Let’s talk Football History: The social significance of sport across Europe and beyond

On May 28th, Gijsbert Oonk, Kevin Moore & Petra Landers kicked off ‘FC EuroClio’, a webinar series through which we tackled football and social issues to explore how football history and society intertwine. The panel discussion revolved around personal experiences of football pioneers and considerations about football as cultural heritage.

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Football Makes History is a project which aims to promote social inclusion, diversity and non-discrimination. The rich local cultural heritage of football and its shared history covering the turbulent 20th-century history offers direct access to addressing past and present diversity. Gijsbert Oonk, academic advisor of the project, but also founding director of the Sport and Nation research program at Erasmus University Rotterdam, moderated the discussion which saw international footballer Petra Landers and sports historian Dr Kevin Moore as main protagonists. 

The only girl in the field

Coach, mentor, former football player, and contributor to the rise of women’s football. Petra Landers became a member of the first-ever German women’s national football team in 1982.[1]

Petra is an international footballer who also won the European championship, but looking at her, you see a down to earth, yet incredibly determined woman who still has the same passion for football as when she started off as a kid. Petra got an interest in the game in a time when football was a sport only for boys and girls were set to do other kinds of activities. However, she does not shy away from saying “I think football was already inside of me when I was born.” When at the age of 8 she was invited by her cousin to play on the streets, Petra started regularly playing with the boys from the neighbourhood. She was always ready to play, always wearing her football shirt underneath her clothes. Despite being the only girl in the group, she felt welcome and did not have any sort of unpleasant experience. It was only when she joined the women’s team that she started hearing rude comments. “It was very new for me, but it didn’t matter because I truly loved the game.” Women's football was forbidden in Germany (as well as in other countries) until 1970 and Petra clearly remembers that time:

On football pitches you could see only men: women were at home cooking” Petra Landers

Luckily, the fear of discrimination and societal constraints never prevented Petra from trying to enter the footballing world. It was a friend of hers who encouraged her to play for Bergisch Gladbach: when the coach saw her playing, he was amazed by her talent and decided to take her in the team. Nevertheless, it was not an easy game: her boss tried to stop her from representing Germany for the European championship in 1989, but she made clear that she was ready to quit her job to be free to go her own way. In the end, her determination made him change his mind and he eventually supported her decision!

In Support of Women’s Football - from Europe to Africa

After contributing to the rise of women’s football first in Germany and then in Europe, Petra decided to turn to Africa, where she is now training young girls. When she travelled there for the first time in 2014, Africa was obviously new to her, but seeing children playing football in the villages reminded her of her childhood and a strong empathetic feeling grew inside of her. “It was a feeling I got, I can’t describe it, it was amazing”. Watching those kids playing, she could see herself growing up and working hard to become a professional player. Petra is a source of inspiration for those kids: she does not only embody an example to follow, but she also gives them the hope to think that one day, they can become footballers or coaches too.

“You can’t imagine what areas I visited. We are now trying to get those children who can’t go to school. There are so many girls that are working at home, they have to do the household, they have to work, they don’t have the money to go to school. They don’t really have a childhood. We want to give them this chance.” Petra Landers

In 2017, Petra Landers was part of an important awareness programme in which a world record was challenged - the women’s team that played on the highest level on the Kilimanjaro. When asked whether she was willing to join, Petra immediately answered yes. She started to train nearly every day, again after many years. They had to climb and walk a lot, and not always in great conditions “The last night we went up to the mountain, it was -20 degrees, it was so cold. After one hour and a half, our drinks were already frozen, and it was dark and we were walking as fast as snails. The oxygen was getting thinner and thinner. It was hard to breathe, but if you have a goal, you try to give everything until you can.”

“We wanted to empower all the women and girls all over the world. We wanted to give a sign: if you set a goal, you can get everything, you can do everything. It’s true.” Petra Landers

Africa opened up Petra’s eyes to a completely different reality, and after changing the faith of women’s football, she wants to change the life of those African kids. Her next goal is to have her own football school in Ghana. “I want to move to Ghana, but not for talent, I’m not looking for talent. I want to give the children living outside the village a chance. They don’t have the chance to join projects because it’s too far away. They don’t have shoes to walk or run for so long. They are playing barefooted but they are playing with bright eyes. There are so many children who don’t have this chance and I want to give them one.”

Petra’s words opened the doors to a different kind of conversation we should have in current society, where the European situation is rather different: football is often a matter of cups and medals, and football museums end up being places of celebrations rather than an objective look at football history and source of reflection.

Football museums: celebrating heroes or reconnecting with the past?

Kevin Moore, world-respected football historian and founding director of the English National Football Museum, shared with us the reasons why he wanted a National Football Museum for England in the first place. Deeply convinced of the historical significance of football - “there are more nations in FIFA than in the United Nations!”, he observes - he explains:

“The reason why I applied for the job was because I did not want it to be Disneyland football. I wanted it to be an objective look at the history of the game, to treat the subject seriously and with objectivity, not a celebration of football – but an honest look at the game, every aspect, including the negatives such as sexism, racism and homophobia in the game.”  Kevin Moore

Kevin has gladly remarked that whilst setting up the museum, he could freely bring the true history of football into the museum. In club museums the importance of big cups and the heroes they have is indeed too often overvalued. There might be small display elements about WWII, stories about racism, homophobia or other issues, but those are often confined to a corner and those issues always play a minor role. Due to the limited space within the permanent galleries, these issues are more likely to be tackled in temporary exhibitions. For example, the English National Football Museum had in 2003 an exhibition on Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer - telling the story of how he came from Ghana to England in 1882 to learn to be a methodist missionary but instead decided to be a footballer and athlete. In 2005, they had the world’s first exhibition on women’s football during the UEFA European Championships in England. As these exhibitions are temporary, they were able to tackle issues like gender or racism more in-depth, and on their website or through learning programmes.

How do we go from creating a hall of fame of heroes to creating a hall of history that engages meaningfully with the history and the local context?

Kevin speaks up about the dangers of club museums being too celebratory, as they see the museum just as a display through which showcasing their victories and their heroes, leaving out other (hi)stories. “Football is about stardom, which is why an inclusive hall of fame, to some extent, is a good idea. We all have our heroes.” However, visiting a museum is and should be an informal learning experience, a way through which people inadvertently learn. The English National Football Museum launched a special session for people with dementia back in 2017, around the 50th anniversary of England winning the World Cup in 1966: their memories were prompted by football and it was a great way for people to connect. In 2018, a similar project was carried out in The Netherlands by the professional football club Willhelm II Tilburg: “Football Memories” brought together people with similar backgrounds to show them old parts of football matches. In both cases, football memories seemed to create an environment where the elderly were able to not only recall memories, but also make new connections that they normally would not be able to make.

Local public museums have an important role, but as not every football club has or can afford to have a museum, it is important to inspire football clubs to engage more socially, for example by running some social reminiscence programs with their fans. Whilst most clubs interested in social responsibility do all kinds of programmes related to physical exercises, healthy diets, etc., they are rarely focussing on making educational programmes on history. To engage socially, clubs should relate more strongly to their fans - as Kevin observes, “the fans carry the history of the club, they are the ones who hold the tradition, the sense of belonging and the identity, and the club doesn’t. The club is whoever owns it now, and is a private entity.” It’s a money issue, but also a matter of ownership.

“Football Makes History has a great role in showing the value of history, learning, engagement with schools, connecting schools and older people and football clubs together and using the social power that football clubs have.” Kevin Moore

A European Football Museum?

