Standing in the street as a costumed Suffragette throwing reasoned arguments during a ‘Votes for Women’ dramatization, I remember encountering a curious mix of responses. A melting pot of confusion (understandably, it’s not often a Suffragette march passes you by in 2013), interest and awe, but also criticism; “What are you complaining about? Women have the vote! What a pointless protest.” Accurate as it may be that British women have the right to suffrage, annual events such as International Women’s Day continue to highlight that equality for women is still a very real issue that transcends political rights, cultures, religions and geographical borders, and will forever remain an invaluable part of modern education.
One thing that always interested me about History was the growing realisation that even the supposedly simplest and most straightforward facts are quite often shrouded in a mystifying narrative; a trail of sources that leaves the true story open to a range of opposing interpretations and outcomes. Whilst we may think we have answered all the questions and arrived at the correct conclusions about the sequences of events, a differing theory or discovery of a contradictory source can suddenly debunk the accepted.
I’m probably showing my age with this story. I was 14. It was after a sports lesson. I was tired. It was Geography. The teacher arrived at the classroom in an excited state. We were going to the A.V. room. This was indeed exciting. You must understand that this was before the days of interactive whiteboards, YouTube - using computers, indeed. Classrooms were not equipped to show moving images, so we all had to decamp to a different room set up for this very purpose. It was not even in the same block.
Staffordshire’s National Memorial Arboretum is encouraging pupils from across the UK to take part in its Battle of the Somme poetry competition, with entries being accepted until Friday 17th June. Part of the Royal British Legion, the Arboretum is the UK’s year-round Centre for Remembrance. KS2, KS3 and KS4 pupils are being asked to submit a poem on the theme of the hornbeam tree, which was the only one left standing in Delville Wood, Longueval, and became a poignant symbol of hope during the Battle of the Somme.
In my opinion, amid OFSTEDs 2000s obsession with four part lessons and accelerated learning, some facets of History teaching have been undermined, underrated and castigated. One of those is storytelling. Never underestimate the power of a good story in the classroom and the impact one can have, not only on pupils learning in school, but their enduring memory of you and your subject. I recently heard from a Geography teacher who’d spent a 60 minute lesson telling his Year 9 students a story about the evolution of a rainforest. He said it was his favourite lesson (and theirs). When those same students were in Year 10 and 11 they would ask him to tell them the story again! Like 6-year-olds love their favourite nursery rhymes, students love experiences.
Many of us have grown up playing board games. I spent endless hours building up real estate portfolios when playing Monopoly and solved murders playing Cluedo. These days I dig these games out on wet Sundays to play with my own children. I work in a school where many of my pupils may not get a chance to play these games, and therefore I could see not only educational benefits, but it also gave my pupils a chance to interact with one and another and have some fun. This great mix of social interaction, competition and education has certainly helped my pupils over the years.
Often, after a public show, a kind member of the audience will come up and tell me that I could be a teacher. While to them this is a compliment, this runs headfirst into one of my pet peeves. No, I could not just be a teacher. Of course I perform for (and sometimes direct) children and young people, and my shows have an educational leaning, but that doesn’t mean that I could walk into a classroom tomorrow and be a teacher. It is a basic misunderstanding, and to my mind, slight lack of respect for, the amount of time, training and on the job learning that makes for a good teacher.
As a child, I was actively encouraged to read. I’d spend evenings going to bed reading about the Mary Lennox, the isolated and closed off child sent to live in a remote manor on the desolate moors of Yorkshire, or about Carrie, the evacuee who embarks on a new adventure to Wales to escape the bombing of London. The skill of the authors hooked me into reading further about their experiences. I felt myself being transported into the fresh valleys of Wales, where Carrie would spend time weighing out rationed items in the shop, and experienced the difference in social classes in Victorian England alongside their understanding of medical ailments.
History resource champions Squaducation have launched a competition aimed at inspiring the historians of the future. My EPIC Era 2016 is a new History competition for schools and pupils throughout the UK, and is being spearheaded by veteran soldier, actor and educator Kevin Hicks. Pupils are being asked to name their favourite era in history and tell the competition judges all about it. Their entries can be written, drawn, crafted, performed or filmed. My EPIC Era 2016 will be open for entries until 31st March 2016.