out as a series of engraved metal boxes, each one representing a different US county and carrying the names of lynching victims, where there are records of them. Walking through it was a very powerful experience and brought me to tears.


It pairs with the Legacy Museum, in downtown Montgomery, which traces the history of slavery and its legacies. Having spent the previous weekend on the Historical Association Teaching Fellowship considering Britain and slavery, it was humbling to see how carefully and thoroughly the subject had been dealt with, particularly in light of the fact we don’t have anything similar in the UK yet.

We had around 45 minutes in each space but could easily have spent twice as long at the memorial and three times as long at the museum. The opening of it has been controversial and both sites require patrons to enter through metal detectors – which opens up a whole avenue of discussion to be had with students around history, memory, politics, tourism, ethics…

2. Kelly Ingram Park and its surroundings

Kelly Ingram Park was the site of several civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s. There is a circular walk around the mark to take in several pieces of sculpture related to the civil rights movement, including a statue of Martin Luther King and beds full of Coretta Scott King roses, and some replica water cannon of the type used by Bull Connor on student demonstrators in the park in 1963. There’s even a tree planted in honour of Anne Frank.

Kelly Ingram Park sits opposite the 16th Street Baptist Church, famous site of the 1963 Klan bombing that killed four little girls, and also opposite the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. We visited the former on Sunday morning for part of their service and then moved on to the latter for a tour with another fantastic tour guide, Dr Martha Bouyer, who modestly informed us that she’d worked with schools on their History programmes but when we Googled her we found that she’d basically spent 15 years in charge of the curriculum for her county. She was one of those guides where other visitors start to surreptitiously tag along with your tour because she’s so interesting – to be fair, that happened with almost all of our guides. She really knew her stuff.


The museum was filled with artefacts relating to segregation and even has the actual bars of the cell Martin Luther King was held in when he wrote his ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ And a KKK robe, displayed with a partially burnt cross from the 1990s, donated by the FBI. THE 1990sAlso I got to stand in Rev Shuttlesworth’s pulpit. Guys. How can you not go. Here’s a good article about this place


So, anyway, all of this is within a few minutes’ walk and just round the corner from an excellent eatery called Pizitz food hall which serves all kinds of different foods (including fried catfish and chicken and waffles) and could only be more perfect for a bunch of teenagers if it had a McDonald’s in it, the lack thereof making it even more perfect in the eyes of a majority of teachers, I’d imagine.

3. Vulcan Park

Because it’s been a while since I taught the CRM at A-level, I tried to brush up my subject knowledge before the trip and started with Vulcan Park, but was left feeling puzzled about its relevance. However, it added a whole extra layer of detail to the history of Birmingham and its people. You can see the whole city laid out below you and climb to the top of the Vulcan monument, which is the world’s largest cast iron statue and a reminder of Birmingham’s steelworking legacy. Dr Bouyer accompanied us to the park and talked us through the origins of the city and the way the geology of the area makes it perfect for steel production but also how it contributed to segregation in the area. One of the biggest steel concerns, Sloss, paid its workers in ‘clackers’ that could only be spent at the company store, rather than in cash, leading to workers being indebted to the company; ‘slavery by another name’, as Martha put it.

There’s a lot here to be discussed from a history point of view – the legacy of slavery and conditions for people of colour after emancipation; America’s industrial revolution (Birmingham has no large body of water and was founded as something of an experiment to see whether rail would do instead); but it’s also a lovely bit of geology/geography and there’s a fantastic display in the museum of the different Supreme Court judgements that Alabama has played a part in.

4. Selma

There’s not much to see in Selma, but what there is packs a punch. We met with a guide who walked across the bridge on the freedom march of 1965, and then again on the anniversary of it with the Obamas – we know this second bit because we saw her in a picture for sale at the Lowndes Interpretive Centre, a museum and monument on the road between Selma and Montgomery. She spoke with passion and energy about the march and the civil rights struggle, walking us across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and telling us about her experiences in the movement. It was one of the most powerful bits of the trip. It also felt humbling to be able to walk across the bridge with such ease, knowing the weight of history that surrounds that act.


5. The most historic corner in America

This space in Montgomery also has a heavy weight of history on it. In the centre, where the fountain is, there used to be an auction site for enslaved people. The telegram that authorised military action at the start of the American Civil War was sent from the Winter building, on one corner. The Selma to Montgomery marchers crossed it on their way to the state capitol, and Rosa Parks got on her bus on another corner. There’s a lot of history here.

6. Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church

A little further up from this historic corner is the church where Martin Luther King preached. Once again, we had a spectacular guide who took us around the church, explaining the mural, allowing us to stand at MLK’s pulpit…


(It had to be done, obvs)

…and then taking us up into the Church and speaking with such verve about the civil rights struggle that it all became very emotional. It’s one thing to read about these places and see pictures, but a real benefit of the trip was to be able to visit them in quick succession, being contextualised with nuggets of information from people that witnessed the events and for whom this isn’t so much history as a memoir. That MLK should end up the pastor at a Baptist church between the site of an auction of the enslaved and the government building where the confederacy declared its independence is surely no accident: being there to see it and appreciate the very special geography of the place helped me to make a lot of connections in my mind.

7. The Rosa Parks Museum

Next to the bus stop where Rosa Parks was forced off her bus and arrested stands the Rosa Parks museum. This is fairly newly opened and has everything you might want to see or know about the incident and the civil rights struggle around it. The museum tour begins with a very cleverly put together video re-enactment, which is projected into the side of a replica bus, so it does really feel as though you are standing watching the event through the windows.

The tour continues with further insight into the civil rights movement and the actions taken by individuals to agitate for change, alongside some really fascinating exhibits, including a great piece of propaganda called ‘Labor Day Weekend at a Communist Training School’ (no pictures allowed, sadly) which painted MLK as a communist and suggested mixed-race relationships were also a communist thing. The context of the Red Scare is helpful as a strand in the story of why the CRM came under such suspicion: being anti-communist was presumably much more fashionable/acceptable than being anti-black.

At the end of the tour there’s a lovely bronze status of Rosa, which a seat next to her. I looked at it for a long time, trying to work out if the slightly shiny patches on the seat and the floor meant people were allowed to sit on it. In the end our hosts noticed and waved me up there with gusto. It is meant for just such a photo opportunity. Joy! Make sure you build in a bit of time here so that every student can do this for the ‘gram.