Would the idea of setting up a European Football Museum be feasible? Although a world football museum already exists, various and controversial opinions were given on this topic. One of the issues is that the passion that each set of fans has is for either their own club or football in the nation - which is why national football museums are growing in numbers, so these kinds of museums would not work by continent. “Certainly you won’t have a museum that tells the story of European football, because that’s with the individual museums. What you could have is a very interesting museum about the European football competitions and also how football spread around Europe and what that common culture of football across Europe means.” In other words, having a museum that tells the stories of the champions league, the European cup, the development of football in Europe. As European football does not exist and has never existed in isolation, it’s rather a story of migration and connection, it would be interesting to trace the history of football in Europe on maps - and investigate further to what extent football and migration are connected.

“Football is too important just to be in football museums: football and sport should be in every single history museum, local and national. Yes, we should have football museums, too. But football is part of history and therefore football makes history, history makes football.” Kevin Moore

Do you think that Football Makes History? Sign our Petition!

Our football team has developed Policy and Action Recommendations aimed at ministries of education, sports, heritage - and the footballing world. You can now find the Manifesto on the Football Makes History website.

Do you think that football can open doors to conversations we need to have, but also inspire us to take action? Then support us in giving football history and football heritage the attention it deserves!

Written by Giulia Verdini


[1] Petra was in fact also part of the team from Bergisch Gladbach representing Germany in the 1981 unofficial World Cup in Taiwan

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Football Makes History in Numbers!

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Historical controversy in disputed regions. The case of South Tyrol

Cecilia Biaggi Articles ,

The beautiful mountains of South Tyrol, an autonomous northern Italian province bordering Austria, are inhabited by three different ethno-linguistic communities: the most numerous German-speaking, the Italians and the Ladins, a tiny minority speaking a Rhaeto-Romance language. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, South Tyrol was transferred to the Kingdom of Italy at the end of World War 1 and since then, like in many other multinational regions in Europe, the relation between the two main communities has been tense, at times even violent. Consequently, one would expect the teaching of history and especially local history, often intertwined with family history, to be challenging and controversial. However, as Giorgio Mezzalira explains, the situation has greatly improved in the last decades, and South Tyrol can now be considered an example for other regions divided by rising nationalisms and ethnic tensions.

Until his retirement last July, Giorgio Mezzalira taught Italian language, literature and history in a German-language secondary school in Bozen / Bolzano, the capital city of South Tyrol. Traditionally, pupils who spoke German as a first language attended German-language schools and vice versa, with the result that young people had few opportunities to meet their peers from the other community. The history curricula reflected the segregation of the education system: German-language schools taught the history of the German people and local history, while Italian-language schools focused on Italian history. The stress on the local dimension in the German history curriculum, which persists today, was due to the community’s attachment to their Heimat (a term that has no exact equivalent in English, and in this case would be a sort of rural provincial homeland). But history was important for everybody in South Tyrol and thus it was often exploited and manipulated for political aims. For example, those in the German community who wished to have South Tyrol reunited with Austria promoted a historical narrative according to which the cultural persecution of the non-Italians, started with Fascism, continued for decades after the end of the regime, thus implying that Germans could expect no fair treatment from the Italian authorities.

In the last decades, things began to change gradually but steadily thanks to the concerted effort of state and local authorities who worked to leave behind old divisions and create an inclusive society. Today, the school system in the province still envisages monolingual instruction delivered in German- and Italian-language schools, while in Ladin schools all the three languages are taught, but both German and Italian pupils are expected to acquire some competence in the respective second language. The public debate on the history of South Tyrol is finally depoliticised and left in the hands of professional historians from both communities who work together to create new narratives of the past free from partisan interpretations. Public investment in projects of dialogue and co-operation between the two communities has increased significantly, especially in the field of education. For example, a recently implemented scheme offers secondary school students the opportunity to attend one year in a school of the other community. The scheme has been very successful so far because, as Mezzalira says, “young people today are not only more curious about the other community, but also less keen to remain within the boundaries of their own”. According to him, segregation in education is slowly decreasing: in the last years, although most of his students spoke German as a first language, some of them were from multilingual families, and even from Italian families.

The political and socio-cultural evolution of South Tyrol have posed, and is still posing, various challenges to educators. For example, students spending one year in the other community’ schools must be adequately guided and supported to ensure their cultural and linguistic inclusion. In terms of curriculum, it is probably history the subject that has undergone the most radical transformation. All three kinds of school have seen a shift in history instruction from the national to the international dimension, with European and World history featuring prominently in textbooks. Local history too has gained more space in the curriculum, creating opportunities to increase students’ involvement and participation by including family memories into prescribed narratives. In fact, although students’ interest in the subject is not very high generally, they are keen to listen to the stories of their parents and grandparents at home, thus coming in contact with personal narratives of controversial events and periods before they learn about them in school. “Then when they are in the classroom, they either defend the version of the past they learnt at home, or they want to verify it”, says Mezzalira. Thus, it is up to teachers not only to present multiple narratives, but also to contextualise them and explain what purpose they may serve. In other words, teachers should encourage a critical approach to history in order to equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills to ask questions and to find answers independently. Although this can be challenging, history educators in South Tyrol are lucky enough to enjoy the support of local authorities and of the three offices (German, Italian and Ladin) in charge of the administration of education.

Since the province of South Tyrol is one of the richest in Italy, local administrators have taken advantage of their devolved powers to fund education generously. In particular, history education is seen as fundamental to the creation of future citizens thanks to its potential to foster dialogue. In order to equip history teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge to encourage debate and critical thinking in the classroom, the Faculty of Education of the local Free University of Bozen-Bolzano pays particular attention to multiperspectivity and to local history. The latter is generally given more space in German and Ladin schools where history instruction focuses on the relationship between centre and periphery, allowing educators to develop their teaching on the idea that the local dimension is functional to the understanding of national history. In support of this approach to teaching, Mezzalira and a few colleagues, in conjunction with the three offices supervising education in South Tyrol, compiled a multiperspective history textbook: Paesaggi e prospettive: lineamenti di storia locale: L'età contemporanea in Alto Adige/Übergänge und Perspektiven - Grundzüge der Landesgeschichte: Südtirol seit 1919. The textbook narrates the main events of the last 100 years of history of South Tyrol from the points of view of the two communities. Although not many didactic activities have been developed so far to help teachers use the textbook, it remains a major achievement and it has been chosen by several schools.

In conclusion, South Tyrol can be considered an example of good practice in dealing with an ethnically and linguistically divided society. As social scientists highlight in their studies of the devolution of power to South Tyrol, local authorities have made the most of their autonomy from the central government by investing substantial resources not only in the economic but also in the social development of the province. This has gradually limited political interference into the public debate about history and given more space to historians from different backgrounds to collaborate and create the above mentioned textbook. However, as Mezzalira warns, this tool is not an antidote to social divisions: “There are not shortcuts. South Tyrol became ready for such a textbook thanks to the many years in which the two communities slowly started to come together. Then the authorities stepped in to identify and use those experiences of dialogue that were already growing. Feeding such projects created the basis on which new opportunities of encounter and collaboration between the communities could be built, eventually spreading the change”.

Quality education for all: Interview with Triantafillia Tatsiopoulou on teaching children with special needs

According to UNICEF, about 50 percent of children with special needs do not participate in education, compared to only 13 percent of their peers without disabilities. At EuroClio, we believe that all children are entitled to quality education, irrespective of their needs or backgrounds. Anna Ivanova, EuroClio trainee and student at The Hague University of Applied Schiences, reached out to Triantafillia Tatsiopoulou, a teacher at the Special High School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Thessaloniki, Greece, to learn about her experience of working in a school for children with special needs. 

Anna: Tell us about yourself and the school you teach in.

