Where can I read about the WLFS History Conference?

 

  1. The Twitter hashtag #WLFSHistory
  2. My Blog!
    1. My review of Christine Counsell’s opener.
    2. My review of the WLFS approach and Jim Carroll’s session.
    3. My review of Vartan Tamizian’s session on historical narratives, and Robert Tombs’ closing lecture.
  3. Other valuable blogs on the WLFS Conference:

    1. Conference organiser extraordinaire Louis Everett has posted his own reflections and the resources for the day.
    2. Lee Donaghy has an exceptional reflection here, which is valuable in picking apart some of the individual workshops and the ‘revolutionary’ idea from Michael Fordham that the curriculum is the progression model.
    3. Robert Peal’s discussion on the importance of knowledge, and how this message manifested itself through the conference.
    4. Alex Ford carries on the conversation about what we want from textbooks.
    5. A further set of reflections by Miss Beckwith.
    6. Sally Thorne writes some captivating reviews of the various workshops in a series of blogposts here.
    7. Michael Fordham has continued to explore how we might conceptualise progression in history.
    8. Tom Rogers has a very interesting perspective on the ‘big picture’ knowledge debate in his TES column.

‘Knowledge’ Organisers in History

Recent writing on knowledge organisers has got me thinking. I find their name somewhat perplexing, and the discussions on their use too simplistic.

The first thing that strikes me is that we need to be flexible with their use. I also believe that teachers are, and that critics like Sue Cowley, fail to understand their nuances.  These are not given to students as before teaching, and students asked to memorise them out of context. My standard practice is, however, to give them to students before teaching commences. The process of constructing the documents is valuable, in pinning down precisely what I want all students to know, as recommended by Joe Kirby. Students are asked to learn them before the teaching but this is not to strip the teaching of its wonder. Quite the contrary. When students spend less time remembering who a historical figure is, they are able to free up their working memory to consider why they are of significance. Once they know the order of events, they can consider more deeply within the lesson why they took place in the order that they did and the connections between them.

Perhaps this demonstrates the point that these documents need to be part of a broader package of teaching. Sometimes they would be more valuable given after a sequence of lessons, and that is where the professional judgement of the teacher comes in. They cannot become ‘cramming documents’ because this will not aid long-term memory. As part of a broader package of teaching, students are able to make sense of the terms, and individuals and their importance, and this will also aid long-term memory. I fear that this dimension has been missed. I can find little, to nothing, for example on what a typical Michaela history lesson looks like. Hopefully the teaching itself contextualises the information, and this discussion of the information will also support students’ memory.

You may also have noticed that I have referred to them as “these documents” and that is for a good reason. In the context of history, it would not be fair to call them ‘knowledge organisers’. Historical knowledge is not a series of facts, or a well organised set of dates (this, would, of course be a simple chronicle), and the information needs to be brought to life by the second-order concepts. The ‘teasing up’ of knowledge over time is a murky business, a challenging balance between ‘facts’ and conceptual frameworks and discussions about knowledge organisers need to remember this. We might also consider re-naming them. Or giving some dimension to them, in history, where they might also support students’ conceptual understanding too.

A Reflection on 2016, looking to 2017

Last year’s set of reflections can be found here. I find this public reflection extremely cathartic, why it might be of interest to others eludes me.

Highlights of 2016

  1. A successful resumption of my MA has been extremely stimulating and interesting. Not only do I feel challenged but it has given my teaching a new moral purpose. I admit being somewhat reluctant to engage in a “wishy washy” compulsory unit called What is Education? However, it was far from wishy washy. I have very precisely pinned down my vision of what education is for, and I’m using it as a guide to evaluating my teaching and developing my practice.
  2. I have recalibrated my work/life balance to the extent where I now feel like my workload is manageable. This is not to say that I do not put in many more hours than I feel that I should, but I’m taking significantly less work home with me and I’ve become far more selective with what work I’m taking on, and what I’m choosing to improve. This does feel, in part, the result of reaching a fourth year of teaching in the same school. I’m also grateful for light touch management – what I hear about many other schools horrifies me.
  3. My teaching has become more ‘knowledge focussed’, building on many of the targets I set for myself last year such as testing for memory, I have been able to pinpoint exactly what I want my students to know from each unit of work. This has been achieved, in part, through the use of knowledge organisers and Joe Kirby’s thoughtful questions that departments should ask themselves. I’ve also benefited from using more of my free time to read more, a leisure pursuit that was previously lost to a good deal of working from home.

