Nick Dennis's Blog

Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Category: GCSE (page 1 of 2)

Beyond tokenism: teaching a diverse history in the post-14 curriculum

As we approach Black History Month in England, I thought it would be useful to share a piece I wrote for Teaching History earlier this year. When I wrote the article, I recall scanning the past issues of Teaching History and thinking about work that addressed similar issues. What was surprising is how little those pieces had been cited or apparently used by history teachers, especially based on the conversations at the Schools History Project conference this past summer.

Recent books published on education in England have made the case for consuming research from the sciences as a way to further the profession. I would like to add that we should be reading critical work from other disciplines as a way of challenging the conceptions we use in our lessons. The article came from my engagement with Michael Rothberg’s work on the Holocaust and memory in Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonisation. If you haven’t read it and you teach the Slave Trade and the Holocaust, you really should as it provides a framework for teaching connected narratives in our classrooms rather than competitive histories which seem to populate the media.

The recent Battle of the Somme memorial, We’re here because we’re here, denoted by the Twitter hashtag, #wearehere, provided an elegiac and physical reminder of the soldiers who lost their lives during the first day of the battle in 1916.[i]  Thousands of volunteers across the country donned historically accurate uniforms and walked, sat and lounged silently in train stations, shopping centres and other public areas, carrying cards bearing the details of the soldiers they represented. Their silence was only broken by their rendition of ‘we’re here because we’re here’ – a song sung by soldiers in the trenches – and the overall performance captured the attention and imagination of the public and the media.

Soldier sitting down next to commuters.

From the 14-18 NOW site ‘We’re here because we’re here’ https://becausewearehere.co.uk/we-are-here-gallery/395/

What was particularly striking – and heartening – about this portrayal was the diversity of the volunteers, a fact captured in the pictures on the memorial site. This was not a nod to political correctness on the part the organisers. The diversity of the soldiers represented in the project offered a more nuanced – and truthful – picture of history than the one often held up for memorial. Rather than focus on one example of difference, for instance the fascinating story of Walter Tull, the former footballer and first ‘black’ officer in the British army, the everyday nature of this portrayal avoided any sense of tokenism. Instead, it celebrated the complexity of our history, and showed that British history was (and is) also a global history. The #wearehere memorial proved the point laid out by David Olusoga in his book to accompany the recent excellent BBC series Black and British: A Forgotten History, that new and different stories can emerge when ‘black’ history is more than just a history of the ‘black’ experience.[ii] Seen in this way, the song ‘we’re here because we’re here’ comes to speak as much to the ever-constant role of ‘black’ and ethnic minorities in the fabric of Britain and British history as it does to the enduring memory of those who fought in the Great War.

Unfortunately, the capacity to address this diversity within England’s typical secondary school history curricula has been limited, with the material effects of this limitation seen in students from a black and minority ethnic background, as well as for white students. For the black students, uptake of England’s examination courses, from History GCSE and A-Level courses to undergraduate degrees remains low, and for the white students, their understanding of the rich tapestry of history is limited.[iii] Recent debates asking the question ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ often attribute the poor teaching of black history at school to a lack of historical knowledge and a narrow focus on topics such as the slave trade. This could be addressed by focusing on ‘Black History Month’ and by teaching units of black history, but this moves history teaching into the realms of tokenism and threatens to become an ‘add water and stir’ approach to teaching. Such an approach is particularly limiting in the post-14 phase where history becomes optional and is subject to examination specifications.  The syllabi provided by examination boards are prescribed, curriculum time is restricted and recent upheaval in examined courses have whittled down the capacity for history teachers to think beyond the subject being taught.

For Rothberg, collective memory of the past seemingly obeys the logic of scarcity, where memory of the Holocaust, for example, must crowd out the memory of African-American history in the public consciousness. The rendering of the public sphere as a scarce resource creates the conditions where the interactions of different collective memories battle one another in a zero-sum way for recognition and pre-eminence. Rothberg suggests that instead of this zero-sum game, we should consider memory as multidirectional and the public sphere a place where collective memories are not simply articulated, but are ‘subject [to] ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing’.[iv] Relating this to the history curriculum beyond the age of 14, it is not a zero-sum game between teaching the prescribed examination content and, to use the phrase from a recent book, ‘doing justice to history’.[v] Both can be done. History teaching, like collective memory, has an anachronistic quality, where the here and now, and the here and there, are brought together in a lesson or sequence of lessons. This powerful creativity allows the space to rethink and make complex the history that is taught in schools, and allows a more complex and challenging narrative to emerge.[vi]

This may sound easier to state on the page than to realise, yet the examples below will illustrate what is possible by deepening the knowledge already deployed by teachers in their lessons on the modern world.