Triantafillia: I teach Ancient and Modern Greek, History and Latin at the Special High School for the Deaf of Thessaloniki. Our school is one of the three schools in Greece for students with hearing impairments, and the only one in the north of the country. It is very small: we only have about 30 students, aged between 13 and 20 years old. All of the students have some form of hearing loss, some are profoundly deaf. One or two students have a low form of autism. Apart from that, our students are happy and clever, like all children in all other schools.

Anna: Is your school so small in size because you cannot admit more students or because there are no students that want to join?

Triantafillia: Unfortunately, not that many students want to join our school. There are approximately 200 children with hearing loss in Thessaloniki, ranging from average to profound. Yet, our school only has about 30 pupils.

There are multiple reasons for that. In Greece, when a child has some kind of disability, they are required to undergo a medical examination, where a doctor advises the parents on how to approach the child’s condition. Usually, they are advised to start with speech therapy as soon as possible, which is very basic for everyone with hearing loss. Some doctors recommend them to choose a general school instead of a special one, so the child can stay in a familiar environment. Most parents follow this advice and send their children to a general school, where they are surrounded by other children from the neighbourhood and are not excluded from living a ‘normal’ life. In some general schools, pupils get assistance from school integration departments or special needs support teachers, who help them understand the material better. However, this kind of support is not offered everywhere, so hearing impaired students without it tend to be left behind and struggle with learning. 

Another reason is the stigma surrounding special schools. Some parents find it challenging to accept that their child has a disability, hence they prefer their children to attend a general school. A disability like hearing loss is invisible, so it can be hidden. That is why some parents choose to hide it instead of having to deal with the shame and stigma of a special school. Moreover, many parents are prejudiced against sign language. They forbid their children to use it and meet other deaf pupils who do so, hence they tend to prevent their children from attending a school that supports sign language. 

Furthermore, our school is located in a small village near Thessaloniki, and it is the only one in the north of Greece. For some students, it may be inconvenient to commute far to school, so they choose a general one that is closer to their home. 

Lastly, sometimes, parents of hearing-impaired children simply don’t even know that our school exists. Since doctors generally advise them to attend a general school, there is no way for parents to find out about us, unless they do the research themselves. We try to inform the parents through Deaf Communities, but we find it difficult to reach the parents of such children because we cannot know who they are.

Anna: What is it like to work with these pupils, do you generally have a good relationship with them?

Triantafillia: If you were able to visit us, you would see that our school is not different from the rest. We follow the general curriculum, meaning that the material is the same. Our school has strict rules that all students must follow. This is due to the fact that some of the pupils, despite being very clever, have not developed the language well enough. Because of that, they struggle to express their thoughts or feelings, so in a way, the teacher has to guess what the student actually means. At the same time, some students are less proficient in sign language than others: they lack the full development of a first language, so developing a second language, the Greek language, poses some complications. This, in turn, makes it difficult for them to communicate with others. 

Generally, we have a great relationship with the students, and they enjoy coming to classes and participating in other activities. Our school is very ‘hugging’ - deaf people enjoy physical contact, like hugging and touching. As well as jokes that they have in sign language, it is part of their culture. Our pupils love coming to school. We also have a boarding school which operates with many problems. Normally, we barely have absences. Although it is very different, I really like working with our students. It is a different, more sensitive form of communication, and it brings me joy.

Anna: Are there particular teaching techniques employed at your school?

Triantafillia: Teaching in sign language is part of the school’s tradition, as it is part of the deaf culture. Deaf and hard of hearing pupils have very different backgrounds and are very diverse in their ways of communication and learning. For this reason, our school supports both Greek sign language and Greek oral and written language. We always try to do the best for every child, hence we never force students to use Greek sign language if they are not comfortable with it or don’t know it well enough. If a child wants to learn Greek sign  language, other students help to teach them in everyday life, through informal conversations. 

We always talk to our students when teaching. Some of them are hard of hearing, which means that they are still able to use the language and partly hear. Moreover, all students, including those that are profoundly deaf, automatically read the lips of the teachers. That is why with the current Covid-19 measures in place, teachers use a face shield instead of a mouth mask: students have to see the mouth and the lips. 

As for history teaching, I prefer to take the pupils to the library. Students learn much better when they are able to see the material, so we strive to make the education highly visual. We make great use of smart boards to show visual aid content and videos. When working in class, students are divided into groups, where they can interact and work together on worksheets. The challenge for the teacher is to keep the students’ attention and keep them engaged, either through asking questions or writing something on the board. It is important to motivate them to get them involved in learning about the past.

Anna: What teachers work in your school? What kind of teacher training is required?

Triantafillia: In Greece, all teachers start from a general class in a general school. I had been teaching for about 7 years before I was transferred to work in this school. I liked it a lot, so I decided to stay.

In order to work in a special school, educators are required to have a postgraduate degree in special education. Other than that, knowledge of sign language is obligatory in our school, and most of us know Braille. A lot of people want to work in special education, so all of our teachers have chosen to work here. 

Anna: Do you think that you get more work than teachers in general schools?

Triantafillia: Teachers in general education get more pressure from the Ministry of Education, as they have to stick to the curriculum and follow certain rules. Even though our school follows the general curriculum, we have flexibility due to their special needs. Therefore, our teachers have to be creative, come up with their own lesson plans or develop worksheets. We have to work hard to come up with ideas that will help students understand the material and expand their knowledge. So, I would not say that we have more work, but we definitely have a different kind of work.

Anna: What kind of extracurricular activities does take place in your school?

Triantafillia: Every year, we run multiple programs and projects in our school. One of our best projects is the Sign Choir, which made its first appearance in 2014, introducing a new kind of singing through signs. Collaborating with other choirs or music bands, the Sign Choir is interpreting the lyrics in signs, offering a new perspective and showing that music is a global way of communication. Students really like this project and always enjoy being involved in it.

The year 2013 was dedicated to the 150-year anniversary of Greek poet Konstantinos Kavafis. Two of our students composed poems in sign language, inspired by his poems “An old man” and “Candles”. The students transferred all these ideas in sign language, making the poems visible.

One of the most innovative school activities was the making of a short film, inspired by the silent movies. “The Mess” was the result of collaboration between our school and the local Lyceum of Panorama Thessaloniki, with the help of students of the School of film of the University of Thessaloniki. A reunion of a class gives the chance to one of the classmates to make amends in life, yet an unexpected incident takes place that leads to a big mess.

Lastly, the school has had the chance to work with Signdance Collective, a touring performance company with a culturally diverse team of experienced deaf and disabled artists at the helm. The company directors pioneered the “sign dance theatre”, a fusion of sign theatre, dance, and live original music. In 2009, the Signdance Collective designed a third performance, with the children dancing and singing at the same time, accompanied by live music. Called “Dancing with ….sign”, the theme was a neighborhood, groups of children getting together and the relationships between them. 

The school also has a dance team, The Dream Dancers. Our students have done multiple dance performances, like hip-hop or traditional Greek dances. Last year, they appeared in Reflection of Disability on Art, a festival about people with special needs and their abilities in art.

Students love being involved in these kinds of projects and initiatives. For us, it is important to show that they are in no way different from other children: they are able to do the same things as others. It is important for them to feel that they have the same advantages and even disadvantages as everyone else. We try to achieve that through these programs and activities. Even though there are many obstacles, we try our best.

Finding the roots of your own past Making students familiar with migration history

The Young Pathfinders Project focusses on the idea that migration history is not a separate subject within the history curriculum, but interwoven with the national story. Students learn about migration history in general, but more importantly do research into their own migration background. With this practice, they learn about migration history and develop skills such as historical research, critical thinking, historical reasoning, and doing interviews. It aims at making students realize how migration history is all around us and making students aware of their own migration history.

