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23 September 2015

Back to Versailles again: Explaining, accounting for and evaluating interpretations

And so we come to it... it's the third week of September and that means it must be time for my annual trip to the Paris peace talks and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles. Normally, we'd take a look at the terms of the treaty and then study the German reaction through some of the most famous cartoons of the period. But this year, I want to do Versailles a little differently.

I've also been thinking about the way I work on historical interpretations with my classes and looking for some opportunities to stretch and challenge my most able students. This particular area of the discipline is ideally suited to that, as understanding and working with historical interpretations is generally regarded as one of the most challenging aspects of the subject. So I've set to work planning a new lesson.

The ideal starting place for this was to revisit the academic discourse around what student progression in this concept looks like. Sidestepping the issues which accompany any such progression models, namely that progress is often patchy and students do not move forward in neat, linear steps, I've decided that there are essentially three moves which I want my students to make:-

1. I want students to be able to explain the existence and development of a historical interpretation, by setting it in the context of the time period it was created in, the viewpoint of the creator and the audience for which it was created. For my least able, this would represent good progress.

2. I want my middle ability students to be able to compare two interpretations, accounting for their differences by setting them firmly in context, deploying precise historical knowledge to support their explanations.

3. For my most able, I would like them to be able to go further by evaluating the validity of two different interpretations. This decision will have to be based on sound historical evidence. This will be a challenge for the students (and it made me think carefully when planning it).

So I've made a lesson to address those three areas. Here's what I'm going to do:-

Firstly, we're going to work on contextual knowledge, which students will need in order to explain how and why a historical interpretation has come about. We will do this in streamed ability groups, with half the groups working on post-war Germany and half working on post-war Britain. I'll supply them with a short summary and ask them to make a diagram focusing on the impact of the war and public opinion in the post-war years. Groups will then visit each other and teach each other briefly, using their diagrams.

Then we'll repeat this process with two interpretations of the Treaty of Versailles. Half my groups will look at a German interpretation of the treaty and half will look at one from a British perspective. Again, groups will visit each other to be taught briefly and I intend to follow this with some hinge questioning to check that the message of the cartoons has been understood.

At this point in the lesson, we will break into three separate routes.

 The least able groups will work with teaching assistant support to write an explanation in which they account for the existence of one of the cartoons, explaining its message and setting it into the context of when and where it was created.

Middle ability students will work with me and will write an analysis and comparison of the two interpretations, accounting for their differences by setting them into context.

For my most able students, I want them to be able to hit that highest stage by evaluating which of the two interpretations holds greater weight. This judgement has to be underpinned by sound evidence and reasoning, so I'll give them a pack of evidence cards which they will use to support either the German or British interpretation. This they will follow up with a written, substantiated judgement.

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At 01/12/2016, 22:26 , Blogger David Mullen said...

I really like this idea of approaching the T of V - it looks great.
Would it be possible to have a copy of this fantastic resource? Would be really grateful!David


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