‘The sugar at the bottom of the tea cup’: a wider appreciation of ‘Britishness’ during World War II

Writing in the early 1990s, the cultural theorist Stuart Hall remarked that people coming from the West Indies and other parts of the Empire had actually been in England for centuries – if only symbolically – and that those coming over were merely ‘coming home’. He characterised this by thinking of himself, and the people from Jamaica, as the ‘sugar at the bottom of the English cup of tea’ that was a quintessential aspect of British identity. Moreover, the ‘Britishness’ associated with tea also obscured the fact that it came from Sri Lanka and India, not Lancashire.[vii] The Home Front in World War II is usually seen as a cultural touchstone for Britishness, through the creation of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ and the war as a ‘People’s War’, where class and gender differences were united in their fight against Nazism. Investigations of the Home Front and the forging of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ are typically studied from the view of different economic classes but not from the Empire point of view. E. I. Ekpenyon was a former Headmaster in Nigeria who had come to study Law in London and served as an ARP warden. His account of his training and experience on the Home Front makes complex the notion of a ‘Blitz Spirit’ being created by an ethnically homogenous group of people.  He recounts that the people in his area were very friendly and called him “Uncle Sam”, and followed his instructions as he was a ‘man of colour’, which to the people in his district saw as a ‘lucky omen’.  Below is Ekpenyon’s account of an incident in his shelter where the mix of people in his shelter had led to tensions.[viii]

E. I. Ekpenyon, a former Headmaster in Nigeria who had come to study Law in London and served as an ARP warden, describes an incident in his shelter

Some of the shelterers told the others to go back to their own countries, and some tried to practise segregation. A spirit of friendliness and comradeship was lacking. If this spirit had continued it would, as certainly as the night follows the day, have led to riots.

So I told the people that the British Empire, which is also known as the British Commonwealth of Nations, is made up of peoples of many races. I said that though I am an air-raid warden in London, I am still an African. I also said that I am one of many peoples of other countries that make up the Empire.

Then I spoke of the three classes in the shelter – namely, His Majesty’s subjects, protected persons, and guests. These last were refugees from other countries. I said that this third group of people who were in the shelter, and who were not interned, were entitled to the protection of the Union Jack. I said that this being the case I would like to see a spirit of friendliness, co- operation, and comradeship prevail at this very trying time in the history of the Empire. I further warned my audience that if what I had said was not going to be practised, I would advise those who did not agree to seek shelter somewhere else. For to remain in the shelter and to behave in an unfriendly way would force me to report them, because they were trying to create disunity in the Empire. The people responded, and few left the shelter.

Ekpenyon’s story is a fascinating account of someone from the ‘colonies’ acting as the guardian, and enforcer of, ‘British values’ and the ‘Blitz Spirit’ at the heart of the empire. His story, rather than an additive or distraction, places him squarely within the narrative of the ‘People’s War’. Two films produced by the Ministry of Information in 1943 and 1944, Hello! West Indies and West Indies Calling also provide evidence of a complex narrative of ‘Britishness’ and the ‘People’s ’.[ix] Presented by Una Marson, the Jamaican feminist and writer who worked at the BBC during World War II, the films show a range of white and black British subjects supporting the war effort in Britain as military personnel, nurses, factory workers and lumberjacks.

These stories, and many others in texts like Stephen Bourne’s Mother Country, show that the Home Front and the ‘People’s War’ was more diverse and complex than has been previously rendered. These accounts – which have the potential to provide excellent, accessible source material for students – also move away from the ‘black’ British story which starts with the arrival of the Empire Windrush in 1948.[x] The ‘black’ presence in the ‘People’s War, like the diversity of the soldiers on the front, offer just one example of a history that preceded and anticipated our practiced narrative of migration and diversity.

The boy in the Nazi jumper

In current history examination courses offered in England at GCSE and A-Level, the study of Nazi Germany incorporates the treatment of minorities in terms of persecution and death camps. Yet the lives of Afro-Germans at the time provide a nuanced understanding of the Nazi regime and social life in Germany. Born in 1926 to a Liberian father and German mother, Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi experienced first-hand what the transition from Weimar to Nazi Germany was like and how his skin colour defined his experience and his existence. His book, Destined to Witness is remarkable not only because it details the changing social circumstances in Germany but his life in the USA after the war. He explains in detail life at school, his relationship with other people and the attraction of the Nazis to young people. He too was an unabashed Nazi supporter ‘because they put on the best shows with the best-looking uniforms, best sounding marching bands’, which unsurprisingly appealed to his developing sense of masculinity.[xi] When he finally got his hands on a Swastika, he asked the elderly lady who looked after him to sew it is on his jumper and led to the picture taken below in 1933.