The Practice

The practice is focussed on one central idea: the history of migration is everywhere and an integrate part of regional, national and global history. However, in most national history curricula, it is dealt with as a separate subject. In the Dutch history curriculum for example, the history of migration is discussed in the chapter about the early years of the Dutch Republic (16th and 17th century) and in the second half of the twentieth century, with the coming of guest labourers. Mila Ernst is of the opinion that this is not the best way to teach students about the history of migration.

It was therefor that the Young Pathfinders Project was initiated in history classrooms a few years ago. The initiative came from the Mila Ernst and Hanneke Verbeek of the Centre for the History of Migrants, together with Elise Storck of the ICLON, the teacher trainer institute of the University of Leiden. Over the past three years fifteen history teachers experimented with this project in their own classrooms, thus collecting ideas and improvements about the implementation of the project. All these ideas have been combined and a teacher’s guide for the project has been posted online, available for all those who are interested.

The concept is rather simple. During an indefinite number of classes, students are being taught about what migration history is and what it means. In this way, they become experts in the field of migration history. After that, they choose someone in their own circle who has a migration background. This could be someone who came to the Netherlands years ago, or recently, or who has moved within the Netherlands to an unfamiliar place. With this person, the students conduct an interview. Besides that, they collect more information and material about this specific subject. This could be done for example in archives or libraries, but also the interviewee might have some interesting material.  After the students have done their research, they can work on a research report. This could be a written report, but can also be done in the form of a presentation, an exhibition, or a guided tour.

The teacher is free to choose the form that the research report may take. He or she is also free in choosing how much time will be spent on the project, and also at what stage the project will be done. Normally at least five class hours are necessary for a sufficient implementation of the project, but to this has to be added that students will have to do some of the work in their own time. The project is not bound to a certain age or level of the students. All students between the age of 12 and 18 are able to participate in the project. Of course the teacher can decide how high he or she will raise the bar, to better suit the students’ level of education and make the project as challenging as possible, without making it too difficult. The project can of course be linked to various historical topics and era’s, to fit better into the curriculum.

During this project, students will learn that the history of migration is not a separate subject, but a subject closely related to all stages of history. In fact, according to Mila Ernst, it is everywhere. Students may find out that they have a migration history of their own, which they never knew about before. During the final stage of the project, these histories can be discussed in class, which may lead to a conversation about migration and personal backgrounds. A result of this can be that it will lead to a better understanding of the other in a multicultural society.

The implementation of the project combines the teaching about migration history with the students doing historical research and so becoming more equipped in historical reasoning. It brings a history that they might previously have considered to be dull to life.

Obstacles and lessons learned

One of the main obstacles to the implementation of the project is the everlasting lack of time teachers are facing. As the project is based on the idea that the curriculum does not deal with migration history in a suitable fashion, it separates itself from the curriculum. It might appear therefor that the project does not prepare students for the final exam, but that it is something ‘extra’. Mila Ernst is of the opinion however that through this project students will train skills like critical thinking, historical reasoning and conducting interviews, that are not only useful for the final exam, but for the rest of their lives. The teacher has to be able to let go of the handbook for the duration of the project, and let the project speak for itself.

Another obstacle is that in practice it has proven difficult to make the final phase of the project as productive as possible. Due to lack of time, it might occur that the assessment of the project does not get the amount of attention needed for learning from each other’s stories and histories. This is something every teacher has to find out for himself. The teacher’s guide gives guidelines, but not an outline of the project that can be directly implemented in each classroom. It is up to the teacher to decide how to deal with the assessment of the project.

The effect of the practice

No formal research has been done, but during the implementation of the project, learner reports and responses from both teachers and students were collected. These show that the motivation and interest of the students in history have risen due to the project. Teachers have responded that because of the project, students seem to understand better what history is all about. Not about past events and people who are no longer alive, but about the world as it is today and about their own background and family history.

Students also realise that history is not just a national story, but part of a bigger, global history. This they will find out via the personal stories they collect in their interviews or learn from the interviews conducted by classmates. The personal stories are thus connected to a global history, in which migration plays an important role.

The project teaches students to look at history in a different way and makes them experiment with different things, for example doing the interviews. Students that prior to the project had never thought about themselves as having a migration background, found out during the project that their ancestors actually had migrated at some point, either from abroad or within national borders. It also enhances the empathy students feel for each other, and it shows multiple perspectives to a historical narrative. In a multicultural society, where classrooms may consist of several ethnic groups, this is a very useful learning result.


About the interviewee

Mila Ernst holds a MA degree in New and Newest History from the University of Amsterdam and has extensive experience in the field of museums and historical heritage. She is project leader in the award winning online platform www.modemuze.nl, where several major Dutch museums work together. She also is project leader in the ‘Jonge Spoorzoekers Project’ (Young Pathfinders Project’) at the Centre for the History of Migrants (CGM) and guest teacher at the Reinwardt Academy in Amsterdam.

Background to the project

The ‘Young Pathfinders Project’ has sprung from an earlier project, conducted Hanneke Verbeek of the Centre for the History of Migrants, who brought together a group of adult migrants in the Netherlands. With them, she started to delve into their history, thus collecting many stories and materials, which were not known to historians before that time. The results of this project were reproduced in books and exhibitions, each dealing with the history of a particular migrant group. Because of the success of this project, the idea arose that the same could be done in secondary history education.

Additional information

More information about can be found at the website dedicated to this project: http://www.vijfeeuwenmigratie.nl/project-jonge-spoorzoekers.Here the teacher’s guide and lesson examples can be found. As the project was done in the Netherlands, based on the Dutch educational system, there is no information available in English. Questions about this practice can be addressed to Mila Ernst via milaernst@gmail.com.

Young Trackers for Teachers

Written by Rik Mets (EuroClio), based on an interview with Mila Ernst (Centre for the History of Migrants) conducted in Amsterdam on 22 December 2017.

Learning Activities and Collection of Practices now available for Strategies for Inclusion

EuroClio Project Updates

The 31 of August, the project Strategies for Inclusion – Making High Quality History Education more Inclusive and Accessible was successfully completed.

During the three-year period of implementation, EuroClio, along with its other partners in the project (AEMoV, CIVITAS-Armenia, Hogeschool van Amsterdam, NTNU, ZGNL) worked intensively to produce a variety educational materials and to collect good practices. The materials are now available for all the history and citizenship educators who are looking for new methods and ideas for making their teaching more inclusive and accessible.

As a consequence, there are now available for free consultation and download 35 good practices on inclusive education and more than 20 learning activities specifically designed to provide history and citizenship educators with tailored-made strategies to make their teaching inclusive and accessible to all the students in their classes, including the ones with special needs.

The 35 practices can be found in the EuroClio resource center. All the practices are  structured in an easy-to-read way, and are easily replicable in the classroom as they are or transferable to educators’ specific contexts and needs.

Each practice includes a summary of the strategy, a brief introduction of the person who designed it and the rationale behind it (the ‘background to the practice’) in which it was made. Then, each practice is described in detail, and obstacles and lessons learned, as well as the effect of the practice, are introduced.




In addition, 20 learning activities have been made available on the Historiana.eu learning environment. These activities were developed in English, and then some of them also translated in the official languages of the partners in the project: Armenian, Dutch, Portuguese, and Slovenian.

All the activities from Strategies for Inclusion are available in the Historiana – teaching & learning session, along with other materials developed in a variety of other projects. You can go through all the learning activities, but in case you would like to select only the Strategies for Inclusion ones, it is sufficient to type in the search bar under the teaching & learning session of Historiana, Strategies for Inclusion.