 

Some targets for 2017

  1. To successfully share good practise. I remarked upon 2015 as being a good year for working collaboratively within my department and starting to reach out to other departments. Having grown as a teacher through my MA, I need to share what I have learned with teachers beyond my department. I have been tasked with setting up a research group starting this February which I need to shape and think about how I can make this really work for our school and our school’s partners.
  2. To bring more historians into the classroom. Little more needs to be said. Too much of my history teaching happens in its own little bubble, without enough reference to the works of historians. I’m going to change that and look forward to reflecting on how that goes on this blog.
  3. Help students to see the big picture. This is something I am currently wrestling with as part of my MA. As effective as teaching lessons day to day might be, students are not left with a developed chronological understanding or sense of how their various enquiries link together. 2017 will be all about exploring how to amend this. Fellow history teachers wrestling with this should read this by Rick Rogers.

I hope all readers have a restful bank holiday and productive 2017!

A Literary Review of 2016

The previous year has been so hectic, it has afforded precious little opportunity to conduct much reading. However, what follows, is a brief review of what I have read this year, in the hope it might inspire others and that I might equally be inspired by suggestions made by others.

  • Katharine Birbalsingh, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teacher
  • Robert Caro, Master of the Senate
  • David Goldblatt, The Games
  • David Goldblatt, The Game of Our Lives
  • Neil MacGregor, Memories of a Nation
  • Stuart Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia
  • Philip Short, Mitterand: A Study in Ambiguity
  • Alwyn Turner, A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s
  • DT Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?
  • Jonathan Wilson, Angels with Dirty Faces

Battle Hymn of The Tiger Teachers

I am keen not to get to get embroiled in the heavy debates which have dominated teacher tweeters in recent weeks. Suffice it to say, this book has done much to make me question my teaching, consider how I would like to build on our own knowledge based curriculum, and what features I would be keen to avoid. I will say, however, that I particularly like this review by James Mannion.

Robert Caro, Master of the Senate 

This is the third volume, of four, published by Robert Caro. I always find it fascinating that it is taking Caro longer to document the of Lyndon B. Johnson than it actually took LBJ to live his life. I have read this book before. I constantly reel off anecdotes from this particular volume to my A2 Government & Politics set. Any teacher of ‘gov & pol’ really must read this. Any fan of history should also read this. Never will one find such a rich and detailed analysis of an individual life. As such, this series sets the benchmark by which any other depth studies should be judged. I cannot implore you to read this enough.

David Goldblatt, The Games and The Game of Our Lives 

It would be fair to say I have been inducted into a new ‘sports history’ genre of writing this year, starting with the Wilson book listed below. These two books, both winners of William Hill’s ‘sports book of the year’ award, are very different in character. The Game of Our Lives is a fascinating insight into British society in 2016, using football as its analytical lens. Goldblatt allows football crowds to demonstrate the conflicting national identities that exist within the United Kingdom, the politics of race and of gender. What truly fascinates, however, is Goldblatt’s conclusion that football clearly mirrors gloabl neoliberal economic trends, which the British public have bought into wholesale. However Goldblatt observes that in the realms of football, our view remains parochial and somewhat resistant to these trends. It is in this one significant way that footballing culture remains at odds with broader social, economic and political trends. It is a must read, undoubtedly one of my favourite books I have read this year.