8. Good for Politics students

On our last day in Montgomery we managed to squeeze in a trip to the state capitol. It’s an impressive building at the top of a street, not far from the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and it holds an extensive museum, tracing Alabama’s history – we had about 15 minutes so didn’t have a chance to scratch the surface, but there’s a lot to see, from Native Americans to cotton gins to WW2 airmen. As well as this, in the capitol building itself, there’s a spectacular cantilevered staircase with an interesting history, being designed and built by an emancipated slave; and we were able to go into the state Senate and House chambers. Jefferson Davis took his oath as President of the Confederate States in 1861, following their secession. The Selma marchers ended their pilgrimage on the steps.

This isn’t Washington DC, which is probably the natural location for A-level Politics students studying the American system, but there are significant benefits to visiting a state capital and its legislature instead: this bit of the political system is very different to the UK. There are lots of opportunities to discuss states’ rights in the context of the CRM and the aforementioned Supreme Court judgements detailed at Vulcan Park provide insight into the judicial branch of government and how it is used as an instrument of law-making. And the recent politics is juicy: Roy Moore, mixing up church and state, defying the Supreme Court and getting suspended, being accused of sexual misconduct with minors and losing an election, getting pranked by Sacha Baron CohenVoter behaviour in the Black Belt. And, since Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court, I think Alabama might be where the first Roe vs Wade challenge comes from (follow up: I started this blog at the end of April and the news has moved on a bit since then – I’m pleased to see I was right, is all I can say). There’s a lot going on. 

9. Links with other subjects

As well as a good link for Politics students, there are lots of other places that make it relevant for other subjects. Our guide Sheryl talked enthusiastically about Barber Motorsports Museum, just outside Birmingham, which traces the history of motorcycles and includes engineering workshops that provide students with the opportunity to build a small motorcycle alongside the museum’s restoration crew. Alabama is known for its fossils and dinosaur remains and there’s a Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa. I did hear a whisper about dinosaur digs that can be visited – the tourist board would undoubtedly be able to give more information about this. F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in Montgomery for a while and there’s a museum dedicated to him.

Also, there are lots of universities in the surrounding areas: we visited Tuskegee, which is a historic black university founded by Booker T Washington, while the University of Alabama Birmingham specialises in medicine and hosts a lot of overseas students. This is aside from all the galleries, science centres and other visit opportunities available. It would be easy to fill a week with educational experiences for all.

10. Good southern hospitality

I’ve spent a lot of time in the USA, as a result of having a father who’s lived there since 1991. In my experience, Americans are almost universally friendly, helpful, polite and hospitable. Alabamans are like this to the extreme. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with hugs and smiles. Our guides went out of their way to ensure that we got the very best out of the time we had, seeking out extras we might be interested in and squeezing in additional visits where possible. Our host, John, was tireless and endlessly patient with our requests. They were all great advocates for their state and, while of course you would expect this from a group of people employed to ensure we come back, they interacted with each other in the same way, and our interactions with people not working for the tourist board were similarly positive. The hotel staff were friendly, the cities were clean and felt safe, there wasn’t any traffic to speak of. Having been to NYC and Washington DC, I would feel more confident leading a school group in AL than either of those places – and the history is much more powerful. In my opinion. Many of our guides had participated in the Civil Rights Movement – this was a lived experience for them. The opportunities to learn from these people will naturally dwindle as time passes, so it’s worth getting in on it now.

And the weather was lovely, of course. Naturally I got sun burn, though only in the places I put suncream. Bizarre. I’m not sure if a trip in the height of summer would work for me, but April was lovely. And the food! I’m not sure I can ever eat fried chicken again. In the words of Viggo Mortensen in Green Book, it just tastes better there – must be because it’s fresher.

So, if this has piqued your interest, I do recommend getting in touch with Grace at MSG Tours, who wrote her own blog about the visit here. I’m working on plans for a sixth form trip in 2020.

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TMHistoryIcons: Illuminating the Whole Picture

I was really pleased to be invited to speak at #TMHistoryIcons in Sheffield last weekend. I found the whole day hugely inspiring and it was great to be able to meet so many people that I’ve interacted with on Twitter and catch up with some old faces. 

With a blank canvas for my talk, I decided that I would speak about a topic that has been close to my heart this year, which is diversity in the curriculum – very specifically, ethnic diversity. I’ve been on the proverbial journey with this over the past couple of years, since I joined my current school, and I was keen to share what I’d been doing and why I thought it was important. This blog post is much of what I said (or intended to say).

I found that I was more nervous giving this presentation than I have been speaking at events at the past and meditated a little on why that might have been. Firstly, this is quite personal to me: I feel strongly about it and I don’t think that’s something I could really say about 50 good AfL tips or similar. Secondly, I find this topic to be a minefield. There are a lot of opinions out there. I wasn’t sure if I was best placed to speak on this topic. I very definitely have not done enough reading. I’m white and relatively privileged. I’m nervous about saying the wrong thing. However, in the end I referred myself to point one and just got on with it. 

When I moved schools in 2016, for a host of reasons I didn’t find a KS3 curriculum that I could pick up and teach. In a panic, facing new courses in Y10-13 alongside another brand new member of staff, I bunged in my old KS3 curriculum that we had just finished reworking for the new GCSE. It held for a year but then the cracks started to show. It didn’t reflect the diversity of the student body, and that started to become apparent through student voice and through GCSE uptake.

At the same time, I wanted to be better at teaching Transatlantic slavery. This is very specific to the Bristol context of the school, as well as the school itself. This isn’t an area where I can afford to get it wrong for the students: they have to be empowered to debate this topic and it’s important that they have an opinion.

The personal game changer for me was this book, which I picked up on a whim and read over the Easter holiday last year. Eddo-Lodge eloquently sets out the case for improving our curriculum offering and reeled me in with an opening chapter that provided a brief history of black British History in the 20th century. It left me humbled, to the extent that I went back to work and immediately started teaching y9 a sequence of lessons on the Windrush generation, begged from Dan Lyndon-Cohen and adapted for our Bristol context. That proved timely, because a week later, news of the Windrush deportations hit the press.

I cut some lessons on the Cold War to provide the curriculum time for this. Meditating on the two topics, I wondered – is the history of the Windrush generation more relevant to our understanding of the world today than the Cold War? My conclusion was – yes, probably; though of course in a perfect world we’d teach both.