All the learning activities are ready-to-use. You can find practical information on how much time the activity will take, the age it is suitable for its aims. Most important, teachers and students materials to implement the lesson are available for download at the bottom of the page.

Throughout the journey of this project many valuable practices and learning activities have been collected and developed, and we really encourage you to share and use them.

The AVATAR method: historical empathy through imagination

‘To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…,’ that is the basic premise for the AVATAR-method. The method is aimed at learning historical empathy as an aspect of historical thinking. Historical empathy is connected to both contextualisation  and the meta-concept historical perspectives. Students take the personal perspective of an historical actor to look at certain events and developments within the historical and social context of that actor. The idea is that this makes students both look more specifically at certain topics, as well as that it increases their engagement with the topics and that they start seeing history as more than just a list of ‘dusty facts’.

The Practice

Students appear to have some difficulty with the idea of multiple perspectives. When they approach a topic, most of the time they see it from their own point of view, which they consider to be ‘the valid perspective’ or at least to be ‘more valid than other perspectives’. When working with historical perspectives, students engage topics either from their own point of view, sometimes getting into a ‘judgmental mode’ (thinking in terms of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’), or oversimplifying perspectives, thinking in caricatures or archetypes like ‘the money-crazed liberal (or capitalist) factory owner’ on the one side and the ‘equality-obsessed socialist worker’ on the other. The idea that historical actors were people as well, driven by their own values and needs, in their own contemporary contexts, which differed from our modern context, and with more nuanced views than your average comic book character, seems to be lost on most students.

The AVATAR-method aims to have students take specific historical perspectives, while having them take into account both historical context and nuance. The way they approach this is by creating an historical avatar. This can either be an actual historical person or a fictional character, the latter being slightly preferable, because it makes the exercise more flexible. The avatar has a personal profile, which can be as short or as elaborate as you want. This should be built up by going through several tiers or layers, starting from the personal tier (the personal aspects of the individual avatar), followed  the tier of the social context (family, friends, colleagues) and the tier of the historical context (time, place and society at the time). The tiers are, to some extent, all connected to each other, as can be seen in figure 1.

Figure 1: Tiers of the AVATAR method

The personal tier should include elements like a name, age, gender, a certain socio-economic background, religion and a place of residence. Students can even go as far as to identify specific character traits (strengths, weaknesses, allergies) for their avatar. This is the tier in which they can use their imagination the most.

The tier of the social context should include information on things like family relations (father, mother, brothers, sisters etcetera), family size (only child, second son in a family with eight children etcetera), co-workers and opponents or enemies. Here they should take into account some historical sources, for example on average family size during that specific time.

The last tier is the historical context, which includes the time, place and society (including the norms, values, social layers, type of government etcetera) in which the avatar ‘lives’ and operates. This requires the most sourcing, because the historical context is ‘set’, with little room for being imaginative. For an example see table 1.



The personal profile of the avatar is the starting point for the activity, in

which the avatar ‘lives’ through a certain period of time (for example: a years, five years, twenty years). During that time the avatar gets involved in several actual historical events and developments (examples are the developments in agriculture in the Middle Ages, the protestant reformation or World War I) that took place during the appointed period. Note that the events can be really specific (for example the bombing of Rotterdam and the invasion of the Netherlands in 1940) or more generic (an air raid, some night during World War II). The generic events give you as a teacher some ‘wiggle room’ to have the students work in a specific context.

Table 1: Tiers for creating an avatar

There are a few ‘rules’ (or guidelines) for this activity:

  1. The avatar cannot die (that would mean the end of the activity);
  2. The avatar has probable and possible experiences in the set historical context (so no ‘killing Hitler’);
  3. In some cases: the avatar cannot leave the country (this could undermine the goal of the activity, because this could change the context too much).

The idea then is that students generate a written account of the experiences their avatar has during or in relation to the selected events and developments. For each event the student answers the following two questions for his or her avatar:

  • How would my avatar respond to this, taking into account their entire character profile?
  • Why would my avatar respond like this, taking into account their entire character profile?

An example can be Jack Piper, the avatar from table 1. In Lancashire the wages in the cotton industry had been reduced during the 1840’s (historical development), which meant that some workers lived in poverty, not making enough money to take care of their families. Jack Piper sees this in his own family and in his neighbourhood. He feels for them and in 1853 he starts a strike (historical event), which lasts for weeks, demanding an increase in wages. During the strike Jack is one of the leaders who goes head to head with the factory owners, who have him arrested. Eventually Jack is released and though nothing much has changed for the workers, he is seen as a hero by his friends and co-workers.

The account can take any form, for example a diary, a (web)log or vlog, a range of letters to friends or family members abroad or something completely different, as long as the account is written from the perspective of the avatar, taking into account his or her character profile and working from historical sources (both primary and secondary).

The AVATAR-method can be used for looking at different perspectives in one specific situation, or to research and discuss historical perspectives and how they changed over time. In the latter case it is especially important that either the teacher or peers (fellow students) give feedback on the written accounts of his or her students, so they can grow in the use of the method and get better at describing the viewpoints of their avatars and in general getting more out of the activity. See figure 2 for the progress.

The AVATAR-method has been used in different age groups and with different topics. Of course the level of sourcing and the level of writing depends on the age and experience the students have. An option is to make it a cross-subject project, involving the language teacher and have him or her give feedback on the quality of the writing, while you as a history teacher do the feedback on the level of historicity.

The practice works better for time periods from which (or about which) there are many written sources from several perspectives. Depending on the country the practice is applied, and on the region of the world you would look at, this would mean looking at the time period from 1750/1800 onwards. In addition, it is important to bear in mind that some topics or periods are controversial, and might generate debates and challenges in classrooms. For example: having an avatar who is a high ranking Nazi officer in charge of the deportation of Jewish families in Berlin would provide food for thought for interesting debates, but also be really challenging for students. It is advisable to reserve such ‘challenging’ topics and periods for older and more experiences students.

Obstacles and lessons learned

Using the AVATAR-method, especially in a group that has little or no experience with it, means work (!) for you as a teacher. You will be giving feedback, spotting anachronisms, scrutinizing over details and be confronted with quite divergent outcomes, which means that you as a teacher should have solid knowledge about the time period and historical context in which you let the students set their avatars loose. One of the biggest issues is that students can get stranded on a superficial level, not going beyond stereotypes and not getting into detail on the relationship between their avatar and his or her context. On the other hand it could happen that students go really ‘niche’ with their avatar, getting into obscure details that might require some additional reading and double checking on your part.

The provision of feedback will prove to be the most time consuming part of the practice. Keep in mind that the bigger your group is, the more intense and time-consuming the feedback rounds can be. When students get more experienced with the AVATAR-method, giving feedback will take less and less time and the quality and depth of their work will increase. The first time I used the AVATAR-method, I provided all the feedback myself. The next time I would definitely give students a role in the feedback rounds as well, making it more peer-oriented. This adds to the activity that they have to be critical about each other’s work, as well as that they can show (off) their avatar and all the work they put into it, which might even lead to more motivation. Additionally by reading the accounts of someone else’s avatar, students get insight in other perspectives on the same events.

The effect of the practice

The most important gain from using the AVATAR-method is the high level of enthusiasm and motivation it generates amongst the students. This is likely due to the amount of ownership it provides: students have ‘their own’ historical avatar, through which they approach a topic or time period. This creates a level of involvement with the subject matter that other activities not always provide.

As far as I am aware, no significant formal research has been done on the AVATAR-method and its effects. There are several articles published on the use of avatars in history education (see ‘more information’), but these are more descriptions of experiences in class than a presentation of quantitative results.

