How can you teach the demise of Charles I? It’s a fascinating period; the build up to the Civil War, after all, shows the buds of democracy, the culmination of religious upheaval set in motion by Henry VIII and the prelude to a war which set families against each other and traumatised the English people for decades.
But it is ever so complicated for year 8.
We try to get students to unpick the decisions that Charles made and assess whether they showed good leadership or terrible judgement. Ideally they can tease out the differences between conflicts centred on religion, economics or power. However there are so many decisions over the course of seventeen years that they tangle together in an impenetrable knot. It can be difficult for a year 8 student to see the trees in the dark wood of history.
We use different media. For instance there are clips from Cromwell, with a rather fey Alec Guinness as Charles, to evaluate, http://youtu.be/qjoDZaARDSw
and excerpts from BBC class clips to explain his relationship with religion.http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/charles-is-policies-on-religion/11559.html
They can also split into groups to defend the behaviour of Charles or parliament in a court room scene.
But the best learning opportunity seems to come from Top Trumps. Everyone played it when they were young and by year 8 they have a sort of nostalgia for the game from ‘when they were children.’ I made 15 decision cards to fill in and illustrate. The illustrations highlight their relative understanding of the issue. For each decision Charles’ leadership is assessed for decisiveness, intelligence, strength, listening skills and trustworthiness. Students have to score each decision and then decide if it was aligned to religion, power or the economy. They are all inter-linked, of course, but one might be more dominant. More able students write his decisions themselves, right up until Charles raised his standard in Nottingham to declare war on parliament in 1642.
Making the cards is a creative homework and they come in excited with the promise of playing games. The scores given for his leadership then determine who wins each round of cards. It gets surprisingly competitive.
As you can see they enjoyed playing whilst unconsciously reflecting on the role of Charles. Following this the students had to organise the cards on their desks into categories and within these order them according to the quality of Charles’ decision making. Thus they had a ready made essay plan, divided into three paragraphs, with evidence of the events to cite and a criteria for judging Charles’ decision making.
They barely noticed they were learning which is much better than the assessment brain-ache I used to observe contorting their faces before I thought of introducing Top Trumps.
Launching straight into Year 10 GCSE with the ‘Creation of the Weimar Government’ can be problematic. It is like thanking students for choosing History and then tipping a bucket of concepts and vocabulary on their heads.
“Before hitler was elected the weimar government had been in power, this was a communist run party with right wing beliefs.”
So began a student with an A* target the other day. Apart from the fact that the Weimar government wasn’t a singular political party, the Communists never formed a government and Communists are left wing, I think I have conveyed the issues clearly. Although I acknowledge a slight problem with capital letters.
I might be doing it wrong. After several attempts to unravel the Weimar constitution by explaining Proportional Representation vis a vis the First Past the Post system (with pictures and diagrams) , constituencies, the Reichstag, coalition governments, presidents and chancellors, a third of the students will have dead eyes. They think it has no connection with their world. I probably need to think up an X Factor analogy. In the meantime students extract their own meaning;
“in 1932 hindenburg was still the president he was a weak leader because he had to ask all of the people what to do because he couldn’t decide for himself”
Ergo ‘Democracy is the terrible consequence of weak presidents who can’t decide for themselves?’ (And punctuation is something which needs to be ditched at the first opportunity.)
Anyway, when someone asks, ‘What’s proportional representation again?’ I have been known to say, ‘Just remember it means lots of different parties who can never agree, so nothing gets done.’ An adequate response to vacuum up some GCSE marks on this topic perhaps but not very fair if the Lib Dems want to attract young voters in the future.
Unfortunately there are several opportunities to oversimplify in this course as students canter over the boggy sands of content to be ready for an exam. Appeasement was clearly a mistake (crazy pacifists) the League of Nations were weak because they didn’t use an army (nothing can be achieved without an army) the Treaty of Versailles was too vengeful (typical French over reaction) I can’t bear to let these one dimensional notions go unchallenged but students often cling onto them like buoys in the rough sea of complex ideas.
So I am resolved to scour popular culture for anything which might help me open the door into their minds. And I will endeavour not to release them into the world holding skewed notions of politics, democracy and international relations. After all, they will be in charge of the world when I am too old to go on a protest march.
By the time year 9 have decided on their options it gets harder to motivate some students to work. With my current year 9 class competition seems to be the key to injecting energy and focus into the lessons. The other day they needed to obtain some basic factual evidence about evacuation which they could use to compare to source evidence. I decided to type the easier ‘describe;’ questions on red paper (worth 1 mark), explain questions on blue (2 marks) and analytical questions onto green (5 marks). The information was available in a text book or online. Each student had to gain 10 marks in order write their name on the whiteboard. They could answer a combination of cards to reach 10 but they could only take one card to their desk at a time and it needed to be marked before they collected another card.
It seems that it doesn’t matter what the competition is about, my class want to win. It was a hectic lesson as they raced to get their work marked so that they could attain 10 and write it on the board! Simples. (No one seemed to question why it was in any way rewarding to write your name on the board…)
In future I will select certain pupils to have answers to the simple questions so that I do not disappear under a throng of gigantic, impatient year 9 boys thrusting their books under my nose.
Incidentally, when I was berating members of the same class for not including titles and dates in their class work I threatened that if they continued to forget I would obtain permission from the Head to have it tattooed on their forearms to remind them.
‘We’ve done it before, and it worked!’ I asserted.
Horror crept across their faces, ‘Really?’
I think all this tells me is that they imagine I am so lacking in humour I couldn’t possibly have been making it up.
As I groaned under the weight of Turkey and potatoes anchoring my stomach I suddenly felt inspired for an active way to teach the Enabling Law. It has nothing to do with turkey. Perhaps I finally felt relaxed after a long term followed by frantic Christmas preparations for a new idea to seep through.
It involves students acting out a range of roles. The key thing with this legislation is to convey the import of voting it all in. The consequences were catastrophic and students must go beyond just thinking ‘They were scared.’ They need to consider individual responsibility to society and the interplay of a complex number of reasons that went through the minds of the Weimar politicians when they handed over power to a brutal extremist. Students need to see the human face of this decision and recognise the temptation to feel helpless and hand over power to others in contemporary political systems.
I will make a series of cards reflecting the views of a range of politicians and also throw in a lot of SA bullies. They will need to mingle and have snatched conversations trying to decide what to do and then try to vote honestly. However the vote turns out will lead to an interesting discussion.
Watch this space for what I come up with.