My main move towards providing a more diverse curriculum has been to ensure that all my students can see a reflection of their own lives in what I teach them. However, in the first year of pizza group, one member (name lost to the mists of time) said that he was aiming to create good ‘citizen historians’ by the end of compulsory history education: those that understand the world we live in and can interact with it discerningly. As I’ve meditated on having a diverse curriculum and considered how it applies in my previous context, I have begun to realise that it’s almost more important to provide this narrative to students who don’t come from ethnically diverse backgrounds. Arguably, my Asian, African, Caribbean students will have some discussion about their history at home. They are already aware that there is a bias in the history they’re experiencing at school.

For white students, particularly in all-white contexts, this may not be apparent and there’s no guarantee that they will access the full narrative at any point in their lives if we’re not providing it for them in school. If we teach British history without illuminating the whole picture, we are setting our students up to continue to view non-white people as outsiders. And this is just ahistorical, right? More and more evidence is coming to light about the ethnic diversity that has existed in Britain for time – most recently with the work done on the Skeletons of the Mary Rose. 

So, by the time I got to term 6 last year, when I replanned KS3 with my colleague Nick, I had some quite strong feelings about what it should look like, and since there was a lot of chat about red lines at the time, I made some. Here they are –

Firstly, we need to teach Transatlantic Slavery better, particularly if we’re going to count this as part of our diverse curriculum. I don’t really agree that it ticks that box, but it’s a way in. 

Secondly, I wanted to tackle tokenism by including the stories of minorities in our existing units, rather than dropping in a unit and declaring it solved. The British Isles has always been an extremely diverse place, so, to continue with my analogy, it’s really just a case of shining a light on the full picture, rather than relying on the traditional narratives.

Finally, the diversity of our school population should be represented in the History curriculum in every year group. This has required some creativity but I’m getting there.

To begin, then, with how we tackle Transatlantic Slavery. The first thing was to shift my own thinking. The British Slave Trade isn’t ‘black history’ – it’s largely a history of what white people did to black people. Thinking about it this way was really helpful to me in thinking about how we could elevate our studies. No ‘slave trader’ games. No mock auctions. No diary of a slave on the Middle Passage. Instead, the focus I try to keep running through my units is on, firstly, why so many people thought it was OK and, secondly, the stories of black people caught up in it.

Here is how we tackle to topic at Key Stage 3.

Y7 – How should we teach about the slave trade?

Y8 – Why was slavery abolished? (As part of a Sim/Diff study on 18th/19th century protest)

Y9 – How was the slave trade still affecting Britain in the 20th century?

I start in year 7 with the basics of the trade and some stories of individuals. We look at Fanny Coker, a local servant to a plantation-owning family called the Pinneys. Her mother was transported from an area that is modern Nigeria to Nevis when she was 12. Their story, and that of Fanny’s grandmother, was the subject of a project known as Daughters of Igbo Woman. I think telling the stories of individuals is important to make it clear that this story involves people – the same way it is important to look at the stories of individual victims of the Holocaust: the scale is so vast that it becomes meaningless. It can be difficult to track down stories of individual slaves in the Caribbean, so I was lucky that I was contacted by Ros Martin, one of the project’s arists, who wanted to come to do a workshop with students surrounding the project. 

The year 7 scheme of work ends with the students creating a resource to teach about Transatlantic slavery to younger students, with a lofty aim of sharing this with primary school students within our trust, though I haven’t managed this yet.

The next visit to the topic comes partway through year 8. We teach a similarity and difference unit called Power to the People, which looks at abolition, the French Revolution and British political protests in the early 19th century, comparing the motives and methods of protestors. This is brand new in year 8 for this year and, sadly, I don’t teach any year 8, though my colleagues report back favourably. Previously it sat within a unit on change and continuity in Industrial Britain. I wrote all about it here

The third part of this topic comes in year 9, when we look at the Windrush migration to Britain and consider the long-term impacts of Britain’s slave trade, in creating black citizens of the Empire that felt Britain was their mother country. To be honest, this is the section of the topic that I am least happy with at the moment. There’s a lot more that could be done with it. To that end, this week I replanned my opener lesson to the post-war world for Y9. Instead of focusing solely on the slide into Cold War, I added in overviews of decolonisation and the formation of the United Nations. As well as giving students a stronger foundation on which to build for Cold War studies – the Vietnam War is going to make a lot more sense – they now have a little insight into the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the partition of India, as well as the formation of Israel. I like this route and will follow it further. I’m a little inspired here by my reading of East West Street, which really made me think about just how different the world was after WW2. Anyway. Lots to think about there. 

My other next steps with teaching Transatlantic Slavery is to include a study of African kingdoms prior to the development of TS, within the Y7 unit, and do a bit more work on the agency of slaves in fighting for their emancipation. The latter is largely inspired by my year 13s, some of whom write their coursework on this topic: the emphasis they place on figures like Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Baptist War has made me rethink how I teach it lower down the school. Don’t tell them though. I’ll never hear the end of it.

This might all change for next year, because I’m delighted to be taking part in the Historical Association’s Teacher Fellowship on Britain and Transatlantic Slavery, which begins next week. So, hopefully I will do even better with this in future.

On to the next.

I’m really worried about my curriculum looking tokenistic when it comes to diversity. I don’t want students to feel like I am trying to tick a box: this is about illuminating the full picture, remember, not briefly shining a flashlight into the corner and then going back to the same old mural that everybody is familiar with.

Here’s what I’ve done with our curriculum. 

Y7 – Medieval Realms – Similarity/Difference comparison with Medieval Islamic Empires

Y8 – The History of an Idea – Islamic Centres of Learning

Y8 – The Development of Democracy – the Race Relations Act

Y9 – WW1 – Why did Empire soldiers choose to fight for Britain?

In year 7 I shortened Ye Olde Medieval Realms unit by three lessons and added in three lessons on Islamic Empires, and adjusted the assessment to be one of similarity and difference. My PGCE student, Sonia, has planned these lessons and the assessment for me this year.

In year 8, we introduced a new development study this year which I’m referring to as the History of an Idea. This is essentially a prequel to the Medicine Through Time study at GCSE – the idea in question is the Theory of the Four Humours and this unit allows us to get our teeth into Hippocrates and Galen, but it also enables us to look at how that classical knowledge was preserved, protected and critiqued in Islamic centres of learning. All the diverse bits from the old Medicine course – Constantine the African, Ibn Sinna, Ibn al-Nafis and the circulation of the blood – sit within this unit.

Late on in year 8 we teach a unit on the development of democracy, running from Magna Carta to present day, that will now include a look at the Race Relations act. This is as yet unplanned! I’m getting to it…There’s also something interesting that can be done here with the 1964 Smethwick election and Malcolm X’s visit to the UK, particularly if you’re already teaching American civil rights. 