The AVATAR-method has been used by students in teacher training as an intervention on teaching historical perspectives during their action research. These aspiring teachers experienced the same thing as I did when I used avatars in class: high levels of motivation and students that got challenged to take into account other perspectives than their own. In that sense the AVATAR-method does force students to look at events and developments from another perspective than purely their own. The method seems to generate both understanding that there are other perspectives in the past (and present) and empathy for the perspectives of historical actors and that you can get to know these perspectives by sourcing, contextualising and reasoning while ‘in someone else’s shoes’.


About the interviewee

Pascal Tak works as Education Manager on board for the Dutch project School at Sea. He has a MEd in both History and Geography, has taught both subjects in a secondary school and has worked as a teacher trainer on a University of Applied Sciences, teaching mostly History Didactics and Action Research in the classroom. For EuroClio he has worked on the Historiana project ‘Innovating History Education for All’.

Background to the project

The AVATAR-method was used with students in a teacher trainer institute in the Netherlands (on a University of Applied Science) in 2015. I was teaching a course on the Dutch Rebellion (1568-1588) and the Dutch Republic (1588-1795) and decided that I wanted to do more with historical thinking and specifically to increase the involvement of the students with the topics. In previous versions of the course a lot of attention went to chronology and economic and political developments in the Netherlands, resulting in long series of names and dates, yet not really delving into the people and perspectives of the time.
Students created an avatar (or several avatars that were related to each other) that lived through the Dutch Rebellion and Republic, reporting on several historical events (like the ‘Disaster Year 1672’) through a series of weblogs.

Additional information

The AVATAR-method as presented here is based on the following literature:

  • Sheffer, E. (2009). ‘Creating lives in the classroom’ in:  The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • Volk, S. (2011). ‘How the air felt on my cheeks: using avatars to access history’ in: History Teacher 46(2) (2013): 193-214.


Written by Pascal Tak (Onderwijscoördinator, School at Sea) in Tilburg on 8 June 2018


“The textbook is man-made’. Using history textbooks for active learning, critical thinking and citizenship-building’

In most countries, a textbook is the most basic type of resource in history education. This often leads students to believing that the information from the textbook is reliable, especially since it signals authority.

History textbooks also serve as a political statement. In countries with a free market, the textbook is the product of the author’s selection of what to include. Textbooks are thus a product of the author’s professional and personal preferences. Furthermore, in countries where history textbooks are approved by educational authorities, or produced by authors appointed by the authorities, this is even more the case.

The Practice

The practice trains the ability of students to find and present key words/expressions in the text for homework, while understanding a taxonomy and practicing it. The practice is divided into two phases.

In the introductory phase, the teacher divides the students into different groups. The first group is tasked to prepare a list of words from the textbook that they do not understand, as well as to suggest their meanings. The second group prepares a list of words that they believe are the most important from the textbook. Finally, the third group prepares questions that will be useful to answer during the lesson.

During the lesson students are divided based on the size of the class and the students compare their answers to the homework within the sub-groups.

The first group chooses a spokesperson that presents common words/expressions to the class and suggests meanings. The class contributes with answers of other difficult words/expressions, and in the end – if necessary – the teacher contributes as well. The second group puts their list of key words/expressions on the board. The whole class is divided into pairs, and each pair will construct a very short summary of the textbook pages that must include all the key words/expressions visible on the board. One or two pairs are selected for reading aloud their summaries, and the class assess the summaries in comparison with their own. If necessary, the teacher contributes as well. The third group selects 4 to 6 questions and put them on the board. The class should discuss the quality of the questions, remove or change them, and the remaining part of the lesson will revolve around the questions. In this period, the teacher’s contribution is vital – presenting a taxonomy, showing how a good lesson needs a variety of taxonomic levels, assisting the class in constructing and selecting questions that mirror various taxonomic levels, and for the most part be loyal to the questions by using them as the red thread of the rest of the lesson.

During the second phase, the aims of the introductory phase are still in place; however additional aims are introduced. These aims involve developing students’ skills of analyzing textbooks, developing students’ competences by taking responsibility and acting according to their own decisions, by arguing and disagreeing in a constructive way and by putting the textbook in a general societal perspective.

During the second phase the students are also divided based on the size of the class and the students compare their answers to the homework within the sub-group.

An activity for analyzing and de-constructing the textbook is introduced. As part of their homework a group is asked to try to find in the text – and write down the textbook author’s conclusions, and possible value-based content.

During the lesson, one group present their results, and groups or the entire class are first discussing the conclusions/evaluations by asking first if they agree, or if they can arrive at other results based on the homework and secondly by analyzing the suggestions of value-based content. The students can ask further questions such as: Is it so? If yes, can we see which values are propagated? Do you agree that they should be here? What does this tell us about the author?

Depending on the level of the history course one activity can be exchanged for another. As part of a homework assignment, the groups are asked to prepare what they think could be the key question for the lesson.  Their suggestions are discussed in groups or with the entire class, and if an agreement is made on a good one – supported by the teacher-, the rest of the lesson will revolve around this.

A productive kind of key question is the paradox, since this forces students to analyze the text in order to construct evidence-based arguments for, and then assess their validity. For example, ‘Since we read that Hitler manipulated the German people, how come he had so much support?’

It should be noted that for each new lesson, groups should change activities.

Obstacles and lessons learned

The applicability of this strategy depends very much on the curriculum. In countries where the curriculum – in particular the final examinations (if they exist) – is mainly aimed at accumulating facts and reproducing facts – much of the lesson time has to be spent on this. In such cases the introductory elements could still be useful.

Traditional classroom roles where the teacher is expected to be the central agent, physically as well as pedagogically, are challenged in this strategy. Ultimately, the teacher is responsible for what happens in the classroom, of course. This strategy invites for active learning and the development of competences that are important in students’ citizenship-building, such as a willingness to dare to fail and sharing of the responsibility for planning and carrying out activities.

This strategy should not be used for all lessons for all of the course in its full. Based on the recurrent evaluations of students and teacher, and the content of the textbook, some elements may be dropped for a time, and other elements may be further developed.

The effect of the practice

A learning strategy that focuses on the history textbook, using activities that cover a variety of taxonomic levels, can be beneficial for students of various levels of achievement. Some elements may lead to students’ feeling safe at contributing, knowing that expressing also what you do not understand, is accepted as productive for the lesson outcomes. At the other end of the scale students can be challenged by constructing relevant key questions and finding evidence-based answers to them.

In an overall context such learning strategies can contribute to developing students’ general ability to think critically, to dare to engage in societal affairs, and to accept taking responsibility for own and others’ activities and contributions.

Therefore, it is increasingly important to train students in having a critical approach to the content provided by their textbook, in order to be able to train their critical thinking skills. The practice can also be used to assist students in developing competences, such as debating and cooperation. Additionally, it can also be used as a tool in citizenship building as well by training students’ sense of responsibility and perspective.


About the interviewee

Benny Christensen is an independent consultant on history education. He taught history and English at an adult gymnasium in Denmark, was a board member of the Danish History Teachers’Association, and for many years has contributed to international projects on history education, organised mainly by EuroClio and the Council of Europe.

Background to the project

In many countries history education is becoming more complex than a generation ago. To the content-based curriculum training in skills and competences is now added, but often the textbook is still the main kind of resource in classroom.

This project is a result of years’ of fine-tuning learning strategies in Danish classrooms that offer challenges to all learner groups. And it also aims at adding to students’ citizenship-building.

