In our first history department meeting last week, we discussed the school’s new approach to ‘Building Learning Power’ and how we could create resources to use the language and ideas to structure planning and work for the students. As we went over key ideas, I recalled some work I had done in 2009 with a Year 9 class and presented to the PGCE students at the University of Cambridge which would fit into the ‘Building Learning Power’ language. I managed to dig the resources up and thought I would share them too. I must stress that the lessons were not designed with ‘Building Learning Power’ in mind but by a focus on subject pedagogy and subject knowledge (from reading Carr’s book again).
At the time, I was struggling to get my students to think about the second-order concept of ‘change and continuity’ and felt that the work I was doing with them at the time really was a ‘march through history’. After re-reading some work from Ian Dawson, Alan Kelly and Christine Counsell, I went back to Denis Shemilt’s four narrative frameworks for use in history teaching in his chapter ‘The Caliph’s Coin’ from the book ‘Knowing, Teaching & Learning History’:
- A chronologically ordered past – events are told in sequence via timelines and with varying degrees of sophistication;
- Coherent historical narratives – where history is presented as a story and historical events have meaning attached to them;
- Multidimensional narratives – history is taught through three ‘interlocking and interpreting dimensions; means of production and population history, forms of social organisation, and cultural and intellectual history;
- Polythetic narratives – teachers teach history in a way that allows students to understand that truth is constructed and there is no one narrative of the past.
I felt pretty sure that I was good at getting them to think about the first two levels but wanted to stretch them on the last two. An opportunity presented itself when we reached the end of the First World War topic. I had also finished reading E H Carr’s book ‘The Twenty Years’ Crisis’ again, a classic in the field of International Relations. In it, Carr suggest the following:
The main feature of the crisis of the twenty years between 1919 and 1939 was the move from hope in the first ten years to grim despair in the second. E H Carr,
With only two lessons to work with, I wanted the students to challenge Carr’s argument and gain a deeper understanding of how historical narrative is constructed (following Shemilt’s ideas).
Drawing on Ian Dawson’s work on ‘living timelines’, I created three sets of cards representing three European powers at the time. Each card had a ‘crisis rating’ on them and the students were asked to place them chronologically on their own graphs first and then arrange the cards according to the ‘crisis rating’.
When placed along the main classroom timeline, students were asked if Carr’s idea of a ‘Twenty Years’ Crisis’ was a valid one. The students were able to see, through the use of the coloured country cards, that Carr’s assertion stemmed from a particular view and the move from ‘hope to despair’ was more aligned with Britain than with Germany. Students began to grasp that the historical narrative employed by Carr was a indeed a constructed one and could be challenged by examining other countries. This was a major achievement but I wanted to push them a little further in their thinking. Each card had an image which represented a different historical factor such as the Treaty of Versailles (picture of the actual treaty and represented a political factor), the Wall Street Crash and its effects (economic factor represented by a picture of money) and the role of the individual (represented by the green figure). A close up can be found below.
By tracing these themes on the diagram by focusing on the images on the cards, they were asked to compare their graph of factors against Carr’s assertion. The hope was that by doing so, pupils would gain a ‘multidimensional narrative’ of International Relations and also an overview of the period. To round it off, a written piece was generated when they wrote to Carr and explained that he needed to take a wider view of the period between 1919 and 1939.
The resources for the lessons can be found here and a video of the events (used as a prompt in the second lesson) can be seen below.
I plan to use the lesson framework with my Year 8 students as we study the Tudors. Any ideas would be very welcome.