Finally, in year 9, we begin with a study of WW1 that focuses on the reasons why people joined up. This was probably the easiest win – I added a lesson on why men from other parts of the Empire chose to fight for Britain. This provides a good preview of the notion of ‘mother country’ that we can build on when looking at the Windrush generation.

On top of all of this, we have a project option for students in all year groups, to encourage research and wider reading. The Y8 independent project looks at 20th century protest movements so the Bristol Bus Boycott and the Black People’s Day of Action sit nicely within this as options for our students. In Y9, the project is formed around the memories of an older family member. What comes back is a real mixed bag and there’s usually quite a lot about moon landings and evacuees, but I’ve learned more about the Somali Civil War, Indira Gandhi, the Suez Crisis and the Polish home army, to name a few from this year. At my last school, I had a presentation from someone whose great-grandad was an Auschwitz survivor. It was after I’d taught the Holocaust unit that I found this out. A fairly humbling experience.

Where do we want to go next?

I’ve been working on using Miranda Kaufmann’s book Black Tudors with year 7 and this has been made considerably easier with the latest news from the Mary Rose, showing that the crew were more diverse than previously realised. The focus for our Tudors unit is ‘myth-busters’ and largely considers popular interpretations of the Tudor period – was bloody Mary really bloody, did Henry really break with Rome so he could get a divorce, etc. So, ‘Was Tudor England really all white?’ will sit in there quite nicely, particularly alongside interpretations such as the Cowdray Engraving, which turns out to be an 18th century reproduction of the original – is the reproduction faithful? 

In year 8, we’ve realised this year that we need a more robust unit on the British Empire. My usual focus for this topic is on the impact of the Empire on Britain. It feels a little paternalistic to teach about the empire by only considering its impact overseas, as though the relationship were one way – again, this does not illuminate the full picture.

In year 9, as well as the aforementioned changes to our post-WW2 study, I’d like to pick up the theme of Empire again by looking at the contribution of empire soldiers in WW2. Last week I heard Hazel Carby, Professor of African-American studies and American studies at Yale, speak about her new book, Imperial Intimacies, which traces her father’s experiences growing up in Jamaica, joining the RAF and subsequently settling in Britain with a Welsh wife. (As an aside here, having looked up her Wikipedia page, I LOVE that she was studying at Portsmouth at the same time as my dad…perhaps they met). Professor Carby talked about the hardships faced in Jamaica when merchant shipping was interrupted by WW2, leading to a huge spike in the crime rate and abject poverty. Her father joined the RAF as a way out of this; when Carby was asked by her teacher at school what her father did and replied that he was an RAF airman who’d fought for Britain in WW2, her teacher replied that she must be lying because only white people fought in WW2. The ‘Britain stood alone’ narrative is tenacious – though it does not shine a light on the whole story. 

At GCSE, it’s a little more difficult. The best route is to choose a board with a migration thematic study and diverse offerings in the depth and period blocks, but it’s not always possible and GCSE has to be driven by a whole range of things. We teach Edexcel and I sneak bits in where I can. As time passes and I get better at teaching the GCSE, there will be more time for thinking about bits of history that are invisible within the spec. For now, we’ve tried to contextualise our GCSE with some smart planning at KS3, so that students should naturally bring this in during class discussion. Some examples of this – Y7 look at the origins of the slave trade in Elizabethan England and diversity in the Tudor era. The year 8 unit helps to provide wider world context for medicine.

A-level is what I have changed least, but we do offer an NEA on Transatlantic slavery, alongside one on 17th century witchcraft. For current y12, we’re planning to offer them completely free choice, hopefully enabling students in future to build on their independent projects from Y9 and think about researching further into topics that they feel interested in. Where will it take them? We’ll see.

Here end my thoughts on the topic, to date. I am aware that there is so much still to be done. I am aware that there is so much that could come under the umbrella of diversity that I haven’t even sniffed at. I apologise if I’ve used the wrong terms or said anything fist-bitingly ignorant. I’m going to keep reading and hopefully it will get better. Hopefully I’m going to inspire a broader cross-section of my students to continue their studies of history beyond school so that they can come back as history teachers and do a better job of this than me.

I’d love to hear about what other people are doing with the curriculum in their schools to illuminate the whole picture. Please to get in touch. If you want to read more, Nick Dennis has put together a very comprehensive reading list and also wrote a good article for Teaching History in which he covers some more ideas for adding diversity at KS4. The books I’ve been reading are as follows:

Reni Eddo-Lodge – Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

David Olusoga – Black and British: A Forgotten History

Adam Hochschild – Bury the Chains

Miranda Kaufmann – Black Tudors

Haki Adi – Black British History: New Perspectives




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Teaching the thematic study thematically: a small research project (pt 2)

Welcome back for The Results. Just a reminder – the C group were taught Chronologically and the T group were taught Thematically.

Speed of teaching

There was no significant difference. The T group were slightly behind, but I attribute this to having mostly afternoon lessons – we definitely got less done. It also FELT like I had a lot more cover lessons with them, so I was quite surprised when I worked back through my registers and found this wasn’t especially the case.

Student confidence about their retention

I gave them this questionnaire during half term. I asked these 6 questions and gave them a 1-4 scale.

On a scale of 1-4 (1 is low)…

  1. how much did you enjoy the Medicine Unit?
  2. how well did you feel you understood the Medicine Through Time unit?
  3. how confident did you feel about the exam in February?
  4. how easy was it to revise from your classnotes for the exam?
  5. if you heard there was going to be a Medicine exam at the end of the summer term, how confident would you feel about it?
  6. I’m not giving you another Medicine exam at the end of the summer term, I promise. Don’t worry.

(Q6 ran from 1 – ‘thank goodness’ – to 4 – ‘Oh no, I’d love another mock)

Eight students from each class completed the survey. Here are the averages for each class.

thematic class survey results

As you can see, they were roughly the same in terms of enjoyment, understanding and how easy they found it to revise from their exercise books. The biggest difference is how confident they felt going into their mocks after February half term – the thematic students were, on average, more confident. They remain more confident now, if another mock was imminent (and they’re a bit less relieved to hear there won’t be one, although that appears to maybe be skewed by one joker), but the confidence drop is bigger.

The mock data

I measured their data by comparing mock grade against FFT20 target. The final column is their distance from target. I would prefer LoPs but it’s not how we analyse data in my current setting.