Hans J Massaquoi with a Nazi Swastika on his jumper taken from the front cover of his book Destined to Witness

The image shown is incredibly powerful. I have used it in my classroom, along with other extracts from the book, in order to help students move from the ‘concrete to the conceptual’ in their understanding of the Nazi regime.[xii] The text also provides opportunities to challenge simple historical explanations about the interactions of minorities with the Nazis. In one incident, Massquoi recounts his encounter with an SS officer at the Department of Labour in 1940. Obviously concerned that his fate lay in the hands of the one of the Nazi elite, Herr von Vett, Massaquoi was surprised when von Vett winked at him and invited him to take a seat. After inspecting his school record and an axe that he had created, von Vett stated that Massaquoi could be of ‘great service to Germany one day’. Thinking that von Vett had lost his mind, Massaquoi listened as the SS officer reasoned that Germany would reclaim its African colonies at some point and would need technically trained Germans to lead an African workforce and Massaquoi would be ‘ideal for such an assignment’. Massaquoi was promised an apprenticeship with a first-rate firm and as he gave the Heil Hitler salute before turning to leave, Massaquoi was called back by von Vett. He asked, ‘Aren’t you going to shake my hand?’.  Massaquoi duly did and gained his interview for an apprenticeship soon after.[xiii]

Massaquoi is not the only example of Afro-Germans living during the Nazi regime. Louis Brody was an actor in several Nazi propaganda films and Hans Hauck fought in the Wehrmact. Their lives, as well as being fascinating, provide a more truthful narrative of life in Nazi Germany, and would enhance students’ understanding of the complex racial laws, stereotypes, and hypocrisies at work in Germany in the years leading up to and during the war.[xiv]

The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks

One popular and longstanding unit within England’s history GCSE courses is Medicine Through Time.[xv] Its huge sweep of chronology and thematic approach provides another opportunity to deploy a ‘multidirectional memory’ approach when considering the ethical, legal and social effects of technology on public healthcare in Britain. Although the name may not be familiar, it is highly likely that we have all benefitted medically in some way due to Henrietta Lacks. An African American born in the 1920s, Lacks became the unwitting donor of cells from a cancerous tumour. Prior to Lacks’ cells being harvested, human cells that were cultured in labs lasted only a few days. There was something different about Lacks’ cells. They seemed to thrive and grow in cell culture and the mass manufacturing of her cells led to innovations in cloning, drug development for cancer, polio and many other medical conditions. Lacks’ family received no profits from these advances to modern medicine, or indeed any healthcare in a country that often denied them basic rights.  Henrietta’s cells – taken without the dying woman’s knowledge or consent – were helping people in countries where she would have been barred because of the colour of her skin.[xvi] Understanding modern medicine without an appreciation of Henrietta Lacks produces a history that is reductive. Her story – told in an engaging and accessible way in Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – also allows students to consider the ethics of the history they are studying, and enables them to see how one story can come into conversation, and indeed conflict, with another.

A black-and-white photo of Lacks smiling
By (archived link), Fair use, Link

The three stories briefly set out above are only a small introduction to the rich material available to teachers and students in the move towards diversifying the curriculum. Deliberately focussed on twentieth-century history, they are all easily linked to topics already studied in classrooms across the country, and fall within the existing subject knowledge of teachers. As I hope the stories demonstrate, a ‘multidirectional memory’ approach to teaching history can move us beyond a limiting method of seeing black history as separate, superficial and distracting  side-story from the ‘real’ history that needs to be taught at examination level.

References

[i] ‘We’re here because we’re here’ was a UK-wide event commissioned by 14-18 NOW as a memorial to mark the Battle of the Somme. Details about the memorial and additional images can be found at the following address: https://becausewearehere.co.uk/

[ii] Olusoga, D. (2016) Black and British: A Forgotten History, London: Macmillan, p.xxi

[iii] Lyndon, D. (2006) Integrating Black British History into the National Curriculum, Teaching History, 122, Rethinking History Edition, pp.37-43; Whitburn, R. and Yemoh, S. (2012) ‘Hidden histories and heroism: post-14 course on multi-cultural Britain since 1945’, Teaching History, 147, Curriculum Architecture Edition, pp.16-25; Harris, R., Burn, K. and Woolley, M. (2014) The Guided Reader to Teaching and Learning History, London: Routledge, see ‘Diversity’, p. 182; Gilborn, D. (2008) Racism and Education, Oxford: Routledge

