Charles I comes up Trumps



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,
and excerpts from BBC class clips to explain his relationship with religion.

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.


Year 9 and competition

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.