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Teaching Issues

Catering for student curiosity outside the classroom

Girl reading

 

Last summer I had an email from Tom’s mum.

Tom was a Year 8 student who seemed to pay attention in his history lessons. He was not a ‘constant contributor’, but he was a good listener.

How many times have you heard the following at parents’ evenings?; “He could put his hand up a little more”. I’ve never really believed that ‘being heard’ in lesson is the epitome of engagement.

There are of course many ways students engage with the past. Tom (I discovered from his mother’s email) loved to watch things about history on the TV.

Great, I thought. I myself remember being hooked as a 12-13 year old by ‘The Nazis: A Warning From History’ when it originally aired on BBC2 in 1997. It filled me with doom, but also curiosity. It was like I was transported into an alternate reality. I was filled with questions about the period.

However, I was not fortunate enough to study history as a distinct discipline at secondary school. I knew I enjoyed learning about the ‘history’ bits in our Humanities topics. Until I went to sixth form college, and chose History at A-Level, I had not encountered it as a separate subject. And yet, I had a fascination with the past. I was taken to historical sites during the holidays by my parents. I liked all the castles, palaces, ships etc, but I didn’t know I wanted to study it.

It was my exposure to the past outside of the classroom that led me to study it, teach it, head a history department and train others to share their passion of the past.

So, how well do we cater for students curiosity outside the classroom, without leaving it to the History Channel?! Tom’s mum was actually fed up with him watching videos and wanted him to read. His birthday present was to be a history book. I slightly pitied Tom, but admired his mother for her efforts. “Mr. Scruby, could you please recommend a historical novel”.

Tom’s mum didn’t want him to just read, she wanted him engaged in a story. She had a point! Firstly, my mind went blank. I wanted to reply to the email and move on with my endless pile of tasks. So, between ‘Warhorse’ and ‘Maus’, Tom got a graphic novel about the Jewish Holocaust.

I’m unsure whether or not Tom gratefully received the gift. That said, I had a sense of shame. Should Tom’s mum really have needed to email to ask? Universities provide reading lists all the time, and from my experience never checked whether or not I read them. I knew they were there though.

So, over the summer holidays I put together reading lists of historical fiction (and fact) for our first two terms of Y7, Y8 and Y9. There was a wealth of material out there, and I completed my lists simply by google and reading reviews. I’m not sure whether any student will even pick up any of these books, but the option is there. Hopefully, there are many more parents like Tom’s mum…

PS. I didn’t forget those historical sites or great documentaries, so I added some to the lists as well. Have you ever noticed, History is the only subject you study at school to have it’s own section on BBC iPlayer?”

Below History Resource Cupboard Members can download Marc’s reading lists given to parents at Open Evening:

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About the author
Marc Scruby
Marc has spent the last ten years as History Teacher, School Leadership Team member and now Head of History at Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex. He has also worked as an Associate Teaching Fellow on the History ITE course at the University of Sussex.

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