So – average difference from target grade is –

C -2.2

T -1.25

It looks good, on first look. T have made more progress to target than C. The quality of their responses was better, not particularly in terms of knowledge, but in the way that they were able to analyse change over time. They had a slightly better understanding of the three different strands – it’s very common for students to confuse treatment and prevention, for example.

Let’s unpick it a bit though.

High Prior Attainer + -2.7 -1.7
High Prior Attainer -3.3 -1
Mid Prior Attainer -1.4 -2.3

I only officially have one Low PA across both groups, in the T group, who came out at one grade below target. My gut feeling is that several of my MPAs are right on the very border, but that’s a blog for another day.

So, this data tells me that it worked best for H+ and H students. It doesn’t seem to have worked well for MPAs (but it did for the LPA!) There was no discernible difference when considering PP or SEN.

Long-term retention

These classes moved into Y11 last September and sat their Y11 mocks at the start of December. I used the 2018 summer paper and markscheme, but I kept the grade boundaries the same as I’d used in Y10. This is because grade boundaries fluctuate and I think students need to measure their progress against their own prior attainment, not against a national curve. I peg at 50% for a grade 4 and move up/down in increments of 10%, with the exception of grade 9 which sits at 95%.

A couple of changes had taken place in the classes. Two moved away. One developed a significant issue with exams. One had missed most of y10 but made massive progress in her knowledge before sitting the mocks. I have weeded these anomalies out of my data.

I didn’t tell the students what was on the mock – not even a hint about the topics. I gave them a revision planner in September with a weekly topic and activity, and each class had a 5 question multiple choice quiz on the topic the following week. I gave out the knowledge organisers to both classes to use for revision.

Here’s the mock breakdown. The have added some rows which are progress from Y10 mock. I scored this as a 0 for negative progress, a 1 for staying the same and a 2 for an increased grade – so I’d be hoping for an average as close to 2 as possible.

Overall progress to target -1 -1
HPA+ -1.67 -0.67
HPA -1.2 -1.1
MPA -0.8 -1.5
Overall progress from Y10 1.22 1.27
HPA+ 1.67 1.83
HPA 1.4 0.9
MPA 1.36 1.75

My LPA retained the same grade from Y10.

I haven’t spent much time thinking about this data yet, mainly because I’m admiring how much progress my students have made from March last year, when they sat the original mock. I am gifted with a bunch of hard-working, motivated students. I’m going to miss them a lot.

Enough of that fluffy stuff, though. The results this year broadly bear out what I found last year when it’s broken down into prior attainment groups. You could perhaps say that my T group MPAs retained more knowledge into Y11, but it doesn’t seem to have done the HPAs much good who, on average, went down slightly.

Even though my gut feeling is that the T group have a stronger grasp on the chronology, the only thing I can say for certain is that I haven’t done a great job of proving my hypothesis about impact on student attainment. Sigh. But at least I had some fun thinking about teaching it.

Now I just have to sit tight and wait for the summer results.

Next steps

I’ve taught my current year 10 group thematically this year, with the addition of thematically-organised knowledge organisers and weekly quizzes. I also broke it into three strands – ideas about cause, treatment and prevention. I’ve got just the one group this year, though, so it will be difficult to measure them against anything.

If you’ve got any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you.


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Teaching the thematic study thematically: a small research project (pt 1)

This blog post is very overdue. I spoke at ResearchEd Rugby last June and started writing it then, but – busy. So busy. However, I have more data now that Y11 have sat their mocks and it has prompted me to share.

Back when the new GCSE was launched, I spoke at a Historical Association event and wrote a short Cunning Plan for Teaching History, banging the drum for teaching the new thematic study thematically, as opposed to chronologically. I’ve always taught a development study – first Medicine, then Crime, and back to Medicine again. I taught Crime thematically for several years, mainly because I was getting a bit stale, and I found that it was quicker and students were better able to recognise change and continuity across time. They also had a better understanding of the chronology after repeating it three times. I thought it was the better way to do it, but I couldn’t be sure, so I thought I would run a trial on my two year 10 classes this year.

During my trial, I was specifically looking for these things –

  • Difference in speed – the new GCSE has teachers howling about squeezing in the content and I wanted to see whether it was faster to teach it thematically. I thought it was.
  • Difference in retention – I posited that students would remember the content better by doing the course thematically, because they would be revising one strand while the second one was being taught.
  • Difference in application during an exam situation – as related to the above.
  • Difference in long-term retention – though this is going to be difficult to judge at this stage. I should have completed my study after the Y11 mocks next year.
  • If the method worked for all – does it work for all abilities, is it OK for kinaesthetic learners…just kidding…

I also had a concern that many schools that had previously been following the SHP syllabus would jump into the same development study for the new GCSE, to save time and reuse resources, and miss the subtle differences, therefore leading to overteaching and a study that went on for far too long and was crammed with too much stuff. Furthermore, the GCSE questions on this paper require students to recognise the broad sweep rather than relate the fingertip detail. So, my hope was that by putting forward some research (albeit with a very small sample size) I’d be able to win more people round to this way of thinking.

The set up

I went chronological for my first time through. Even though I wrote the textbook, I hadn’t taught Medicine for over ten years and I needed the refresher. This was helpful for my study, though, because I had already taught the content through once. It’s super-important to know your content well because you’ll be making the links across the strands as you work through the course.

In the second year of teaching, I picked up two year 10 classes. They were of roughly equal size, with a very similar number of SEN issues and PP codes. One group is, on paper, a little brighter, but the ability range is much broader. We’ll call them groups C and T.

I used my own book, of course. We’re in the fortunate position of still having a budget that covers more than stationery: students are issued with their own copy that they can take home, which they exchange for the next book they need at the end of the course.

I had a deadline: mocks were the first week back after half term, so I had to have the course completely finished by then. This course is 30% of the GCSE, including Western Front, which means that Pearson think it should be teachable in 36 lessons. At 5 lessons a fortnight, I had up to 50 lessons, best case scenario.

This worked out in the end as 38 lessons plus 4 hours of cover for the C group, and 40 lessons plus 6 hours of cover for the T group. The T group had the disadvantage of having most of their lessons timetabled during period 5, so in terms of useful time, I think it was probably even.