The Games on the other hand take a much more implicit approach. Goldblatt develops a narrative of the development of the modern Olympic movement, and is much more implicit in allowing the reader to forge connections between the games and the societies in which they are made.

Neil MacGregor, Memories of a Nation

This is probably my favourite book of 2016, purely because of its unique and distinctive approach. MacGregor tells us the story of Germany through objects. With a unifying theme of Germanic history, this is an easier and more enjoyable read than perhaps his previous book A History of the World in 100 Objects which was more fragmented. One can only wonder how we might tell the story of Britain in 40 objects. MacGregor would have us believe that our selections would be too triumphalist, unlike the Germans who remain the only nation to dedicate monuments to their own shame.

Stuart MacIntyre, A Concise History of Australia 

I picked this book up in the hope it would assist my teaching of transportation as part of the GCSE crime and punishment course. This it certainly did, but I became fascinated by the broader arc of Australian history. Especially in this ‘post-Brexit’ world we are reaching out to our ‘brethren’ like Australia, feeling a strong sense of connection, certainly a stronger one than we do with our continental neighbours. However, it is interesting how this nation grew up in a much more liberal fashion, and how significant some of the differences have been between British and Australian history. Also of interest is how differently Australia has dealt with the issue of its native population to the American treatment. Neither are great, but Australia, superficially, seems to have done a better job of it.

Philip Short, A Study in Ambiguity 

I randomly selected this from the shelves of Waterstones in the hope for ‘something different.’ I certainly got that. Anybody interested in the differences in politics between Britain and our near neighbours ought to read this book. Mitterand is a genuinely fascinating individual. It is also remarkable how one could fake their own assassination attempt (the Conservatory Affair) and still reach high office. Could this happen in Britain? I think not.

Alwyn Turner, A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s

This book probably did more to shape my thinking than any other on this list. I grew up in the Blair years, and have always looked back on the Blair premiership with a nostalgic glow. This tome seriously challenged my outlook. I came to appreciate the broader legacy left by John Major and I wonder how far New Labour genuinely changed Britain. I read this alongside Dominic Sandbrook’s television series on the 1980s. Did New Labour simply ride the wave of Cool Britannia and extend Major’s public service revolution in response to trends arising from the public themselves? Turner doesn’t leave us with a clear verdict on that, but this is a stimulating first attempt to write the history of Britain in the 1990s, which will help to shape the parameters of debate for years to come.

DT Willingham, Why Don’t Students Like School?

I first read this in January, in the hope that it would offer me a more traditional outlook on the purposes of education in contrast to the more progressive ideas I was hearing on my MA. I was not disappointed. I have found this book useful in providing an intellectual underpinning to my knowledge-led approach to teaching history and offered useful thoughts on how I might further enhance and refine my teaching. In response to this book, I became an ardent champion of the idea of ‘teaching for memory’ and argued for a stronger focus on them in our school’s CPD programme and teaching and learning policy. This has since emerged in our school and I am going to claim credit for it: post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Jonathan Wilson, Angels with Dirty Faces

I came across this book entirely by accident. Well. It came up as an ‘Amazon suggestion’ based upon my previous purchase. This is a fabulous history of Argentina interwoven with a history of Argentinian football. Other than the Falklands War and Christine Kirchner, I knew very little about Argentina, or South America. This book opened my eyes and was a useful induction to the history of this continent (I would very much enjoy other ‘easy going’ suggestions). It was also the first book that I read which meaningfully engaged me with ‘sports history’ as a genre. I have always been attracted to the idea of using sport as a lens into the past. This book has rekindled my interest in finding some ways of squeezing it into my teaching. I have even wondered about how feasible a KS4 ‘change & continuity development study’ would be using ‘sport through time’ as its theme after my head of department suggested that I would be the man to create such a specification. Any readers with thoughts on this, please get in touch.

I warmly invite readers to share their own thoughts on the books mentioned above, or indeed suggest further reading that I might enjoy.