[iv] Rothberg, M. (2009) Multidirectional Memory, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p.3

[v] Mohamud, A. and Whitburn, R. (2016) Doing Justice to History, London: UCL Institute of Education Press

[vi] Rothberg, op. cit.,p.5

[vii] Hall, S. (1991) ‘Old and New Identities’ in Anthony D. King (ed.) Culture, Globalization and the World-System, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, p.48-49

[viii] http://westendatwar.org.uk/documents/E._Ita_Ekpenyon_download_version_.pdf

[ix] Hello! West Indies (1943) Directed by John Page, Great Britain, Ministry of Information/Paul Rotha Productions; West Indies Calling (1943) Directed by John Page, Great Britain, Ministry of Information/Paul Rotha Productions

[x] Bourne, S. (2010) Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front 1939-45, Gloucester: The History Press

[xi] Massaquoi, H-J. (2001) Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, New York: Harper Perennial, p.41

[xii] Phillips, R. (2001) ‘Making history curious: Using Initial Stimulus Material (ISM) to promote enquiry, thinking and literacy’, Teaching History, 105, Talking History Edition, pp.19-25

[xiii] Massaquoi, op. cit., pp.198-199

[xiv] Lusane, C. (2002) Hitler’s Black Victims, London: Routledge, Campt, T.M. (2005) Other Germans, Ann Arbour: The University of Michigan Press

[xvi] Skloot, R. (2010) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, London: Pan Books

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When writing about history teaching goes very, very wrong.

The Daily Mail’s article, ‘GCSE pupils to be taught that the nation’s earliest inhabitants were Africans who were in Britain before the English‘ marshals an impressive array of commentators apparently condemning the new course as a beacon of all that is wrong with political correctness in education.

The article suggests that the course is attempting to rewrite history, yet the scrupulous appeal for what is ‘right’ does not stretch to their research methods. As they are not trained teachers, they have little understanding of what a specification does or comprehend the role of historical interpretation in reading lists. These lists are put together to stimulate debate and offer an insight into the richness of historical debate surrounding any subject. Reading lists are also useful to teach students that different conclusions can be drawn from the same source material. It is also clear that they have not read the book, because in citing Peter Fryer’s ‘Staying Power’, they suggest that it argues that the Africans stationed by Hadrian’s Wall in the third century AD ‘settled’ in the country. Fryer says no such thing.

 

 

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Quoting VS Naipaul is meant to support their case but as usual in these matters, Naipaul goes too far comparing the supposed rewriting of history to the work of IS.

The press has a right to question what goes on in schools but not when it is based on deliberate misdirection, a desire to create moral panic and – particularly galling from a history teacher’s point of view – a lack of carefully researched homework.

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‘Practise like you play’ – Schools History Project Conference, Leeds 11-13th July

Having done a lot of work on CPD in schools since I took over the role at Berkhamsted, I have seen a recurring theme around quality of CPD available to educators at events that are by their very nature, broad in their appeal. As a History teacher, it is great to learn about wider educational concerns but it has little direct impact on my teaching. In the ‘Pedagogical Content Knowledge’ frame, my ‘pedagogical’ knowledge may increase yet I am not able to ‘practise like I play’. Thankfully, the Schools History Project’s national conference allows me to engage with some of the best thinking about effective History teaching over three days.

I have made no secret that the Schools History Project is a major influence on my intellectual and professional development with the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference held at Berkhamsted being the most visible manifestation. And as I sat in the auditorium with 289 other History educators (including delegates from Brazil, Malta, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, Germany), I wondered if other subject areas had events like this that covered all specifications (the conference is for all teachers of History and not tied to the SHP specifications).

The highlights for me included Don Cumming’s opening address and two workshops from Christine Counsell and Dale Banham. I have admired Don’s work from afar and whilst others may have sought to use social media to celebrate their work and views, Don has continued to work for the benefit of the students under his care and the History teaching community in the North of England. Deconstructing the view that there is an ‘island story’ by close examination of the curricula used in Scotland and England and the narratives they tell by omission. We talk of the Norman invading but not of the Norman Empire. We talk of English monarchs yet do not discuss the Angevin ‘Empire’. We talk of the Vikings but not of Cnut’s rule in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In terms of stories about  Scottish History, Don identifies the bias in the narrative where the ‘English’ are seen solely as ‘conquerors’ and how we repeat this bias in England by missing out the complexity in these events (this was developed by Ian Dawson’s brilliant role-play on the importance given to Bannockburn). It really was a great opening session and showed that even when he feels like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets, he is saying the right things.

