Finding the roots of your own past Making students familiar with migration history (Mila Ernst, project leader ‘Young Pathfinders Project’, the Netherlands)

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 (Pascal Tak, School at Sea, The Netherlands)

‘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’ (Benny Christensen, Denmark)

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 (Gottfried Kößler, Pädagogisches Zentrum des Fritz Bauer Instituts und des Jüdischen Museums, Germany)

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 (Fatma Afiyon, CVO Accent Centrum Praktijkonderwijs in Rotterdam, the Netherlands)

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 (Jacek Staniszewski, Akademia Dobrej Edukacji, Poland)

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.

Examine the past through a “Memory walk” (Barry van Driel, Anne Frank House, The Netherlands)

In response to the visit of a diverse group of 15 international students from 16-19 years old (Youth for Europe project) to the Anne Frank House, Barry van Driel and his colleagues set up the “memory walk’’, which has been developed to give students the opportunity to examine the past and remembrance of that past in a proactive critical manner, to raise awareness, foster a sense of belonging, build social skills and competences. During the ‘’memory walk’’ students receive the assignment to visit a monument or informal migrant leader in their city and to interview people passing by or informal migrant leaders. Once they return to the class, their job is to critically process all of the information and to present this to the class which allows the class also to profit from the research that has been done and to transform perspectives on history and remembrance in the classroom.

The Practice

The Education team of the Anne Frank House developed and piloted the “Memory Walk” to stimulate proactive history learning in a city or neighbourhood for students between ages 13 and 18 years old. This method could also be used by schools for students in the autistic spectrum. This only means that the practice needs to be adjusted to the needs of the students. The practice has not been officially used for these students yet. This plan is still under construction.

The “Memory Walk” exists out of three parts, which are the preparations for both teacher and the students, the implementation in the city, processing and presenting the results. The time-frame for the project “Memory Walk” is around 7 lessons.

When the teacher decides to implement the “Memory Walk” in the classroom, preparations have to be done first. The first thing is to decide whether the city provides the classroom with enough monuments. If this is not the case, an alternative could be doing research about migrant communities. Second thing is to prepare the class for the students. This means doing research about all of the monuments or informal migrant leaders you as a teacher would like to include. This could also mean establishing contact via email or phone with migrant organisations or leaders. This could take up to 2 to 3 lessons of 50 minutes.

When introducing the topic to the class, small groups consisting out of 4-5 students have to be made and monuments or informal migrant leaders have to be appointed to the groups. The choice could of course also be made by the students themselves, depending on the situation.

Then the preparations for the students will start. They will get an interview training by the teacher, which will take 1-2 lessons of 50 minutes. During this training they will learn how to ask responsible questions, how to listen carefully and not interrupt their interviewee.

The next lesson will be implemented in the city. All student groups will go to the city accompanied by a teacher or parent who will assist them in the city and keep an eye on them. The goal in the city is to observe the monument, take photos and interview people passing by about their knowledge and opinion about the monument. If possible, the interviewees could also be filmed or recorded. When doing research about the history of a migrant community, the goal is to interview an informal migrant leader and to take photos if possible. This will take approximately a whole morning or afternoon.

During the project one student is appointed as the leader of the group and one person is responsible for the report and presentation which is produced by contributions of the entire group.

In the final phase, the students will make the report on the monument and also present this in front of the class. Afterwards the teacher will give feedback on the findings. The other students in the classroom can jump in with questions or comments, which eventually can lead towards a group discussion. This phase also includes 1 to 2 lessons of 50 minutes.

Obstacles and lessons learned

The team encountered several obstacles in using the “Memory Walk” throughout international context. This was first of all introducing the project to unexperienced teachers and students who were not introduced yet to project-based work, field trips and independent research. This resulted in teachers and students being overwhelmed and not really able to participate in the “Memory Walk”.  Another thing is that the project time-consuming, because it has 3 different phases: preparation, implementation and processing. Teachers and students, but also schools in general should be open to the idea of these time-consuming phases.

Another thing is that monuments or informal migrant leaders should be present in the city or village where students live, otherwise the “Memory Walk” cannot be used as an effective method.

Permission must be given by all parents. If children are not allowed by their parents to go to the city or visit a migrant leader because of certain political views for example, this could also be an obstacle. Solution to this problem is that these children could stay in school, do their research online and present this to the class.

Also the consent of the interviewees could be problematic, if they do not give permission to share this material in the classroom.