Written by Lena Martinović (EuroClio), based on an online interview with Benny Christensen on June 29, 2018


Reflecting Approaches and Perspectives


The role of teachers’ self-reflection in teaching sensitive topics

Often, countries’ experience difficulties in dealing with part of their past. This is, for example, the case of all those countries who need to teach about the Holocaust, which might come as a challenges for many educators. Some of these challenges include personal biases and assumptions from the history educators, which influence their teaching on such a sensitive topic. This practice aims to bring attention to these biases and allows educators to self-reflect.

The Practice

This practice involves willing participants (educators), who engage in self-reflection by asking themselves a number of questions for the benefit of making the education they are providing as inclusive as possible. Its aim is to address the issue of inclusion in memory site education by becoming more aware of their own values and attitudes, as well as student’s backgrounds.

It encourages educators to ask themselves certain questions when they are engaging with difficult subject matter, about how their own background and biases could influence the inclusivity of the lessons. An important aspect is to encourage educators to identify family histories and taking those into account when teaching about the Holocaust.

The questions come from guidelines that are given to educators giving tours in “disconcerting places” – that is, sites that commemorate a difficult past, most frequently former concentration camps or euthanasia sites from the Nazi period. These questions acts as general guidelines for educators to self-assess.

An example of such questions is:
How can I talk about discriminated and persecuted groups without reducing individuals to belonging to this group? How can I respond to the diverse perspectives and needs of the [students]?”

This practice consists of a simple list of questions, which can be easily tailored to a multitude of contexts when teaching or discussing sensitive topics in history. It is, thus, easily replicable: teachers who wish to teach sensitive topics in an inclusive manner have to use such questions to embark on a self-analysis of their own biases and pre-conceptions. Doing so, they become able to overcome them, becoming more effective and sensitive in addressing the topics.

Obstacles and lessons learned

The main obstacle in enacting the practice comes from the potential difficulty of getting educators to participate. The practice relies on the willingness of educators to engage in self-reflection, and for Gottfried Kößler this proved to be an obstacle. In evaluation forms, participants were very positive about this practice but did acknowledge this practice is demanding as it takes dedication.

The effect of the practice

There has been no formal research done on the effects of this practice. Over the years, feedback from educators who underwent self-examination showed an increased ability to deal with diverse classes in a sensitive and effective manner. The effects reported also show that participants gain more understanding about the implications educational communication has which leads to educators feeling more comfortable and prepared to confront diversity.


About the interviewee

Gottfried Kößler is a German teacher on literature, history and social science. He is currently working in the teachers training and with education on memorial sites and museums. He specializes in the Jewish history and Nazi-Germany.

Background to the project

The programme was initiated by Max Mannheimer Studienzentrum and 12 German, Austrian, and Polish memory concentration camps and euthanasia memorials as well as youth training centres. Initial funding came from Stiftung Erinnerung Verantwortung und Zukunft, which is an organisation committed to providing financial compensation to victims of the Nazi regime.

Additional information

http://www.verunsichernde-orte.de/seminarangebot/uebungen/zum-umgang-mit-teilnehmenden Provides access to sample questions that educators can ask themselves when teaching about difficult pasts, originally designed for use by professionals giving tours or providing other educational activities at memorial sites.

Written by Piia Lempiainen (EuroClio) based on an online interview with Gottfried Kößler (Pädagogisches Zentrum des Fritz Bauer Instituts und des Jüdischen Museums) in December 2017.

Engaging in multi-perspective class discussions

In her Citizenship lessons, Fatma Afiyon initiates interactive class discussions with her students, supported by a lot of visual material, in which she addresses both historical and contemporary topics. In these discussions, the students are encouraged to view things from different perspectives and learn to form and support their opinions based on arguments. The aim of this practice is to address the fact that students have difficulties in forming and expressing their opinion, especially in a nuanced way, on relevant historical or contemporary issues.

The Practice

As teacher of the subject Citizenship, which overall prepares students for their life as citizens in society, Fatma Afiyon initiated a method that combines a lot of visual source material with interactive class discussions. This practice is used in most of the lessons, usually halfway or towards the end of a lesson, as an interactive way to discuss historical as well as contemporary issues. The duration varies from 5 minutes up to the entire lesson of 45 minutes, depending on the topic that is discussed.

The practice aims to teach students how to form and express their opinion on relevant historical and contemporary issues, including difficult topics, in a nuanced way and based on arguments. It moreover aims to help the students understand such historical and current events, periods, and issues.

To start a class discussion, a lot of visual material is shown to the students, usually through a PowerPoint presentation. This way, the students can more easily understand what a discussion is about, and form a visual image of a certain topic or event in their minds. The class discussion is often based on the question of what is going on in society. The teacher can first ask the students what they think is going on, what they find striking at the moment, or refer to visual sources on the PowerPoint.

The teacher then asks questions or asks for the students’ opinions, followed by many thought-provoking questions that encourage the students to view things from different perspectives, such as “What if I have a different opinion on this?” or “What made you think this way?”. The teacher also asks the students to support their opinions by arguments. This way, the discussion becomes interactive, and the students can learn both to discuss in a nuanced way based on arguments, and view things from different perspectives. The class discussion can be continuously accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation that the teacher made, with for example photos that were taken by themselves or found on the internet.

The topic of the discussion can be historical or contemporary, but the discussion often connects the two. Linking a historical topic to a current one also makes it easier for the students to grasp the historical topic. Making a comparison between a historical French king and the current Dutch king was mentioned as an example. The teacher can in this case ask what the difference is between the two, and if students think one is better than the other, and why. Also, the method of class discussions has been successfully used to address difficult topics like the contemporary political situation in Turkey, or, when discussing ancient Greece, homosexuality.

As a part of this method, the teacher can also assign roles to students to let them experience how it is to be in a certain position and let them discuss from this point of view. An example is assigning students the roles of historical figures, which makes them aware of the different roles that existed, and how they related to each other. A certain historical or current situation can also be applied to the situation in the classroom, which brings the situation close to the students and makes it more personal and understandable.

To provide for such a class discussion, the most important things a teacher needs are a lot of source material, and “safe space” in which the students are able to talk about any topic or issue – no difficult topics should be avoided. The teacher should make clear that all students are encouraged to express their opinion, but always in a respectful and nuanced manner. There should be clear boundaries regarding this; if a student is not respectful, they can for example be temporarily excluded from the discussion and be set aside. Here it is important to make clear why the student is excluded: not because the opinion was wrong, but because it was expressed in a wrong way. This way, the student becomes aware of how they state their opinion. By providing clearly structured lessons and being very consistent, especially in the aim of being respectful towards others’ opinions, teachers can create such a safe environment for discussion.

In terms of support material, the PowerPoint presentations are an important part. These are used in almost each lesson to provide visual sources. Other support materials that can generally be used to help facilitate or complement a class discussion are photos or videos on the internet, newsreels, and educational television programmes specifically for children and young people. Using these visual materials, instead of the standard textbook, helps students to understand and create an image of what is going on in the world, which helps facilitate and encourages the class discussion.

Obstacles and lessons learned

In this practice, it can be difficult to discuss certain sensitive topics, especially topics that students are dealing with themselves. However, it is important to not avoid any difficult topic; students should be able to openly discuss everything, as long as everyone’s opinion is respected. This should be the number one rule in the class discussions, and a teacher should have clear boundaries and consequences regarding this.

Another challenge for a teacher can be remaining neutral in class discussions, while at the same time making sure the boundaries are respected. Remaining neutral can be especially challenging when students have quite radical opinions, but it is very important to also respect their opinion. In the end, respecting everyone’s opinion and simply showing that there are also other opinions and perspectives works better than trying to convince students of alternative ideas. The focus should be on the idea that all opinions are welcome, as long as they are stated respectfully.

