Teaching History 174: Out now

HA journal news

By Tony McConnell, Katharine Burn, Rachel Foster, Christine Counsell (Editors), published 12th April 2019


Structure pervades our professional lives. From timetables to exam specs; from paragraph cohesion to causal mind maps; from boxing-match debates to formal moots, we spend a lot of time organising ourselves or our students into useful patterns. Even our lessons which exist on the edge of chaos require a lot of careful planning to keep them on the right side of that edge. Structure is what allows us to build on, manage and appreciate the complexity of the interpreted past and our students’ learning. This edition of Teaching History sets out to shine a series of spotlights on how structure is approached in the history classroom.

Will Bailey-Watson enters straight into the current debates about how the history curriculum should be structured. Recalling his own professional wrestling as a head of history, he presents his own rationale for curriculum design, but puts extra emphasis on curriculum sequencing. His article is worth a read simply to appreciate the series of professional decisions he makes about this. He also argues for the inclusion, early on in Year 7 (just after the Norman Conquest), of a unit on family history, encouraging his students to apply some rigour to the personal histories they have received from their family. Bailey-Watson argues that this sense of the personal can ensure that Year 7 students are fully engaged in the process of history: what could be more relevant? He also discusses how to structure such an enquiry which, by its very nature, cannot produce exactly the same outcomes in terms of content for students from different families.

Tom Bennett also wished to work out what to do with Year 7 after Domesday. He endured one frustrating Friday afternoon too many with them, and decided to do something about it. His frustration was caused by the gap between his students’ thinking and enthusiasm, and what they actually managed to write in their essays. His chosen tool was the counterfactual. His article does not just show us how he structured his medium-term planning for subsequent lessons, in response to his students’ work on William I. It also provides some precise tools for the teaching of counterfactuals using diagrams and formulae, exploiting the opportunities afforded by the Peasants’ Revolt for evaluating the way in which short-term triggers sit within long-term situations.

Andrew Carey and Jeremy Rowson address structure in two different ways. Most obviously, they use the well-known model of the Tudor religious rollercoaster as a framework for their students’ thinking. They also think about how to incorporate their locality – Guernsey – into their students’ thinking. This enables their students to think carefully about the Reformation as both an international and extremely local, personal phenomenon, and leads to interesting thinking about what precisely that rollercoaster should look like. The article also provides a useful model for building in, rather than bolting on, multiple and targeted school trips as integral parts of the history curriculum. The classic structure of a student’s argument – the clichéd outcome of a history enquiry – is the essay. Over the past twenty years, narrative has been an increasingly important, and increasingly well theorised, part of the history classroom.

Alex Rodker, in this edition, seeks to move our thinking about narrative on, by considering how students might build better narratives, thinking carefully about what they include and exclude and the order in which arguments are made and evidence is presented. Rodker also looks at the way in which feedback is structured within his enquiry: should redrafting be ditched in favour of simply starting again? This is one of his clearest conclusions, along with the idea that students can and should be creating their own narratives at Key Stage 3.

Steven Driver’s article is in many ways the opposite of Rodker’s. Driver looks to challenge the traditional choices made by his post-16 students in selecting their coursework focuses. For him, their choices are often made ‘myopically’ because they settle on the well-known, well-worn events that tend to form part of the general narrative of their period, the early twentieth-century Americas. Their own analysis is therefore trapped. Driver suggests how to structure a scheme of learning which puts particular emphasis on some aspects of Nicaraguan history, but his conclusions can easily be generalised: this is one way of ‘doing’ history which is off the beaten track, and of demonstrating to post-16 students that Nicaraguan and other Latin American history is an option for their own independent study.

Eleanor Thomas was also concerned about post-16 coursework, although her main concern was the difficulty students found in establishing a focus overall, rather than the constraints caused by the narrative available to them within a particular area. She sets her concerns into the general framework of the abilities students will need when they make the transition to university. Her article provides a guide for getting students to broaden their own horizons, as well as practical advice on how to structure a sequence of lessons for students studying many different topics and periods, and how to structure the provision of the resources they will need.

Tim Jenner decided a couple of years ago, in the light of the suggestions within Teaching History and elsewhere, that it was high time to get his students reading proper history, with proper vocabulary, in every lesson. This article is a response to the initial problem Jenner encountered: simply putting books in front of students seemed to have failed within two days. How should these new demands be structured? Jenner provides an entertaining and rigorous analysis of how to build a new initiative into existing schemes of learning, while checking that the students are actually learning as a result of the new initiative, rather than in spite of it. We hope you find the initiatives in this edition useful.