1471: Why did Edward IV win his crown back?
This activity is not concerned with the details of the events of 1471 (at some stage I hope to add a guided role-play on the events to the website). It’s really here to exemplify one way of beginning work on an A level topic – using the enquiry process to help students build their confidence and independence in finding their way through a topic, secure in the knowledge that they’re on the right track to an effective explanation, in this case of Edward’s success. So, even if you don’t teach this topic, reading on might well be useful. It also includes ways of using ‘washing-line’ and ‘Diamond 9’ techniques for building explanations.
A common problem at A level is that students think they can’t begin to make sense of a topic or start to put answers together until they have read and learned a great deal. But without hooks (the question and hypothesis of the early stages of the enquiry process) there’s nothing to hang this learning on as it develops and that creates the ever-present danger of lots of reading and note-taking without any clear sense of direction. That in turn leads to frustration and reduced motivation – ‘I’ve done loads of reading but haven’t retained much/can’t make sense of it/don’t seem to be making progress.’ Having a question and hypothesis to work on from the beginning make a huge difference, guiding reading constructively and making for much more effective learning. This process also combats the fear of ‘not knowing’, making explicit that it’s OK to know little or nothing at the outset and that uncertainty is a natural and accepted part of getting to grips with a topic.
The purposes of this activity are to
a) show students how to go about planning their way through a topic, using a question to generate a hypothesis and then to use those first ideas to guide their reading.
b) boost students’ confidence in working and reading independently.
c) build up an outline knowledge of the factors that explain Edward’s success in 1471 and to suggest the factors that may have been most important
You just need the 8 factor cards plus the two cards to mark the ends of the ‘washing line’. If you work as a class you only need one set of cards. If it’s being used as a group activity each group needs a set of cards.
1. The key to students tackling this effectively is to move straight into the question and to construct a hypothesis, a possible answer in the first lesson. So, begin by presenting students with the question – Why did Edward regain his throne in 1471?
EITHER ask them for ideas – after all, they’ll have looked at why he gained the crown in 1461 (military qualities, Henry’s incompetence etc) and why he lost it ( Warwick’s role, French support for his opponents etc) – but you can’t rely on this as some students won’t have the confidence to make the mental leaps across topics
OR give them the 8 factor cards which list the range of reasons involved. In effect you’re giving them the elements of the answer. Their task is to organize them. This doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the prior knowledge mentioned in the ‘Either’ paragraph above. You’re just bringing it in via a different route, using the factor cards as stimuli to students’ memories of what they’ve done before.
2. Armed with the factors cards, the task for students is to organize them into groups:
a) reasons which seem to link to Edward’s own strengths and qualities
b) reasons which seem to be his opponents’ mistakes or weaknesses
c) other factors which don’t seem to fit into (a) or (b)
Note the use of the word ‘seem’, very hypothetical, very reassuring that you’re not meant to be certain or to know the answer at this stage.
The best way to do this is to set up a continuum or ‘washing line’, one end marked “Edward’s strengths” and the other “Opponents’ weaknesses” (see the ‘Washing Line End Cards’ in the Support section [ click here ]). This line needs to be long enough to create three clear groups of cards – one at each end and one in the middle. This washing line has a cunning relationship to an essay plan! In doing this, students have taken the first stage in creating a hypothesis by organizing the cards into groups. Leaving students to sort out the cards for themselves is important because this engenders discussion amongst them – they may need some guidelines such as ‘It’s OK to say you’re not sure or you don’t know’ but discussion here will help create more effective writing later. Discussion is where you try out ideas – better tried out-loud than battling to transfer half-formed ideas straight from brain to paper. The completed washing-line will look like the chart below.
3. Having sorted the cards on the line they now need to move on to the second stage of creating their hypothesis by suggesting which factors were likely to have been more important. This can be done by creating a ‘Diamond 9’ pattern with the cards, even if there’s only 8 of them! This physically shows which factors are at the top of a tree of importance. Students need to draw a sketch of the ‘Diamond’ pattern for reference and adjustment while they’re reading. Discussion of the ‘Diamond’ pattern is one place where their knowledge of events before 1471 can come into play. The completed pattern could look like that shown in the chart below but several different patterns are possible.
It’s also vital at this stage to explain why they’re using this enquiry process and how the activities will help their reading – otherwise some at least will be nervous about creating hypotheses on the basis of minimal knowledge.
4. Now students have a list of factors, organized into a pattern but they know hardly any detail. However the factors headings – ‘Edward’s military leadership’, ‘Clarence changes sides’ etc – are enough to enable them to start reading with a strong sense of direction. They know the question but, more importantly, they have the shape of an answer. The first part of their dual task is to look for detail on these factors in their books – exactly how was Edward a good military leader, when exactly did his leadership play a part, was this a factor at critical moments? The second part is to reflect on their hypothesis as they read – is it standing up to the evidence? Do they want to sketch a different ‘Diamond’ shape, moving the cards around into a different pattern?
Thus the initial identification of a question and hypothesis helps students read much more effectively because they’ve got a focus for that reading. The pages of their books no longer comprise an obstacle course full of completely unfamiliar material. The benefits of the approach are confidence, a sense of direction, improved motivation and more-focussed reading. And, in the long-run, better writing because (a) knowledge is more secure, having been built up in layers, from outline to depth and (b) the card sorting activities have created good discussion and effective discussion is a key contributor to good writing.
5. Creating a hypothesis at the outset of a sequence of work provides a structure that students can follow, realising that it’s OK to know only little or nothing at the outset but that they can build that knowledge and understanding as they go – and you’re giving them the tools to become more and more independent in their learning. At some stage take away the scaffolding – the list of possible reasons – and insist they come up with their own ideas. Creating independent thinkers and learners is what A level should be about.
While you will want to end the unit by summarising the key reasons for Edward’s success, discussing the impact of this activity is important for helping students develop independence and confidence.
You could, for example discuss:
Was the activity a success in helping you plan and structure your work?
Did it help direct your reading so you read more effectively?
Did it help your confidence in tackling this topic?
What have you learned about structuring how you learn about a topic that you can use again?
1. Did students understand the reasons for using the transferable enquiry process – does this need to be more explicit next time?
2. How much more independence will you give students next time? Which students can run with the technique and which need further support?
3. At what stage in A level do you introduce this idea and how does it build on earlier work at KS3 and GCSE?