Teaching Medieval History in Schools
A Sense of Direction
I’m starting with a question:
Can we teach medieval history at KS3 more successfully by taking a different approach to planning and content?
By ‘successfully’ I mean teaching that enable students to develop:
a) a more representative and respectful understanding of the Middle Ages and its people
b) more accurate and deeper knowledge of the period, including a stronger sense of the chronological outline
My hypothesis is that this should be achievable but requires a move away from the decades-old approach of ‘start in 1066 and keep going, event by event, til you bump into the Tudors’. There are four major problems with this events-driven approach:
– Two-year KS3 courses and other changes have cut teaching time considerably so that thechronological coverage has become more and more episodic and disjointed in many schools.
– A course focussed almost entirely on events (i.e. wars, rebellions and plague) only deepens the negative and erroneous preconceptions that students already have of the period and its people.
– Coverage of events only implicitly relates to the expectations, morality, ideas and principles that people had at the time even though it’s this range of thoughts that drive the events themselves.
– Events only allow us snapshots of individual people, seen briefly at one moment of a lifetime, and so students get little chance to develop their understanding of people and human nature.
The project began with the HA publication Exploring and Teaching Medieval History in 2018 which identified issues to be explored across the next several years. My plan now is to follow up the HA with a series of discussions and resources to offer teachers an alternative route through teaching about the Middle Ages at KS3. None of this contains certainties – it’s all exploratory, offering ideas, thoughts and possibilities but necessarily materials to try out as hardly anyone reading this will have the time to create the resources for themselves.
In outline these discussions and resources will include:
1. Articles exploring planning issues, necessary precursors to the development of resources.
2. The results of Jason Todd’s research into students’ preconceptions of the period and its people. This research will underpin the resources and schemes of work to be developed.
3. Resources which will, amongst other things, help identify and challenge students’ assumptions about the Middle Ages and its people, develop their understanding of contemporary feelings and thinking and explore alternative ways of building students’ chronological knowledge.
All the material will be published here on www.thinkinghistory.co.uk and will be free of charge.
This is not a funded project and there’s no team of people involved – it’s simply my own exploration of an issue I’ve been interested in for many years but haven’t had time to work on until now. I don’t have a closely-defined schedule – just an outline plan, a guide so I can chart my progress, not a set of promises to others. I reserve the right to wander off down byways as I bump into interesting books I haven’t read before! This project will only work if I approach it in a relaxed and exploratory way.
Whether it does work, of course, remains to be seen but I’m enjoying the inventiveness and creativity, the playfulness of trying something different - and reading lots of medieval history.
Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.