Remaining neutral can also be difficult if students explicitly ask about the teacher’s own opinion. What a teacher can then do – if they want and if this is appropriate –, is give their own opinion on a topic, but make it very clear that they say this as an individual instead of as a teacher. To visually make this distinction, the following example was given: the teacher physically takes a step forward to indicate that they now take on a more personal role in which they can state their own opinion. If they then step back again, they are back in their role of the teacher. While it depends on the issue and context whether this is appropriate, expressing a personal opinion can help to motivate the students, as they see that the teacher is really involved in the class discussion.

The effect of the practice

While there has been no formal research done to the results of this practice, it was mentioned that the students who have used this practice can discuss in a more respectful and nuanced way, and are more aware of the impact of the words they use. Outside the classroom and particularly with other students their age, they can fall back to their old “habits” of talking and discussing, but especially inside the classroom students’ behaviour has changed quite a bit. They for example now even correct each other in class discussions regarding the way they talk, and they are generally more open to others’ opinions rather than reacting defensive. The method, which has been used for several years, has moreover been reviewed in annual reflections with the classes who used it. In these reflections, the students were very positive about the practice.

The effects of the practice were also clearly visible during a project that took place a few years ago. When different classes were asked to comment on statements about religion, it was the class that had used this practice of class discussions that was well able to state their opinion in a more nuanced way. They for example differentiated between culture and religion, and did not attribute characteristics of certain persons to an entire group. This is a clear indicator that these students had successfully learned the competences that the class discussions aimed to teach them.


About the interviewee

Fatma Afiyon has a degree in History teaching, but is able to teach different subjects. Currently she teaches Citizenship at CVO Accent Centrum Praktijkonderwijs in Rotterdam, a school for practical education, to students who have an IQ between 50 and 80. She has always wanted to become a teacher, and earned her teacher’s degree at the age of 20. She has worked at different schools with a variety of levels. She enjoys working with – especially ‘difficult’ – youth and becoming a part of their lives. Learning that these ‘difficult’ kids try to survive their daily lives and often lack a role model to guide them, she understood the impact a teacher can have on them. She loves telling stories about different times and cultures and tries to give her students a different view on the world and life itself.

Background to the project

The practice wants to address the fact that students have difficulties in forming and expressing their opinion, especially in a nuanced way, on relevant historical or contemporary issues. It wants to teach them how to argue in a nuanced way, to make them aware of the things they say and the language they use, while also teaching them to discuss and understand certain historical or contemporary events, periods and issues. The practice is currently used in a very mixed class of students around the age of 15, who all have an IQ between 50 and 80. This group includes students who have a migrant background, are on the autistic spectrum, and/or have behavioural issues. In general, this practice can be used for many different students, as it can be easily adjusted to the needs of a specific class.

Additional information

As the practice is initiated by Fatma Afiyon herself, there is no place where more information is available. Yet if you are interested in this practice, you may contact Fatma Afiyon directly via f.afiyon@cvoaccent.nl to share ideas or talk about certain topics. In general, teachers are encouraged to find their own way in using this practice, as this method works differently for each class. How this method works in practice moreover depends on whether it suits a teacher personally, and on their motivation to address (difficult) topics in such an interactive way.


Written by Suzanne Tromp (EuroClio) based on an interview by phone with Fatma Afiyon (CVO Accent Centrum Praktijkonderwijs) in The Hague and Rotterdam on 15 May 2017.

On the Right “Track” to Learning History


The use of tracks to build timelines and understand cause-effect relations between events

Jacek Staniszewski has developed a strategy to stimulate students’ understanding of events on a timeline, particularly those students on the autistic spectrum. By using a toy train moving along a track, Staniszewski found a way to make the connections between different events on an historical timeline more tangible and understandable for students. The strategy can be replicated by other history educators dealing with similar challenges in helping students concretise the connection between historical events.

The Practice

This practice is suitable for the duration of 1 lesson and can be applied and adjusted to several different timelines, cause-effect chains, and chronologies, depending on the audience.

This practice aims to address the barrier of students on the autistic spectrum to better understand a series of events. Often students on the autistic spectrum encounter little trouble remembering singular events, however they have difficulties remembering how certain events are linked. Jacek uses this practice on secondary school students. Whenever he notices that his students have difficulties in following the chain of events, he asks “who likes trains”. In this way, the classroom is divided between people who want to follow the “train lecture” and students who prefer to deal with timelines in a more classical manner. Such students are divided in small groups and asked to draw the timeline, with short descriptions of the events and explanation of the linkages between them. In the meanwhile, Jacek applies the practice to all the students who “like trains”.

Students who like trains receive pieces of a train track. On each piece, Jacek writes (applies a piece of paper, so that tracks can be re-used in future lectures) an event. For example, to teach about the Industrial Revolution, Jacek might write “the steam engine is invented” on one track, “trains become faster” on another, and so on. Then, students have to physically build the track. They connect the various pieces, saying out loud the reason underlying the connection (“trains become faster after the steam engine is invented, because use it to move”). To stimulate historical critical thinking, sometimes Jacek gives students also tracks not linked to the topic of the timeline (in this case, an example might be a track saying “Napoleon becomes emperor”).

Once the track is ready, Jacek uses it to “tell a story”: he takes the train and moves it along the tracks, explaining the events and connections while moving it. In this part, students who like and who do not like trains come back together as a group, and students who did not like the train follow the explanation and check their own timelines.

Obstacles and lessons learned

Jacek learned that it is helpful to acquire assistance from the language specialists in case of students with speech difficulties or additional assistance for students of mixed backgrounds and needs. Jacek also noted it is important to read the room as the mood of your students matters. This is why before taking the train he asks “who likes trains”: in this manner he can understand whether it is a good day or a bad day to apply the practice. Furthermore, the practice is applied in secondary schools, and some of the students find lectures with trail tracks too childish. Asking the question allows him to create a “safe environment” for all the students who still wish to have trail tracks lectures, being them in the autistic spectrum or not, without resulting labeling towards them. He applied the practice to a variety of topics, and learned that it works well with timelines, chronologies, cause-effect linkages, and even parallel events, for which he simply asks the students to develop two parallel trails. The practice can be even used to explain decisions: when the decision is made, the track turns either left or right. This “if” construction, however, results complex for some students to understand, and therefore is rarely used.

The effect of the practice

Jacek found that students responded much more enthusiastically to the use of the train that to a more traditional depiction of a timeline. Students were more engaged in the lessons, and he found they could remember the depicted events a lot more easily. On top of this, and perhaps most importantly, students seemed to enjoy the process of learning about historical events in a timeline more than with the traditional timeline. Jacek thinks this comes as a result of the process being much more active and engaging than the process of remembering the events of a two-dimensional linear timeline.


About the interviewee

Jacek Staniszewski is a teacher at an inclusive school in Warsaw which is part of the chain of schools within the “Academy for Good Education” (Akademia Dobrej Edukacji) – a structure of schools in Poland that work together in order to develop strategies for delivering the best possible quality of education.

Background to the project

Jacek had found that the autistic students in his class, while having no problem remembering different dates, had issues remembering the particular events associated with those dates, and further making connections to other dates and events. He thus worked with support of his colleagues to develop a strategy to tackle this problem.

Additional information

Jacek used a toy train to demonstrate timelines in a three dimensional and tangible manner. The main aspect, however, is that students could build the timeline (the trail) themselves, allowing them to more concretely relate the different events of the timeline to each other. Thus, teachers could use any tangible object(s) that moves on a track that is built in a similar way.

Written by Alice Modena and Aysel Gojayeva (EuroClio) based on an online interview with Jacek Staniszewski (Akademia Dobrej Edukacji) on 16 December 2016.