Christine Counsell‘s session addressed a number of issues I have wanted to blog about for a while yet did not have the reading, thinking or subtlety to compose. Christine started by suggesting that we are able to read a piece of text by Simon Schama not because of ‘literacy’ but because we have substantive knowledge and knowledge of ‘second-order’ concepts in History (such as change, continuity etc). Teaching the subject well demands that we address both. Or in other words, we need to plan with ‘fingertip knowledge’ in mind as well as ‘residual knowledge’. Christine also addressed the issue of ‘measuring’ historical progress through assessments and the work of her PGCE students and former trainees is outstanding. When people suggest that University training of teachers is universally poor, I point to the Cambridge History PGCE course.

My final highlight was Dale Banham’s workshop which was pragmatic to its core with a focus on improving written work. There were so many ideas and my two key takeaways are his consistent approach to using the Cornell method of note-taking for Sixth Formers and the use of graphical organisers to help essay planning. I will certainly be using these two ideas when term resumes. I suggest you check the Schools History Project website for further information on the resources showcased by Dale.

There were also some workshop/plenary sessions where I left with more questions than when I started. Denis Shemilt and Frances Blow’s idea of ‘Big History’ and the practical application of it by Dan Nuttall and Laura Goodyer seemed to me more of a diachronic (through time) view of History rather than a reconfigured ‘Big History’. I think I need to read more about ‘Historical Frameworks’ before I can reach a genuine conclusion.

Outside the workshops it was good to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. Thanks to Michael Riley, the SHP conference team and all the workshop leaders and plenary speakers. In a world of CPD without context, it is incredibly useful to ‘practise as we play’ before the new academic year in September.

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Teaching at the Wren Academy – Part 2

As I got in the cab on my way from the Tube (I did not want to be late) this morning, the driver freely offered his opinion on the Wren: it really is an excellent school. He has no children there but he added that some of his clients speak about the school in glowing terms. Priceless marketing. Yet as I left the school this afternoon, I worried what the funding for Sixth Form students could diminish the education it (and other schools like it) offers. The possibility that schools like the Wren may, in the future, have to increase class sizes or shed teaching staff to balance an already squeezed budget seems wrong. Those niche (within a school context)  subjects at A Level will disappear. Regardless of what some research may suggest about optimum class sizes, doing a good job with 30 A Level students in one class is wrongheaded especially when the other demands of teaching can reduce your capacity to maintain the high standards many teachers strive to achieve (and the students need). As I made the journey home and thought about the cab driver’s words, it seemed that whilst there is general praise for the work schools like Wren do from the community and the government, their ability to thrive was being stifled by the cutbacks. It reminded me (for some strange reason) of Geoffrey Howe’s words as he resigned from the Thatcher government:

It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.

Geoffrey Howe, resignation speech, 1990.

I do not believe that we are there yet but if the people with power are really serious about making state schools the ‘best in the world’, there really is a lot of work to do.

On a happier note, the Y10 lessons (on the consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis) went well and I had some fantastic answers to the ‘who won the Cuban Missile Crisis?’ question. I also spoke to some of the students and many of them were keen to do History at A Level, a great endorsement of the work Ruth and the team have done/are doing.

I also had a quick discussion with Michael Whitworth (the Principal of Wren Academy) around lesson observations and CPD and I look forward to continuing those discussions tomorrow after my final Sixth Form lessons on Lenin’s rule.

 

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Teaching at the Wren Academy – Part 1

One of the things that interests me intensely are the stereotypes people have of the independent and state sectors. Many of these views stem from the fact that they have not set foot in some of the institutions and ‘did the work’ so they could talk with some conviction. As an aspiring Head (yes, I am considering both sectors) it also made sense for me to avoid the same accusation so I decided last year that I would spend a few days teaching at The Wren Academy which is sponsored by Berkhamsted School. I have visited the Wren before and invited them to participate in #TLAB13 and #TLAB14. Ruth, their Head of History has visited Berkhamsted a few times and we agreed that it would be great for her NQT colleagues to see an experienced A Level teacher take some lessons.

As I arrived this morning, there was a sense of dread. My first lesson (Y9)sort of worked yet I wanted to polish it/check a few things before I taught. It did not really work out that way and to be honest, it fell way beyond my own standards (and would, in my reckoning, been a ‘3’ in Oftsed language). Not a great start and a timely reminder that nothing should be left to chance.