The project has developed throughout the years in Dutch and international contexts in schools with diverse backgrounds and diverse students. A few lessons have been learned which deal with the interviews and interview trainings. The key is to spend more time on the interview trainings for the students, then the quality of the interviews will also improve. On top of that more attention needs to go out to the group dynamic. Inclusiveness needs to be stimulated during the interviews, so that everyone will get the chance to ask their questions. Allow not only the verbally strong children who are dominant during the interview, but also the others to ask their questions.

The effect of the practice

The visible results of the project were that students became more motivated during class, they wanted to acquire more knowledge about their cities and history. A sense of belonging in society was also fostered, awareness of multiperspectivity in history grew and students went home with the stories they had learned and started talking to their parents about it.

Recently Barry van Driel started developing an instrument to officially measure the impact the “Memory Walk” has on students. He developed an anonymous questionnaire with specific questions concerning national history and the monuments. The anonymous questionnaire will take place before and after the “Memory Walk”, which will allow us to see if perspectives have been transformed.

 

About the interviewee

Barry van Driel is the Secretary General of the International Association for Intercultural Education, and the International Director for Teacher Training and Curriculum Development at the Anne Frank House. Since joining the Anne Frank House in 2002, he has conducted many interviews in various countries relating to xenophobia, racism and discrimination today.

Since 2002, he has been the editor in chief of the journal Intercultural Education as well as the Secretary General of the International Association for Intercultural Education. As Secretary General, he conducted  interviews on the educational situation of immigrants and minority groups. He has also written several books, including Variant Lifestyles (1986), Confronting Islamophobia in Educational Practice, Challenging Homophobia. 

Background to the project

The project was initiated by the Anne Frank House. The Anne Frank House had a subsidy for a diverse group of 15 young people 16-19 years old (Youth for Europe project) who would visit the Netherlands, Anne frank House. They would stay 8 days in the Netherlands. The goal was to learn more about Dutch History and specifically the history of Amsterdam.  The colleagues of the AFH thought it would be better to do some proactive learning instead of giving them a few lectures. The plan was to let the group discover the city and the history by observing the monuments and interviewing people passing by. The assignment was followed up by a presentation and a 3-hour discussion on the contested monuments and different opinions. The Anne Frank House decided afterwards to see whether Dutch schools would also like to try out the “Memory Walk”. Now the method is used internationally by local partners in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Guatemala, Italy and more.

Additional information

A manual has been made for the teacher to activate the students before the assignment. The manual includes mini-assignments such as: create your own ideal monument.

For more information check the Anne Frank House Website and Youtube Channel:

http://www.annefrank.org/en/Worldwide/Exibitions/Memory-Walk/

 

Written by Shanice de Witte (EUROCLIO) based on an online skype- interview with Barry van Driel (Anne Frank House) in The Hague  on 10-07-2017.

Making your students more independent (Monika Mandelickova, Labyrinth – Laboratory School, Czech Republic)

How do you help students plan their own work better and make them more independent in this? In response to this problem most teachers can relate to, Monika Mandelickova has created a practice with which she tries to help all of her students individually. She makes a weekly schedule of the work her students have to do that week, based on their personal aims. Students evaluate themselves at the end of the week and discuss this with their teacher. The practice heightens the student’s motivation, it focuses on concrete outcomes and addresses each student individually.

The Practice

At the Labyrinth-Laboratory School in Brno, Czech Republic, teachers have combined their efforts to face down a challenge that most educators are familiar with: how to make students better able to plan their own workload and thereby improving the student’s self-development and motivation for learning?

They have come up with a practice that deals with precisely this challenge. Every Monday morning students start their week with a class session of 20 to 30 minutes, to plan their work for that week. Concrete outcomes for that week are set and every Friday these outcomes will be discussed between teachers and students during an individual 5 to 10-minute talk. Students work on their self-evaluation and the teacher shares their reflection on the week. Teachers have shorter weekly and longer monthly meetings on these self-evaluations.

These weekly practices are prepared individually for each student and focus on their individual needs, thereby making the practice more inclusive. Students formulate their own personal aims for that week, which is used in creating the weekly schedule.  The weekly schedules put more responsibility on the students, giving them a certain level of authority over their own work.

The practice leads to greater motivation, as it combines the personal aims of each student with the common aims, based on the year’s theme, the sub-themes and the expected curriculum outcomes. The template used for the weekly plans is the same for all students, but the specific content varies per student and can thus be adjusted for the specific needs of each student.

