Planning the perfect Medieval scheme of work – an impossible task?

This week I went to the Bristol and South Glos History Network Meeting. The session focused on teaching the Middle Ages and was very thought provoking, making everyone discuss their current schemes of work and reflect on what could be better.

This led me to reflect on the schemes of work I teach and frankly I was left under-whelmed. During university I studied nearly only medieval history, I love the stuff, and yet I feel my students have no concept of the Middle Ages, except something to do with what a town was like and that there was a man called William who did something called a false retreat. They don’t know any of the good stories, have no overall chronological understanding and don’t know what a medieval source looks like.

Using this state of annoyance a colleague and I decided we would replan our schemes of work to make the ‘perfect’ Medieval scheme of work. Discussions began by making a list of everything we would like the students to know. We came up with the following:

  • The Norman Invasion
  • The death of Thomas Becket
  • The Crusades
  • The signing of the Magna Carta
  • The rising nationalities of the Welsh and Scottish
  • The Black Death
  • The Peasants Revolt

It was never going to be possible to include all this stuff into one scheme of work or we could be teaching it for years rather than the 12ish lessons we hoped to teach. So, problem one arose, what do you get rid of and how do we justify this? This led to problem two, how do you link what’s left into one enquiry? And finally into problem three, what skills are we hoping to teach?

Discussions continued and my colleague who is a genius at this sort of thing suggested that thematically lots of this was linked by control, which enabled us to drop some of things on the list above that weren’t linked. A scheme of work slowly emerged and became this:

How successfully was Medieval England controlled?

  • Lesson 1: What does it mean to be Medieval? [a contextual background to the period]
  • Lesson 2: Who should control England in 1066? [the aftermath of Edward’s death]
  • Lesson 3: How did William get control of England? [the battle of Hastings]
  • Lesson 4: How did William secure control of England? [Domesday book, Castles, Feudal System]
  • Lesson 5: Who had more control in the Middle Ages – the monarch or the Church? [Thomas Becket]
  • Lesson 6: Did later Medieval Kings have as much control? [Magna Carta and Edward II and Glyn Dwr]
  • Lesson 7:How successful were people in controlling the Black Death?

Each of these lessons will in turn focus on medieval sources and wherever possible medieval imagery so we can also improve student’s handling of sources that are foreign to them. In no way am I saying this is perfect, in fact, I know it isn’t, but it’s a start and is a great improvement for us.

I would be fascinated to hear your thoughts on this. Have we left anything ridiculously important out? Has your school taken a very different approach? What would you have got rid of from your ultimate list?

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9 Responses to Planning the perfect Medieval scheme of work – an impossible task?

  1. Mr. Cave says:

    Hi Rich, heard you sat next to my colleague Elly while you were there! Like the Medieval focus, although think it’s a real shame not to look at the Crusades, having loved studying them at university!

    • kenradical says:

      The Crusades are part of the Home Learning. We are going to set them the choice of three enquiry questions:
      INTERNATIONAL: How successfully did the Europeans control the Middle East?
      NATIONAL: Who was under a greater level of concern, Medieval townspeople or Medieval villagers?
      LOCAL: How well was Medieval Bristol controlled?

      • Mr. Cave says:

        That’s a very good idea,I like it when you’re able to set home learning that is at a tangent to the lessons. It’s similar to our Medieval Realms SOL I think (which you saw on Thursday I guess!),but with a bit more focus. Would love to tweak ours again but with non specialists teaching it’s difficult,they want familiarity and consistentcy over the years,another reason.why I don’t lie Humanities!

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  5. Ed Podesta says:

    Richard, I’m currently planning a scheme of work for Medieval England – and this seems like an excellent place to start 🙂 We’re going to spend two blocks of 12 lessons – one on power and one on society. I’d like to have a change and continuity theme – and really like that question about whether the later monarchs had more control than the earlier ones. Did you ever do any other work on this? I’d love to see (borrow!) it :).

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