The second and third lessons went well (The Russian Revolutions 1917) and I will be seeing the 6th Form classes again on Thursday. I also helped teach an ‘enrichment’ lesson with a small group of students struggling with the Wall Street Crash with Ruth and I must say, this was my favourite part of the day. Armed with sheets of paper and text books, we discussed the causes and effects of the Depression and I was impressed with the questions and factual information they had retained from previous lessons.

At the end, Ruth and I sat down to discuss the day and lay the groundwork for tomorrow. We both agreed that the first lesson was terrible so we left it there! We then examined the observed 6th Form lesson (no judgement) and it was interesting that my point for development was to consider wider opportunities for AFL. We then discussed the tension between asking individual questions of students and small, paired discussion before asking questions. This was a useful conversation because it gave us both a chance to think about our natural inclinations in the classroom and how we could switch between these two approaches and it will certainly inform my planning for tomorrow when I teach the consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis to Y10.

We also touched on the focus of lesson observations (they have been developmental, not judgemental, at Berkhamsted for a long time), CPD and Lesson Study. I hope I can convince Ruth and her team to present at #TLAB15…

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Scholars

This is a practical piece on some work I am doing this year on what was formerly known as the Most Able Group (Gifted and Talented in old money) and I wanted to develop the programme into something that was more in line with raising expectations across the board. Below is an outline of current plans (and work in progress):

  • We are running a trial of the Higher Project Qualification (HPQ) for Year 9 this year as a co-curricular activity. The first term is where students are introduced to research skills and they will have until the early part of Year 10 to complete it. We offer the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in Year 12 and wanted to make sure that the students had a break between the two research projects and could concentrate on the GCSE exams. Because of its trial nature, we have selected a small group of students and limited the projects to written pieces. The plan next year is that we open it to all students in Year 9 and explore how we can include Art and Drama into the project.
  • We have a pilot programme where a small group of students are selected initially on their Midyis Scores to be part of the formal Scholars programme that will start after the break. Students will have up to four days a year to take part in external projects with a real world outcome (a scholars’ evening) where they will give presentations/demonstrations of the work they have done to parents and other invited guests. The projects are organised over two years (7+8 and 9+10) and there is a link in terms of progression over the four year cycle. Below is the framework for the programme (we are finalising the exact topics this week after much discussion).
STEM Philosophy/History Literature
Year 7
Year 8
Year 9
Year 10
  • Membership of this scholar group is not fixed and we will be monitoring progress of students within the group and of students outside it who we think will benefit (recommendations will be taken from Pastoral Staff and HoDs).

The purpose behind this programme is to widen the opportunities that all students have according to where they are. We offer a range of activities for all learners within the school and want students to follow the path most appropriate to them (we already have a sports/drama/arts scholarship programme running throughout the school where students are offered tailored opportunities according to their interests). This is really the first step and we certainly don’t expect to get it right this year yet it has led to some very interesting conversations including the possibility of the HPQ becoming part of our KS4 offering.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming months and how it fits with the work on effort grades already underway.

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Using new technologies to enhance teaching and learning in History

Using New Technologies book coverA brief update to publicise a book that I have contributed to and edited by Professor Terry Hadyn of UEA. Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Learning in History (Routledge) is now available in paperback and a ebook friendly version will be available within the month.

I recall a few years ago being told by someone very prominent in the History teaching community that ‘ICT had been done’ and did not require any more thought. This book indicates that the judicious use of technology is still an issue to be grappled with especially as the thoughtful use of technology stems from careful thinking about subject knowledge, skills and literacy.

The ebook version will have links which will be constantly updated and may come with additional chapters. My contribution includes how iPads can be used to enhance History teaching and also the use of iBooks Author. I hope you find it useful and let me know if you have any questions.

Contents are below:

Professor Terry Hadyn What does it mean to be good at ICT as a history teacher and We Need to talk about PowerPoint),

Neal Watkin The history utility belt: getting learners to express themselves digitally

Ali Messer History Wikis

Arthur Chapman Using discussion forums to support historical learning

Dan Lyndon Using blogs and podcasts in the history classroom

Richard Jones-Nerzic Documentary film making in the history classroom

John Simkin Making the most of the Spartacus Educational website

Ben Walsh Signature pedagogies, assumptions and assassins: ICT and motivation in the history classroom

Johannes Ahrenfelt Immersive learning in the history classroom: how social media can help meet the expectations of a new generation of learners

Alf Wilkinson What can you do with an interactive whiteboard?

