A review of the textbook in light of the associated scheme of work and resources. Part one of the review can be found here: click.
I must point out, before any further critique, that Robert Peal has been extremely generous in sharing his resources and schemes of work. These are an excellent, and helpful contribution, of resources, which must be utilised critically and judiciously.
In my first post, I was critical of the comprehension style questions, and how they do not encourage students to think hard about the material. Peal does go somewhat further with his schemes of work, where each lesson of reading from the book is followed up with some written tasks. These questions, such as ‘what can a historian learn about the response to the Gunpowder Plot from a Dutch engraving?’ are likely to provoke deeper thinking and the writing process itself, I’d contend, also encourages students to ‘do something’ with the information.
These written tasks are, as this question implies, often linked to a discussion surrounding historical sources. These sources are grounded in discussions of their role and purpose in learning about the period and how they might be of value to historians. As such, Peal’s schemes of work imply that there is some engagement with the concept of using historical evidence, and this is the start of students beginning to consider how our historical knowledge can only be provisional in nature. One would have to be in the lessons to see how far Peal develops these ideas, but there is no reason why Peal’s resources should not lead to individual teacher’s doing so in their own classrooms.
Collins has also published free ‘teacher guides’ to accompany each of the textbooks. Within these, teachers are directed towards “thinking deeper” questions. These should be for all students, but at least these too encourage students to work up their historical knowledge from the raw chronicle they are provided with in the textbooks.
What troubled me here though, in these teacher guides, were the “suggested activities” to accompany each lesson. Take these two activities, which accompany the lesson on James I and the Gunpowder Plot, as an example:
- Complete a storyboard of the Gunpowder Plot, giving an illustrated narrative of the series of events.
- Further research the claims some people have made that the Gunpowder Plot was – to some extent – a hoax, and debate whether this could or could not be true.
I was surprised to see these tasks, from a knowledge-rich, anti-progressive teacher such as Peal. The idea of “complete a storyboard” isn’t particularly historical, and I’m not sure how far it is going to encourage students to really probe the significance of the gunpowder plot. I think this speaks to the lack of a genuine progression model across the textbook series. Whilst this lesson hangs under the banner of a chapter on the English Civil War, there’s no connection between the reigns of James I and Charles I. Here, we have missed a trick, and we’re lacking historical depth. It is also worth mentioning that Louis Everett didn’t mention that any further activities were a regular feature of the “reading” lessons during his presentation at the West London Free School history conference.
Peal is also very strong here on directing students towards more precise sources, and there are links to tasks where students are encouraged to read more academic history. Teachers will want to take the very clearly referenced materials and integrate them into a curriculum model with greater coherence. I have generated the impression, from the range of examples provided in the schemes of work, and from the conference, that the works of historians are primarily confined to homework reading. There is another missed trick here, in that it would perhaps be valuable to integrate historical debates with the lesson materials. I have written on the merits of doing so elsewhere on this blog, and one suspects this might also go some way towards helping students to understand that the textbook provides an interpretation rather than the interpretation.
In short, the schemes of work and Peal’s broader range of resources merit further exploration and any teacher looking at the textbooks must combine the two. However, there remain limitations to this package which will be addressed in one final post.