I was so convinced that the thematic way was best that I became concerned that I would be unfairly disadvantaging the C group with the chronological teaching, so I tried to load the dice in their favour a bit using the new in vogue teaching method – the knowledge organiser. The C group had knowledge organisers for each of the units and I set them learning HW and quizzes each week. Conversely, I gave the T group vocab books (which I didn’t make use of, sadly) and no quizzing. On the whole, the T group probably received less homework as a result of this, though I did give them some wider reading that I did not give to the C group. Kev Bartle pointed out at ResearchEd that I had muddied my own study by doing this, and this may sadly be true, but, well. I acted as my conscience dictated. As you’ll hopefully see from the results, I got some interesting data out of it.

Other than that, both groups had the same lessons. I didn’t plan different activities or cover the content in different ways, other than by the order I did it in. This naturally meant that the assessments and practice essays they did differed, but in terms of planning workload, it was no more onerous than it would have been to adapt the same lesson for the class context.

Results will follow in part 2. And then, after the summer results, part 3.

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Mental Health Awareness

So, my lovely mum was sectioned last week. This is a blog about her and me. It is written for catharsis and comradeship.

Mum has suffered periods of intense anxiety and depression for her whole life. The first time I can remember going through it with her was when I was 12. As an adult, we have been through it together around five times, including this time – so it’s not often. Her slide usually begins with sleeping problems caused by anxiety and progresses to a refusal to eat, drink, take any medication or answer the door/phone, due to the potential for any of these things to cause a problem (‘I can’t have milk in my tea because those baby cows don’t get properly weaned’). Thanks to medication or, sometimes, seemingly just the sheer strength of her will, she has managed to come out of it each time, after a period of weeks or months, whereupon we don’t discuss it, because she always wants to think of that as the last time it will happen.

I live in hope but prepare for the worst. This time she started to show signs in the middle of March. I raised my concerns and was rebuffed – she doesn’t want to admit she is ill. I live nearly 3 hours’ drive away, which makes it hard to be insistent. I tried again two weeks later and she eventually agreed to make a doctor’s appointment, in two weeks’ time. Her friends rallied round. Unfortunately, by that point she wasn’t really sleeping or eating, so it was already too late. The doctor prescribed her something she refused to take and gave her a follow up appointment three weeks later. By the time I was able to visit her to make sure she went to that appointment, she was about 15lbs down and away with the fairies. We went to the doctor, who prescribed low-dose anti-depressants to help with the sleeping, and I brought her back to stay.

I hoped that food, company, exercise, rest and meds would help her to return to an even keel, but it just didn’t happen that way this time. We had a couple of good days but that was followed by a complete crash. She refused food and medication unless we resorted to extreme cajoling. We couldn’t have the TV on or talk on our phones while she was in earshot. I had to sneak away to do work or she would become anxious about my workload and the burden she imagined she was being (being banned from TV and phone is actually quite a good way to get me to do work, so her presence was paradoxically helpful). When my husband and I had to physically restrain her to stop her from running out of the house, we involved the professionals. And after a few visits from the community mental health team, they called for an Assessment under the Mental Health Act.

This is not the first time I have been through this, but it is the first time it has resulted in a section. In my view, she was no worse this time than the time I requested hospitalisation: what has changed is the attitude of the services. I am heartened by how seriously they took my concerns and how carefully they listened, and then by how hard they worked to make it happen. Assessment under the Mental Health Act is difficult to arrange. The person being assessed must have a bed waiting for them to go to if needed – my county only has 13 mental health beds. Two doctors must attend with a social worker. But the team managed to find her a bed in her hometown and they found the doctors and they arranged a transport for the same day. So, away she went. We visited this past weekend and I am feeling cautiously positive, though it is early days. The hospital is lovely. She’s responding the texts and phone calls.

I feel like I should say that I have been ripped open with this, because it’s the reaction people seem to be expecting, but all I can feel at the moment is relief that her problems are finally being taken seriously. I also feel vindicated. When the community mental health team told me they thought she needed an Assessment and asked me how I felt about it, I said that my frame of reference for ‘normal’ had clearly become very skewed, because I didn’t think it was any worse than when she was refused hospitalisation in 2005. So I’m getting on with things, focusing hard on the mantra that I did everything I could, though it wasn’t enough. Did I do everything I could? I think so.

I wanted to share my experience in a way that might be helpful to others going through similar issues. There’s a rumble that people only share their perfect lives online: to some extent that’s true. I don’t share this stuff online because I don’t really want to talk about it with people I don’t know – it’s partly about protecting my own mental health. However, in the interest of mental health awareness, I thought I should highlight that ‘this stuff’ is happening all over the place and you don’t have to manage it alone.

I also wanted to say to people who are worried they might be starting to slide: go to the doctor. Talk to your family. You’re not being a burden. They want to hear from you. Do it now. They can help. We live in a world with an improving understanding of how to deal with mental health problems: take advantage of it.

Finally, a note here to school leaders: sometimes we need time off. I’m Mum’s only relative resident in the UK, so it has to be me. My school has been so understanding and supportive through this time.  At my last school, the absence policy would not have allowed for me to have any time for this – ‘attending medical appointments with a relative’ was specifically named as not-a-good-reason-for-time-off. That type of policy seems to be more and more common in schools as people attempt to run them like businesses, ignoring the fact that they are services, which partly operate on the goodwill of teachers, who give thousands of extra hours. I can never book a day off to be with Mum for her birthday and I’ve missed at least seven Mothers Days staffing student residential weekends: that’s fine. But there has to be some quid pro quo. You have the ability to make it easier for teachers to ask for time off in exceptional circumstances.

I consider myself very lucky that I have had good mental health for my life, to date, but I don’t take it for granted. I prioritise self-care. I talk. I blog. I holiday, a lot. I read. I exercise. I maintain my relationships. I don’t work on Saturdays, as far as possible. I create places of safety where I always, no matter how I am feeling, play the confident character. I try to lend credence to how others see me, rather than relying solely on my view of myself. I seek situations where I can be successful, and I celebrate that success and store it up for future moments of impostor syndrome. I actively avoid dwelling on negatives – which is why you will rarely, if ever, find me talking about bad times on Twitter.

What do you do to safeguard your mental health?

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Supporting students with revision

Thinking about when I have needed to revise for exams in the past, I am aware of various behaviours I exhibit that get in the way of any actual revision. I agonise over which parts I should be revising first. I take time to get everything in the right order, even if that means spending 10 minutes looking for my favourite pencil. If there are gaps I swoop off to fill them, then get distracted reading about something new and probably unconnected. I spend too long reading and not enough time testing.  I waste time deciding the best method to distill my notes: flashcards or mind maps?