Nick Dennis and Doug Belshaw Tools for the tech savvy history teacher

Janos Blasszauer History webquests

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Conference Update #1

I love good news especially when I know others (as well as myself) will benefit. This weekend I had two good pieces of news which I am really pleased to relay.

The first piece is that Alistair Smith, author of Accelerated LearningLearning to Learn, the Secrets of Successful Schools and renowned trainer has agreed to speak at the Teaching, Learning & Assessment conference at Berkhamsted School on the 16th March 2013.

The second piece of good news is that Professor Bill Lucas, co-author (with Guy Claxton) of New Kinds of Smart, The Learning Powered School  and co-director of Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester has also agreed to speak.

With workshops run by outstanding teachers from across the country alongside distinctive and challenging key speakers, we believe that the conference will be a unique learning experience for attendees with lots of practical, effective ideas. Ticket prices and details about booking will appear on the blog and the Berkhamsted School website in October. What I can reveal is that the event price will be pleasing to everyone!

Places will be limited on the Saturday to make the workshops manageable so please bear this in mind when tickets are released. To enhance the weekend and to provide as much collaboration as possible, we will also be holding a TeachMeet on Friday 15th March which will be free to everyone. Further details will also be released in the next few months.

The response to the call for workshop proposals has been fantastic and we are still looking for more suggestions. If you would consider presenting a workshop or would like further information, please sign up to our Google Form on the original announcement post.

We look forward to seeing you on the 16th March! Stay tuned for further updates….

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SCVNGR Reflections

I have been talking up the potential of SCVNGR since I first heard about it earlier this year as I thought it would provide a vehicle for games based learning at the school and beyond. Initially marketed as an electronic scavenger hunt, the direction and feel of the application was changed during the course of the year to incorporate social networking functionality similar to Foursquare. Even with this change in orientation, I believed that it would be possible to use the platform to implement a game based learning approach to historical trips/visits. Questions (or ‘challenges’) can be set and answered by typing specific answers, free form text, submitting a picture or scanning a QR Code. The experience today has made me reflect carefully on the further use of the tool with the students.

The use of SCVNGR in school today was meant to provide a fun activity for the boarders and also test the application in a relatively controlled environment. As I was building the ‘Trek’ (it used to be called a scvngr) I realised that one of the aspects of the earlier build has disappeared, namely the ability to display large images in the game and attach questions to it. The screenshot below shows the original implementation.

Scvngr Screen Shot

Old Scvngr image based question

However, the new version of the game only allows (as far as I can tell) thumbnail displays (as the screen shot below also shows).

Current SCVNGR question with image.

Continuing with the image theme, the students had some issues uploading to the game the pictures they had to taken in order to answer a challenge. It seems to be an iPhone issue (seemed to work on Android devices) and this severely dented the enjoyment of the students taking part.

Uh oh...

The short game today has made me think very carefully about the use of such software in a classroom based environment. I still believe that it has massive potential for learning outside the four walls of the classroom and could lead to a significant modification of task design to help learning. However, the platform needs to be developed to to able to meet the high expectations of the learners and staff, especially with image submission. I had intended to use it for the Apple Regional Training event at the school this week but I am undecided at the moment. If you are coming to the event, be prepared to test it out and let me know what you think.

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Travelling without maps (I)

World Map - 1689

‘We could roll up the map of the Cold War and travel without maps for a while’
E P Thompson on the possibility of social groups affecting the Cold War in 1982.

The academic year has finished and as you often do when things end, I started to think about my assumptions at the beginning of year. In some cases, I exceeded my expectations and in other areas I have been left with an uneasy gnawing feeling that only exists when things are left undone or have been completed poorly. Thinking about my role as Assistant Head in particular, I have come to realise that the plans I made were just guesses, contingent on a range of assumptions (succinctly and brutally put in Fried and Hansson’s ‘Rework’) that I was not really in control of despite my best efforts. Of course, there were variables I could control myself but my ‘map’ of how I thought the year was going to go did not lead me to plan for all the changes I was going to encounter. It is impossible to plan for everything but one thing I can do is to get better at preparing myself before I start. I have learned from experience that the best way to challenge and stimulate my own thinking is by seeing the excellence displayed by my peers. It was obvious that a journey around the country to see and experience excellence would help me create a more detailed ‘map’ for the coming academic year.

