Why is sense of period important? – Reflection on Term 1

Last June I decided that I would teach my history lessons differently (see my early blog). One thing I decided I would focus on was explicitly teaching sense of period – beginning each new scheme of work with an activity or lesson that directly taught my students what that period was like.

I’ve been doing this for a term now and have blogged a lot about some of the bits I’ve been doing in KS4, but so far haven’t really discussed the KS3 stuff. In Term 1 I teach the scheme of work “To what extent was Medieval England controlled successfully?“. It’s proper old-skool looking at William and 1066, Henry and Becket, John and Magna Carta, ending with Richard and the Peasants Revolt.

This year though before we started this I taught a lesson about what it was like in Medieval England and what it meant to live in the Middle Ages. To do this the students were given a series of images that referenced some of the themes from the scheme – violence, piety, hierarchy, respect for nobility. I ensured that these images contradicted each other, e.g. clear belief in torture but also clear strength of faith, as I wanted the students to understand the difficulties with defining these people. To do this properly the choice of images took a long time! Working in groups students had to label what they could see and then make inferences, building up to making a definition of what Medieval England was like – all the while listening to a bit of music courtesy of Hildegard of Bingen.

This lesson in itself was a bit of fun and the kids were able to define the main characteristics of Medieval England well – firmly secure in their sense of period. What’s interesting though is the benefit it has had in later lessons in improving the explanations of the students in relation to the events we have studied. Below are a few examples:

Who should be king in 1066?
“William should be king as he had the best military record. Regardless of the fact that he is French to someone in the Middle Ages skill in fighting would have been most important thing”

Who had more control – King or Church? (Henry and Becket)
In answer to why it’s surprising to see Henry being whipped through the streets of Canterbury – “It’s not surprising Sir. Medieval people were deeply religious and Henry clearly knew he had done something wrong. Even though he’s the king it shows how strong religion was to these people”

Did John have control of England?
When one kid asked why the barons didn’t kill the king one kid instantly pipped up with “they were obsessed with the monarch. Although these people were violent it would have been against their morals and religion to kill a king”

As I hope you can see having a sense of period enabled these students to put their learning in context using the values and opinions of medieval people in their work. All too often students, especially KS3 students, use their modern day understanding to explain situations, leading them to the wrong answer or misconceptions. Having a sense of period meant these kids did this far less and were able to produce explanations which were more mature and showed far greater understanding.

All too often though this was mostly seen in higher ability students so the next job is to make this more explicit to lower ability students. I happen to be teaching this same unit to Year 7 next so I aim to tweak the first lesson. After the image activity I intend to give the students a series of scenarios which I want them to respond to both as a modern day person and a medieval person to see the difference to achieve an even greater sense of period. Here’s some I was thinking of using:

  • The leader of the country has been found to have committed a series of crimes. What do you do?
  • You own a shop. You catch someone stealing. What do you do?
  • It’s Sunday. You are really tired and its time for church. Do you go?
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