That Was The Year That Was

With one exhausting year at an end, with another on the way with my first foray into exam board marking alongside my efforts to complete my History Education MA, my sanity demands a brief ‘taking of stock’ of the year that was.

Highlights

  1. Although not immediately related to teaching and learning I had the pleasure of being invited to host the Dartford constituency hustings at our school in May 2015. This was an exhilarating experience, and stands out in my mind as a great personal accolade from 2015. The deeper point to take from this though, is that my students have had an excellent range of enrichment offered to them this year, topped off by the visit of Lord Professor Peter Hennessy to deliver our annual humanities Christmas lecture, where we also raised over £240 for Crisis at Christmas.
  2. Collaborative Teaching – This has been my third qualified year in teaching. As such, I’ve developed a lot of great (and not so great) resources and lessons. This has been the year where I’ve managed to consoldiate them into reasonably solid historical enquiries and have been able to share these with non-specialist colleagues and other time pressed colleagues within the department. It has helped our department standardise our offering, improved non-specialist teaching & laid the foundations for a more collaborative department approach to teaching as we encounter new GCSE and A-Level specifications.
  3. Challenge for All – In brief, I have been working on a few strategies to challenge the most able students. I was then given the opportunity to co-plan and deliver a CPD session on challenging the most able students, in new ‘Personalised Learning Groups’ where staff have signed up to work in a development group based upon one of the school’s High Impact Teaching Strategies as we seek to understand and embed David Weston’s principles of diagnosing areas in our teaching requiring development and refining one new teaching habit rather than making short-term use of a wealth of ideas thrown at us in a scattergun approach in whole-school CPD sessions. I enjoyed the challenge of this, have shaped my thoughts into a Teaching History article proposal and can see the seeds of where I want to take my History Education MA. I have a clear steer for how keep growing in 2016 – that’s the main thing!

Areas for Development

  1. Making feedback work.
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading these ideas about feedback by Tom Sherrington in a CPD session in my school in February. They seemed like the perfect way to follow up on my experimentation in the winter 2014 term with marking every KS3 book every lesson (and in this I was particularly influenced by Harry Fletcher-Wood). I learned a lot from this. In essence, marking every book every lesson was a bit of a waste of time but I have come to cherish the principle “plan what you will mark, how you will mark it & how kids will make use of that feedback.” I have not yet strategically thought about planning my marking beyond a week to week basis. This needs to change in 2016.
  2. Sixth Form Independence.
    As I battle teaching the second new history A-level specification in two years without a textbook, I have found my time, energy and efforts being absorbed entirely by ensuring that lessons and homeworks are well resourced. This has left no time for developing meaningful structures for promoting independent learning by sixth form students or wider reading by students. I have found it much easier to do with my government & politics class, where wider reading is easier to identify and co-ordinate for students and I’m quite proud of the thorough unit guides I’ve made for students which they have found most helpful in supporting their independent endeavours. I need to do the same for KS5 history – ideas on what effective independent learning by sixth form students looks like and how to achieve it are most welcome!
  3. Testing for Memory
    Teaching discourse in the last twelve months or so has come to focus much more on low-stakes testing. It is certainly present in my teaching and is increasingly so, but this is not yet routine and I would be loathe to suggest that it is ‘systematically’ deployed in my schemes of learning. I’d also like to further understand and try out the idea of ‘cumulative assessments’ as set out by Michael Fordham here. At present, my feedback & assessment strategies are to look at a piece of work mid-enquiry and then mark/assess a core task at the end of a historical enquiry. There is a more meaningful testing and feedback structure that could be woven together (see making feedback work above).

Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

In Defence of the Powerpoint

In Defence of the Powerpoint

A Powerpoint is not a substitute for ‘good old-fashioned board work’, but a tool to judiciously use to support great teaching.

