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23 November 2014

British history pre-1066... and all that

The context - Curriculum 2014

As historians and History teachers, we know all too well the furore which accompanied the initial publication of the 2014 National Curriculum.  Sharp criticisms focused on the overly-prescriptive nature of the new curriculum, the Anglo-centric focus of the content and the pre-occupation with providing students with a tidy historical narrative in which the complexity of the discipline might be lost.  To many, the revised document which arrived in September 2013 was a relief, with its broader, less-prescriptive, less Anglo-centric approach and its return to the key principles of history as a discipline.  However, there were still changes and challenges to be seized.  Tucked in among these changes was the requirement to teach some pre-1066 British history.

The rationale for British history pre-1066... and all that

The requirement to deliver British history pre-1066 represented an exciting opportunity for my department.  Technically, this requirement could have been met by tweaking our already tried-and-tested Roman history unit to make it fully-focused on Roman Britain.  This would have allowed us to go on avoiding the Anglo-Saxon period completely and making our annual jump at the start of January straight from Roman Britain to the Norman invasion, without giving students any broader sense of the bigger picture.  However, inspired by Byrom's advice to resist the temptation to bathe in the easy glow of continuity and to seize the opportunity to kick on and do something new that might enable students to understand the long arc of development, we set about planning a unit of work focusing on the period AD400 - AD1066.  In doing so, we hoped not only to give students a less disjointed historical narrative but to lay the foundation for students' later exploration of Viking claims to the throne in 1066.
Invasion, migration and settlement AD400 - AD1066

The period offered a rich and extensive source of material and inspiration for our new units of work.  Curriculum time constraints ensured there was a need to be discerning about exactly what was covered.  In the end, two opportunities were grasped for development.   The first was the opportunity to give students a chronological sense of the process of different waves of invasion, migration and settlement in Britain, considering some of the motives which underpinned these movements and developing an understanding of some of the difficulties which they faced.  The second was the opportunity offered by the new unit of work to tackle one of the more challenging historical concepts, that of historical interpretations.  To do this, it was decided that we would focus on the historiographical debate about the Vikings and their impact on Britain.

Building an overview of the bigger picture: With an Anglo-Saxon tapestry!

In the initial stages of the unit of work, I was keen to give students a framework to understand the period and upon which to hang subsequent investigation.  To achieve this goal, I decided to engage students in creating an Anglo-Saxon tapestry inspired by and in the style of the Norman Bayeux tapestry.  Students were given 'event cards', each with a notable development in the period AD400 - AD1066.  These were largely based on events depicted in the Anglo-Saxon chronicle.  As such, students required some support and guidance in understanding some of the names and terminology they encountered.  However, this also presented me with an ideal opportunity to introduce them to perhaps the most important source of evidence for the period.  Using their event cards, students then created a tapestry image in the style of the Bayeux tapestry, together with a museum caption for their scene.  When these were ready, students assembled their tapestry chronologically and glued it together to make one broad narrative.  The result was spectacular and is now hanging proudly above my classroom door.  The materials from this particular learning episode, including events cards, tapestry framework and lesson plan are available here in the resources section of my website.

Students working excitedly on their parts of the tapestry!

Assembly of the tapestry had to happen outside, due to the length!

Where to next?

The tapestry is already proving incredibly useful as a teaching tool.  As we move through the period in subsequent lessons, simply locating the relevant part of the tapestry has given my students a more secure sense of the bigger picture.  The tapestry has also provoked lively debate about its depiction of the Vikings, something which foreshadowed our later work on the historiographical debate about the Viking invasions.  In the coming weeks, I will blog here about my experiences working with students on historical interpretations of the Vikings.

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14 November 2014

Delivering effective feedback

As part of a work scrutiny exercise yesterday, I delivered some CPD on nine principles of making feedback effective.
Download in higher resolution


11 November 2014

Speed dating in 1930s Germany

My Year 9 students are working on the rise of the Nazis.  As part of this sequence of lessons, I want them to gain an understanding of how and why the Nazis' message appealed to different sections of German society.  In order to do that, they need to understand some of the economic, social and political discontent which formed the backdrop to the Nazis' success in the early 1930s.  I've designed an episode of speed dating served to achieve this goal - and the activity could easily apply be applied to other contexts.  You can download the materials used to deliver the activity below.  I'll be delivering this lesson later today.  Watch this space for video footage of the lesson being delivered!
HOW IT WORKS: Allocate students character cards.  They get into character by completing a short reading activity in which they are required to work out what their character's hopes, dreams, fears and wishes are.
Once this is completed, divide the class into groups of 5 (one of each of the five different characters).  Line them up facing each other and you're ready to go speed dating!  Students have only two minutes to talk to each of their 'dates' and record their discoveries.
FOLLOW UP ACTIVITY: After this activity, my students should be ready for us to examine the Nazis' 25 point programme and begin to judge which aspects of the programme appealed to different sections of society.

See the powerpoint slides

Download the cards and worksheet

**UPDATE**: I delivered the activity to my Year 9 students today.  You can see the results for yourself below.

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9 November 2014

Great mnemonics - part I

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4 November 2014

Clothes pegs and chronology

As History teachers, we devote a considerable proportion of our time to delivering narratives to our students which form the crucial background for subsequent analytical and evaluative work.  I'm always on the look out for new and active ways of delivering a narrative to students and engaging them in it.  The following example is one of the most effective ways I've found and relies mostly on a few washing lines and a set of clothes pegs!  The example here was drawn from one of my Key Stage 3 units of work on life in the Middle Ages.  However, the method is so universal it can be applied to deliver almost any historical narrative to students. Indeed, I'll wager it can be applied to other subject disciplines too.
FIRST : In this phase of the lesson, students are asked to read a narrative.  They are told to focus on the chronological order of events and how they link together.  In the example here, my Year 7 students were asked to look at the steps by which the Black Death arrived in England.
Example narrative

SECOND : In preparation for this stage, you have divided the narrative into between 8 to 10 key moments and put them onto A4 cards, like the exemplar here.  Make three complete sets of the cards, in three different colours e.g. red, blue & yellow (we'll come back to that in the next step!).  Each student is given an A4 card featuring one of the key events in the narrative.  You now ask the students to carry out a drawing challenge, requiring them to draw the event on their card, using symbols but no words.
Example key moment card
THIRD : In preparation for the kinaesthetic stage, rig up three washing lines in the classroom.  Divide the class into three groups and assign them to a washing line (this is easy to do if you colour coded your cards - just direct your students with red cards to one washing line, yellows to another and blues to the final washing line.  Now tell groups they will now compete against each other to hang their cards on the washing line in correct chronological order.  At this point, prepare to stand back and watch huge excitement as students race against each other.  You judge who finished first.
FOURTH : Now that students are engaged in the lesson and have understood the narrative, it's time to switch into analysis.  Of course, the activity chosen here will depend on the nature of the material you are covering and your lesson objectives.  The example here is merely for illustration.  In this case, I wanted students to analyse the role of various characters in the spread of the Black Death.
Example analysis task

FINAL THOUGHTS : One of the best things about this activity is how versatile it is.  It can be applied so easily to any chronological narrative or process, whether in History or across other subject disciplines.  In my experience it never fails to engage students.

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