Source work at Diana Laffin's workshop

Source work at Diana Laffin's workshop

The first ‘stop’ on this journey is the Schools History Project conference in Leeds. This is a good place to start as it provides an amazing opportunity to see many History teachers and trainers at the top of their game in one place. One person I always try to see is Diana Laffin. Her work with her A Level History students always forces me to raise my expectations on what can be done with History in the 6th Form. This year was no exception and the source analysis activity she and Emma Kelley modelled using Enoch Powell’s speech was brilliant. They gave us the text of the speech but also said that an extra sentence/paragraph had been inserted and we needed to identify it. What this neat trick did was to force us to read the source a few times, getting a feel for the overall speech and looking for a specific phrase or wording which would betray the inserted text. This ‘surface’ and ‘deep’ reading worked brilliantly. They also asked us to annotate, in silence, the questions we would like to ask and any observations we wanted to make before we could discuss it as a group. Finally, we were instructed to make up a tabloid headline representing a particular point of view using a variety of sources, making the seemingly ‘dull’ topic of housing an engaging and ‘live’ topic. There are so many ways that their work could be deployed in my planning and I hope the students feel the benefit of Diana and Emma’s inspirational workshop.

Another stimulating experience was chairing the TeachMeet session with able assistance by John Heffernan, Sarah (Head of Classics at Felsted) and the brilliant ICT technicians at Trinity and All Saints. 39 people turned up to find out what other teachers were doing in their classroom and I was impressed and challenged by all the presentations. I would like to thank all the people who volunteered to present, Steve Bunce for booking the Flashmeeting and Doug Belshaw for keeping things running virtually. In addition, I also want to thank the sponsors: Beedocs, Vital, Heinemann and Toucan Computing. After the frenetic pace of the TeachMeet I had hoped for a rest but I readily volunteered to became a ‘common soldier’ in Parliament’s Army as part of Ian Dawson’s brilliant Saturday night extravaganza on the English Civil Wars in the North of England. Ian’s work is interesting as he has the knack of making the fiendishly complex easy to understand through active learning and this session was no different. The weekend was rounded off with a session delivered by Christine Counsell on Change and Continuity. What I loved about this session was Christine’s use of the Cambridge PGCE students’ work to illustrate her points and the understanding that her thinking on the issue was still developing. I was also struck by her use of Playdoh to get the delegates to represent key concepts in a visual way. This is a brilliant way to get the students to genuinely show their understanding of a concept even though it appears to be simply making shapes to represent a word.

Christine Counsell at the SHP conference.

Christine Counsell at the SHP conference.

Christine’s activity with the Playdoh resonated with most of what I had seen that weekend in terms of the role ‘play’ has in learning; being a journalist or a common soldier increased my enjoyment and understanding of the topic we were looking at. How could I thoughtfully use such activities to increase engagement but also develop ‘deep’ thinking to allow my students to see and touch the different textures of the stories within my lessons? A possible answer to this question was given by visiting Dawn Hallybone at Oakdale Junior School in East London. This was an unusual place for me as a secondary teacher but Dawn is well known in UK educational technology circles as an advocate and leading practitioner of Game Based Learning. Seeing her class ‘On Safari’ radically altered my perception on Game Based Learning and my own teaching. Using the Nintendo Wii game, ‘Wild Earth: African Safari’, Dawn’s class roamed around the virtual Serengeti national park taking ‘pictures’ and recording information meticulously about the animals they encountered. When they were given a task by the game to find an animal they did not know, Dawn directed a student to find out and they shared the information with the class (like the case of the Zorilla, which I had no idea about). Always mindful of the environmental impact of their exploration (due to the bar on the top of the interactive whiteboard), they continued to record information about the animals they encountered in their notebooks until the game clock had elapsed. From a secondary school point of view, the level of concentration displayed really impressed me and what happened next really made me rethink writing at secondary level. Without the use of a writing frame, the pupils in pairs (via Purplemash) began to produce fantastic descriptions of the animals they had seen, using the facts they had gleaned from being ‘On Safari’ in their notebooks. I realised in that moment that what I had just seen was a creative approach to knowledge acquisition augmented by the intrinsic motivation of the pupils within a context where saying ‘I don’t know’ was seen as a necessary and normal part of learning. Dawn did guide her class at times but they were merrily recording information and writing without much external pressure. For a secondary teacher, it was revelatory and I would like to thank Dawn and her class for sharing their learning with me.

Both the SHP conference and the visit to Dawn’s school made me challenge my ‘map’ of priorities for next year. I still have two more schools to visit this week but it has become clear that in order to renew my focus and deal with the rapid changes and demands, I need to roll up the map of my current way of thinking and travel without maps for a while.

Front and first image: Chuck ‘Caveman’ Coker @ Flickr.

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