In an attempt to help my students overcome these and other potential tools of procrastination, I’ve started to provide them with revision planners. Year 11 had one in September that broke their year 10 content down into weekly chunks, each with an accompanying task. We backed this up with a weekly quiz on the content students should have revised in the previous week, keeping scores and providing a leaderboard. If followed, this enabled them to revise all the content before the mocks and then a second time by February half term. I then provided a fresh planner to structure their revision of the year 11 content, which was helpful when we set a paper 2 mock the week before Easter.


In large part, the point of these planners is to help students get out of their own way, but they have the added benefit of showing that revision needs to be an ongoing process, no matter how far off the exams seem to be. With that in mind, I have now written one for year 10 to help them recap their unit 1 knowledge before the end of the school year. This is less detailed than my year 11 version, with just one task suggested for all the content, to encourage a methodical, consistent approach. I have included it for download at the end of this post.


The planners are given to students in hard copy, placed on their Google Classrooms for download and sent home to parents. They sit alongside any homework we set. We refer to them regularly in class but don’t check up: the burden of revision needs to be on the student, not the teacher. They take a little time to write but, as with so many things like this, once made, they’re reusable.

In case anybody hasn’t realised, nobody has sat the new GCSE yet so I can’t speak about impact. However, these are modelled on a planner I made for year 12 some years ago: that was the first year students performed better on my unit than they did on my HoD’s, so I am feeling quite positive about their efficacy.

Other things I am doing for year 11:

I’ve been meeting with underachieving students on a one-to-one basis in the intervention slot each week. We work through the PLCs, talk about where they’re feeling confident and where they need to do some more work, discuss how, when and where they will revise etc. I read some research about tackling the disadvantage gap that said these conversations can have an impact, so I’ve been trying to have them with all my students this year.

I’m offering a 25 minute revision slot before school, once a week. All our students, Y7-13, stay at school for an extra 30 minutes Mon-Thurs (hence our earlier finish for the summer) so they will willingly come at the end of the day but that doesn’t mean they will willingly work. Putting revision on during a time when their attendance isn’t compulsory ensures I get only those who are really motivated and want the extra help.

I’ll offer a 30 minute grade 8-9 revision slot in our assigned after-school intervention session in the coming term. We never have to barter with other subjects for these students.

We’ve created a question-a-day calendar for year 11 to cover the next 8 weeks. It covers all the question types from all three papers, multiple times. Again, these will go home and be shared online. I might assign them on the Google Classroom so they can be submitted online for easy marking and feedback.

Y10 Revision planner

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#youreallyshouldteach…Interpretations of Abolition

With the new A-level came a new coursework topic. I now offer my year 12s the option of writing their essay about the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which is particularly pertinent to the school’s context. Much reading ensued. Most of the students are writing about the reasons for abolition, so we have researched interpretations together.

I’ve been teaching a short sequence of lessons on abolition to year 8 for several years now, as part of their study of changes in Britain 1750-1900. It allows for a recap on the Transatlantic Slave Trade unit that I teach in year 7. We use my old favourite Peace and War textbook, which has an excellent four page sequence on different reasons for abolition. The extra reading for the A-level put this into context and I have now started teaching my students about the history of the history, as well as the history. I find it to be a very accessible way of introducing the idea that history changes over time.

The two historians we look at are Reginald Coupland and Eric Williams. Coupland was a professor of Empire history, born in 1884, who promoted the moral and religious motivations of the abolitionists as the main reason for the success of their movement. A biographer of William Wilberforce, Coupland held up the abolitionist movement as an example of Britain leading the world in a moral crusade. He seems to have been nostalgic for the Empire, sitting in an office funded by Cecil Rhodes’s money and buying up abolitionist literature. In my fertile imagination, he finds himself disappointed that something considered so glorious when he was a child has become so rapidly discredited and is looking for silver linings (I’m really projecting here: I haven’t done enough reading to be able to say that, really). Coupland represents the whiggish interpretation of history, that humankind is on a journey to being more civilised.

On the other side, Williams was born in Trinidad in 1911. He studied history at Oxford, where he experienced quite a lot of prejudice. He went on the become the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, overseeing its transition from colony to independence. In 1944, he published his work Capitalism and Slavery, in which he claimed that the moral crusade was incidental to the real reason for abolition, which was that the monopoly held by the Caribbean plantations was no longer in the best interests of the British public. Cheaper sugar was available from other (slave-worked) colonies, such as Cuba; abolishing the slave trade and, eventually, slavery was a way of breaking the monopoly held by a bunch of rich men with strong political representation. Williams doesn’t entirely discount the impact of the anti-slavery campaigns, but he places them among other factors, including slave rebellions, that are lesser to the idea that slavery was abolished because it was holding capitalism back.

There are plenty of other points of view, of course. In Hull they’ll tell you it was all down to Wilberforce. Hochschild makes a good case for the tireless campaigning by the Quakers and individuals such as Clarkson in Bury the Chains. I’ve got Fryer’s Staying Power for a Marxist take on it and Olusoga’s Black and British, but I need to wrestle those back off my year 13s before I can summarise what they think.

For year 8, however, these two provide the perfect start. Not too much and not too complicated. Once the background to each interpretation has been explained, students find it quite straightforward to match the historian to his tale. Just two pictures of the historians on the board elicited the first inference: “He’s white, so he wants his people to look good. He’s black, and he doesn’t care about making them look good.” You mean, their backgrounds have something to do with the story they’re telling? Quite. So, let’s go from there.

Some further reading:

1900-2007: The Legacies of Slavery and Anti-Slavery, Richard Huzzey

British historians and Capitalism and Slavery, O.H.Folarin – on JSTOR – you have to register but it’s free to read. It’s a 1970s review of the topic so it provides a nice interpretation in itself as well as outlining the main arguments.

Update: here’s a simple worksheet that I used to help my students select evidence to support each point of view. Students had previously completed a large information-gathering chart looking at reasons for abolition, using the Hodder Peace and War textbook.

Abolitionist historians

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WLFS takeaways

As usual, I have spent some time today reflecting on what I can change about my practice following the WLFS conference.

I can plan some short thematics for KS3

Elizabeth Carr’s reminder of Michael Riley’s development study, Toilets through Time, had made me think about where I can put shorter development studies into my KS3 programme of study, potentially replacing some of the chunkier ones. I love development studies at KS3 (that’s my workshop for SHP this summer) but they take a long time and it is easy to lose the thread on one hour of lessons a week. A shorter, snappier version would achieve the same chronology recap and focus on change and continuity and, cleverly considered, could underpin our study of Medicine at GCSE.