The use of a Powerpoint for a lesson is a contentious issue for me. There are few lessons where I do not use one. However it became a running sore from the beginning of my teaching career. My fantastic course leader at the Institute of Education said we should all try to teach without them. I taught without one. The lesson was a disaster. I didn’t put this down to the lack of technology but my observer did. I’m not bitter about having been caught between a rock and a hard place…

However this internal dilemma has been reawakened by Michael Fordham’s declaration that he has been teaching for a term without a Powerpoint, with the suggestion that this has made him an [even] better teacher. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a new idea, I’ve discovered that Joe Kirby and the team at Michaela have similar thoughts.

I understand the appeal. There is something about not teaching with a Powerpoint that can make one feel more connected with the students in a class; it feels like we are doing more, imparting knowledge and crafting the learning more. However I can’t help but suspect that this is something of a Luddite daydream. Not that I want to be drawn into holding an absolute position – that a Powerpoint is a must for every lesson – but I feel a defence of its value must be made and propose that there is not necessarily an inherently ‘correct’ answer but that the judicious use of the ubiquitous Powerpoint will support great teaching.

  1. Teacher Time
    I reject the suggestion that teachers waste excessive periods of time re-formatting their slides and that time could be better spent on other activities. In the Joe Kirby article linked to above, he suggests four better uses of time. His ideas are, of course, excellent. However many plan their lessons whilst constructing great lessons, so to suggest that more time could be spent planning if less time was spent on Powerpoints is something of a misnomer.
  2. Planning Questioning
    I rely heavily on the idea of Socratic questioning and one of the fundamental principle of my lessons is to present students with some knowledge and then get them to do something with it. With a full teaching timetable, I’d hazard a guess that I field an exceptionally high number of questions each and every day, let alone week. This might just be a personal failing, but I can’t remember all of them. Many (I shan’t claim all!) are carefully thought through and designed to steer a lesson in a certain direction and to help students to work up their historical thinking from some initial source material. One might make the counter-point that one could just as easily write their questions out on a piece of paper. True. However there is an added advantage to having questions written out for students in advance. Questioning can also be adapted on a Powerpoint within a lesson to respond to the changing circumstances of a lesson – I’m often hammering away modifying a slide whilst students are getting on with a bit of work. This isn’t in any way different to writing your questions up on the board differently.
  3. Behaviour Management
    There is a desirable sense of authenticity about teaching the perfect lesson according to one’s subject’s pedagogical principles. In reality there are behaviour management issues to consider. One should never compromise too far but a realistic perspective must be had.Some students will miss questions if made orally. In an ideal world, they would be hanging off of my every word. Without seeming too arrogant, most of them usually This isn’t good enough. All students deserve clearly worded instructions, which they can continually refer back to, to maintain a sharp focus to their work. This does not happen with orally issued instructions, and frankly I’m too lazy to turn my back to a class and write them up in full on a board. Students also care extremely little for my handwriting.I also begin each lesson with a title, date, a reminder of the over-arching enquiry question and a welcome activity – something students can get on with, without any teacher input, allowing me to get on with other administrative tasks to support the start of a lesson. It is a routine I get every student in, and makes student behaviour and starting a lesson extremely easy to manage.
  4. Resourcing
    I love getting unusual sources into a lesson. As many as possible. The more unusual, varied and intricate the better. There are two issues here, therefore, with systematically not using some sort of visual display. First of all, my experience has been that the more precise images do not translate well when printed out. Second of all, I do not work in a school with unlimited funds – far from it. Many schools are likely to go off of the financial cliff during the lifetime of the current version of Powerpoint. Many Twitter ‘authorities’ are either blessed with significantly larger budgets than I and/or have reached a position of seniority which likely allows a degree of freedom with the volume of photocopying made per lesson by virtue of a smaller timetable and have easier access to colour printing. I’d rather use more sources, and collectively pick them apart, than fewer sources printed out.

 

I rest my case. I shall explore a little more with a few lessons whereby I will actively avoid making use of the Powerpoint and see how far my views shift. To support such an endeavour, I do look forward to receiving some ripostes which challenge my existing thinking and perhaps help me to navigate the troubled waters of life without visual display software.