Exploring and Teaching Medieval History: What’s it About?
Reaching the age of 65 is a bit of a ‘what now?’ moment for me – charge on as before or stop doing the things I’ve been interested in for the last forty years? Neither extreme seems right, especially as I’m both grateful and relieved to have got here and be in a position to make choices. To cut a tediously autobiographical story short I am going to focus my ‘history’ time on a project which explores how we teach the Middle Ages and suggest ways to solve some of the problems which have emerged over the last few decades in teaching about this period. It feels potentially a lot more useful than going back to a PhD project on the 15th century shelved around 35 years ago!
So, what is this project about?
As currently conceived it has three elements:
1. Some pragmatic research into practicalities such as how much time is spent on teaching about the Middle Ages at KS3, the nature of current schemes of work and how students, new teachers, experienced teachers ‘see’ the period and its people, the impact of GCSE changes etc. This is a necessary bedrock for the other two elements.
2. Working with The Historical Association to publish articles by historians which up-date teachers’ knowledge and understanding of the period. The first phase of this element will appear in late autumn 2017 with the publication Exploring and Teaching Medieval History [see more details]. This will be followed by a rolling programme of further articles on the HA website.
3. The creation of a series of articles, schemes of work and a limited range of resources for KS3 which take into account what’s been learned from elements 1 and 2, for example the varieties of time available at KS3 and responds to GCSE changes and their impact on KS3. It is essential that this phase is a very practical one in providing material that is useable and recognises the limited time teachers have available for teaching and preparation – merely exhorting teachers to make changes or read lots of academic books is pointless.
All of which says ‘this is not a project to be rushed!’ Looking back over the last twenty-five years since we began to be assaulted by regular revisions of the National Curriculum, GCSE and A level there have necessarily been a great many quick-fix changes made. It’s not been possible to stand back and plan strategically over a long-term because everyone’s been too busy solving today’s problems - simply keeping their heads above water. Therefore, I see this project as taking three or four years despite the natural desire to get all the ideas out for use as soon as possible.
One last thought before ending this introductory piece – if there’s one idea I want to get across through the project it’s the importance of respecting the people of the Middle Ages. This is partly about identifying achievements and developments during the period but more importantly it’s about building into teaching an understanding that medieval people thought carefully about choices, had principles and ideals and had good reasons for doing things differently from us. We can only explain people’s actions in the past if we respect them, rather than assuming they had simpler, cruder motivations than people today. Perhaps if students can respect people of a different time then there is more chance of them respecting people from different cultures today rather than instinctively interpreting difference as being inferior or a threat.
So that’s, very roughly, what the Exploring and Teaching Medieval History project is about. I am very grateful to The Historical Association for its support and encouragement and for allowing me to carry out the project under its banner – and for asking me to edit the publication which will arrive free in every secondary school later this year.
For more details on the content of this publication see pages 2 and 3 of the attached summary document HERE ….
And if you have any queries or comments, please get in touch HERE …