Which was more important Sir, ordinary people getting electricity or the rise of Hitler?' Using Ethel and Ernest with Year 9


By Mike Murray, published 31st May 2002

Mike Murray offers further new perspectives on the relationship between overview and depth in pupils’ historical learning. In an account of his teaching with Raymond Briggs’ Ethel and Ernest to a ‘below-average ability’ class in Year 9, he constructs a rationale for using this moving strip cartoon to motivate, intrigue and expand the knowledge of pupils who normally find classroom learning extremely difficult. Mike’s teaching emphasis is strongly upon language but this is no arid exercise in deconstruction of the text. Engaged by the fastflowing narrative, highly personal drama and constant humour of Briggs’ text, Mike was able to work the ultimate paradox: to take pupils into very big pictures through very small stories. Judgements about degrees of historical significance have always involved reflection upon the relative status of the outline trends and the little details. Mike argues that for school pupils this becomes ever more demanding and ever more necessary as global and local events now intertwine so closely. Ethel and Ernest, the story of Raymond Briggs’ parents, links these two types of story, the public and the personal, in unique ways.

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