Each of these weekly plans contains a special, individual task for each student. This can be in the form of supportive materials that help them overcome a challenge, but it can also be extra work if they are doing well. The teacher has to be able to identify these special needs and know what their students are capable of doing in the time span of a week. Working with the plans helps students to realize their aims and to suggest strategies for working on these aims. When we take History as an example, the plans can help structure a subject that might be difficult for the student to understand. As often more time is being spend on one subject in History, the plans help the students make more sense of it. These plans of course can be modified over a longer period of time, if needed to fit the aims of the student.

Since the self-evaluation of students is an important part of these practice, there is also space for students on the weekly plan for comments by the students themselves. The teacher can of course add comments as well, aimed at improving the students’ work. This helps the student to think about their own work and the way they met the challenges for that week. This self-reflective aspect is very important and it helps the student to learn from their mistakes or gain confidence by what went well.

This practice aims not only at the student-teacher relationship, but also involves the student’s parents. They get to see the weekly plans as well and they can follow the progress of the students during the week. After the week the students take the finalized plans home for the parents to take a look at. In this way, the parents are involved in what the student does at home and are able to give their feedback and support to the student.

Obstacles and lessons learned

There are two major obstacles with this practice, both of which can be overcome over time. The first obstacle is that the practice is rather time-consuming. It takes time to prepare and it puts more responsibility on the teachers and the students. Especially if it is a way of working that both the teacher and the students are not used to, it takes time to get used to it. When both parties are used to it however, the practice can work very well. It is a process that needs time.

It is also very important that objectives and criteria that will be evaluated need to be stated very clearly and concretely to improve the overall practice. When objectives and criteria are vague, both students and teachers will not be able to identify progress or lack of progress. The practice then does not have the intended result. With clear and concrete objectives and criteria, students know what is expected of them and teachers know how to evaluate the work done by their students.

The effect of the practice

The most important effect of the practice is that the learning process of the students has improved and that students have become more independent. They can self-evaluate, plan their work and cooperate with teachers and other students. The students can even evaluate each other on work done. This is a very useful effect, as it gives the student tools to improve upon their work in the next week, or period, and in the rest of their school career.

There is not just an effect on students, but also on teachers, as this practice helps them to better evaluate the work done by their students. This is very helpful for all teachers, who sometimes struggle to grasp the individual learning needs and progress of all of their students. This practice helps in giving insight in that and therefore, they are being used at the Laboratory School as evidence for the pedagogical portfolio and as a basis for the final assessment of students.

 

About the interviewee

Monika Mandelickova is a primary school teacher at the Labyrinth – Laboratory School in Brno, Czech Republic. She was part of the team that created and introduced this practice.

Background to the practice

The project was initiated by teachers at the Labyrinth – Laboratory School in Brno, to be able to better help students becoming independent and self-reflective. The practice is based on the Montessori concept of weekly planning and the Step by Step concept, which is focused on working in different environments within the week. The Labyrinth – Laboratory School practice is an adjusted version of the planning concept from the Montessori principles.

Additional information

To create your own weekly plan, you can find here a sample template that we hope will be useful.

An example of the Montessori practice can be found here:  http://www.andreasmontessori.co.uk/weekly-plans/01-02-10.html

More information on Step by Step can be found here: http://www.issa.nl

For any further questions regarding this practice, please contact the Euroclio office via secretariat@euroclio.eu

Written by Rik Mets (EUROCLIO – European Association of History Educators) based on an interview held by Suzanne Tromp with Monika Mandelickova (Labyrinth – Laboratory School) via Skype on 3 July 2017.

How the process of historical enquiry helps to make school history more accessible (Michael Riley, School History Project, United Kingdom)

This practice aims to tackle the challenge of how to enable low-attaining students to achieve highly, in a mixed ability classroom, particularly with regard to helping them to produce an extended piece of writing, based on analytical thinking and historical knowledge. To support weaker students, Michael Riley designed the learning on Emperor Augustus around a rigorous and engaging enquiry question that students answered by means of an extended piece of writing. The historical enquiry was divided into a sequence of lessons, each touching upon different aspects of the question, while connecting to the overall clear structure of the learning. In order to achieve accessibility for all students, three key scaffolding strategies were used for the learning: an initial hook, a thinking frame for the sequence of lessons, and a writing frame to structure the final extended writing.

The Practice

Michael Riley, Director of the School History Project, designed an inclusive practice which aimed to support students in a mixed ability classroom setting. Specifically, the practice consisted of a sequence of lessons built around a single enquiry question: How great was Augustus? The end product of this enquiry consisted of an extended piece of writing, assessing the enquiry question. The enquiry has been designed for a classroom of 30 students aged between 11 and 12, of which around one third was struggling with reading and writing in history, and hence with developing historical knowledge.