I can do multiple choice quizzing to help build student confidence at A-level

Paula Lobo shared how she provides four statements analysing a source, from which the students have to pick the correct one. At the end, she works the correct statements into model answers. This modelling has helped her students to do what comes naturally to those of us who have been doing it for years. I’ve been puzzling over how to better help my students summarise the message of an interpretation for their A-level paper, and I think this will work really well.

I can pair knowledge quizzes with source analyses

Also from Paula – providing a knowledge quiz first forces students to see the link between contextual knowledge and unpicking historical sources. My colleague has been focusing on student skills in this area lately so I am going to pass this on to him to look at. What I really liked about Paula’s quizzes is that the questions were so massively long: they gave an enormous information to go along with the answer students gave. Sneaky, like extra veggies in a bolognese.

I can improve my year 12 mini-NEA project

At the start of the year I wrote that my year 12s would be writing short NEAs on each Henry this year. They have completed their Henry VII essays (more on that at a later date). I was chatting about it with Sally Wilson who said she thought she could do the same, but would ask them to also include sources, to give them even more prep for the NEA. I am going to do the same with the Henry VIII essay.

I can better prepare my students for their NEA by setting clever summer work

After Jim Carroll’s session, I decided that by setting a research task into the context of authors of some key interpretations about their NEA topic over the summer, I can clarify the process they need to go through when they are choosing their own interpretations. We offer two topics to one class at sixth form so this may take some careful planning, but I’ve got time.

I could be reading more

To be fair, this isn’t news, but still.

Christine Counsell’s consideration of our responsibility as a profession chimed true. I spend Sunday mornings reading blogs and catching up; I’m going to make sure I include more history teaching blogs in that, and at least one Teaching History article. I’m going to shame-facedly admit that my last three issues are sitting pristine next to my armchair, having only been subjected to a cursory flick, scan of the Cunning Plans and read of Mummy Mummy. I can do better than this.

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WLFS History conference: workshop 3

Jim Carroll on interpretations at y13. His work is based on the NEA, which requires students to do independent research of at least 5 academic historians’ arguments, explaining why they reached different interps and their relative persuasiveness. Jim’s questions focus on Nazi popularity and Oliver Cromwell; students will choose one, depending on the rest of their A-level.

Guidance from the exam board recommended a 6 hour short course to teach the content required for context (optional). There wasn’t a recommendation to teach the contextual background of the interpretations at this point. There was then a recommendation to follow a skills-based course to support students in their historical research and writing.

Jim doesn’t agree that disciplinary knowledge and skills are the same thing, and language matters here because it shapes how we view certain concepts.

Substantive knowledge covers knowledge of the sub-domain, eg specific dates, along with substantive concepts like state and empire. Meanwhile, disciplinary knowledge includes how info is structured into historical knowledge, along with the method of historical enquiry.

Reducing history to content Vs skills might lead to:

  • A lack of emphasis of the importance of substantive content.
  • Idea that substantive knowledge is free floating, disconnected.
  • Failure to appreciate that substantive knowledge is important for further study.

To exemplify this, we look at a reading from Kershaw. We discuss what knowledge he has drawn on to be able to explain why historians have interpreted the Nazi regime as they have: political context of the post-war era; the process of writing history, eg the opening up of archives/availability of new evidence; the effect of collective memory, which is uniquely pronounced in the study of the Nazis, where there was a kind of collective amnesia. Then what makes the Nazis unique: it is politically charged – there’s intrinsic moral outrage and a tacit idea that writing this history should be part of the way we seek to prevent it from repeating.

Other problems:

  • Historical and generic might become conflated
  • It might help SLT to jettison history, eg “Other subjects do note taking and essay writing so why should we keep History?”

(Reminds me of a sixth former who wanted to start A-level history in February of y12 because he studied other essay based subjects and would therefore not be disadvantaged by missing the first six months of the course. Imagine my face.)

  • Students might think that practising skills will lead to improvement.
  • Students think they can rely on trotting out trite pre-prepared phrases, eg “He is biased”

Two more that I missed.

Rather than stick with the exam board guidance, Jim decided instead to engage with previous history teacher curriculum theorisation, history education researchers and academic scholarship, especially overviews of Nazi historiography.

Once students have spent some time looking at some scholarship on the Nazis,

Interesting point that students struggle to understand the idea that historians set their own questions, which will inevitably shape the direction of their research.

Historians make choices that go on to affect how they interpret a point of history. Once they returned from the summer holidays, they had a good idea of 3 historians to focus on, which was followed up by a series of lessons on the time period in which the interpretations were written.

Students are given some background into the events of 1945-now that provides background to their interpretations, in the form of 5 chunks, and complete a diagram to show how interpretations of the topic might have changed over time.

We look at some examples from prior students, considering how they have looked at both the context of the historian and the methodological choices the historian has made.

Don’t feel like I have blogged this session satisfactorily…too busy thinking about it! Thanks Jim.

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WLFS History conference: workshop 2

Paula Lobo speaking about sources, who have been thinking about the challenge that we have to bring people to life in words. We discuss this briefly.

When students are making inferences from sources, it is really tricky to judge what is a valid inference. We read the literature review of this topic and discuss the problem of language in written sources – does it reflect reality? – and can comprehension and evaluation be divorced?

We look at a range of sources on Churchill, that Paula used with y9 and now at A-level. Students pull out some of the words and discuss whether they are positive or negative, by placing it on a continuum and discussing whether the meaning of the word might have changed over time (eg the word dictator might not have been such a negative one at the start of the 20th century).

Once students have played around with the words on a continuum, they can start thinking about who might use those words to describe Churchill and why. Using Wiltshire’s language of uncertainty, students can use the sources to write about what people thought of Churchill at the time.

Tudors. We look at Paula’s inspiring work on using multiple choice questions to help students assess sources which you can read here: https://lobworth.com/2017/10/21/so-thats-what-you-mean-miss-sourcework-and-multiple-choice-statements/ – this would be an excellent way of helping students to summarise the message of an interpretation, I think, which my lost struggle with for far longer than they should.

Paula has applied this to visual sources in year 9. She gives students statements that forces them to look back at the caption, consider the purpose etc – things they will need to do automatically as they move through their history education.

She also uses knowledge testing alongside source evaluation: in this test demo, the knowledge they need to answer the questions on the first page is required to help them analyse the source on the second page.

This very clearly spells out the importance of contextual knowledge when analysing historical sources.

Lots of really helpful things to think about here!

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