The enquiry set high expectations for all students. In particular, it was designed to ensure that low-attaining students were able to produce a piece of extended writing that addressed the question, had a clear structure and was supported with relevant historical knowledge.

The first strategy aims to create interest in the people, events or situations in the past by using a powerful ‘hook’. In Michael Riley’s enquiry around Emperor Augustus, the initial hook was based on contrasting sources about the greatness of Augustus. The first source, a cameo in the British Museum and statues of the Emperor, portrayed him as powerful and beautiful. The second source, a written description of Augustus, described the Emperor as a rather short, and ugly individual. These contrasting sources on the appearance of Emperor Augustus grabbed students’ interest and provided an accessible start to the enquiry’.

The second strategy aims to ensure that students are supported in developing their historical knowledge and thinking. Planning a sequence of lessons around a single enquiry question that requires a piece of extended assessment as end product is a good way to achieve this. In order to render the challenge accessible, supporting structures to help students’ thinking’ should be provided by the teacher. In the case of this practice, the enquiry was built on a structured sequence of learning, which has been organised around the six lessons on Augustus: his appearance, his private life, the Senate, the Army, Rome, and the Empire. In order to help students to select, sort, classify, and simplify historical information, a thinking frame in the form of a graphic organizer was provided. After each lesson, students were required to sort and organize the historical information received, by deciding whether to put this information into attributes that rendered Emperor Augustus great, or not.

The third strategy aims to ensure the accessibility of the learning, by providing scaffolding for the extended piece of writing. Specifically, Michael Riley aimed to model the language of discourse, and to provide students with guidance on how to structure their extended writing’. In assessing the greatness of Emperor Augustus, students were provided with a writing frame that contained several elements helping them to turn their ideas into an extended piece of writing built on historical knowledge and critical thinking. Specifically, the writing frame set up the four paragraphs that students could use to structure their writing’, namely the introduction describing Augustus, discussing potential problems with evidence on Augustus, students’ own judgement on the greatness of the Emperor, and a concluding paragraph.

Obstacles and lessons learned

The key challenge that Michael Riley encountered while implementing this practice, based on an overall historical enquiry, was the planning process involved. In order to ensure that the learning was accessible, each of the six lessons needed to be thought through with regard to the overall sequence of lessons. Such planning requires for teachers to think beyond the individual lesson, and to consider exactly how each lesson contributes to the overall enquiry.

The effect of the practice

The practice by Michael Riley, involving a sequence of lessons built around a rigorous and engaging enquiry question, had a significant impact on students’ learning’. One student, for example, who was interested in history per se, but was struggling with school history due to his difficulties in reading and writing as well as in thinking analytically, was able to produce a high-quality piece of extended writing on the greatness of Augustus, demonstrating his analytical skills and historical knowledge. Applying the principles of this practice to your own work can contribute to rendering school history more challenging, fascinating and accessible for all students. The process of historical enquiry specifically helps learners to build historical knowledge and understanding.

About the interviewee

Michael Riley is Director of SHP, which promotes a more meaningful, diverse and engaging history curriculum in English schools. Through his work, he seeks to make school history more challenging, fascinating and accessible for all students. He is particularly interested in helping learners to build historical knowledge and understanding through the process of historical enquiry.

Background to the project

The enquiry was initiated by Michael Riley. He was inspired by working with his colleagues and likeminded people of the School History Project, such as Jamie Byrom or Christine Counsell. His thinking about how to render school history more challenging, fascinating and accessible for all students is underpinned by three principles: first, all students should be engaged with history in a challenging way; secondly, all students should gain deep and broad historical knowledge; thirdly, all students should be engaged in historical enquiry that involves critical thinking and communication in an extended written format.

Additional Information

Support material

This practice, while making use of the case on learning about the greatness of Emperor Augustus, can be easily transferred by following key principles underpinning this practice:

  1. Expectations in terms of knowledge, understanding, and critical thinking should be kept high.
  2. The enquiry should be planned across a sequence of lessons. Your enquiry should have a rigorous and engaging question and provide a clear structure for the learning as well as a motivating learning outcome.
  3. The learning should be scaffolded, most notably by making use of a hook, and thinking and writing frames.

More info

More information about the work of the School History Project can be found at their website: http://www.schoolshistoryproject.co.uk/

Written by Henrik Hartmann (EUROCLIO) based on an online interview with Michael Riley (SHP) in The Hague on 27 July 2017.