I teach at an international school in Jakarta, and our term starts early. By July 16th we are back at school for meetings and preparation, and lessons begin on the 18th. As ever, I had promised myself that over the summer break I would spend time gathering resources and planning, and so could hit the ground running. And as ever, the final weekend before term began is rather hectic!
This year I am teaching secondary 3 (year 10) and Secondary 4 ( year 11) IGCSE history. Until recently my school had stopped offering history as a IGCSE due to poor grades in sister campuses, but after lots of grovelling I persuaded my dean to reinstate it as an option. Of course that leads to extra pressure in the results department, but I am lucky to have bright, motivated students and small class sizes. We take option B, the Twentieth Century: international relations, with Germany,1918-1945 as our depth study.
My battle with secondary 3 began last year, when trying to emphasis the value of studying history. Many students are put off by the belief that it is hard, with lots of facts and dates to memorise. I can’t contradict them on that; I think it is one of the hardest IGCSE’s, and the source based questions (paper 2) is as hard a paper as some A-levels. Luckily, our school competes in the World Scholar’s Cup, and the history topics are always interesting and thought-provoking. This helps de-bunk the myth that history isn’t fun, and induces interest to study the subject further.
The parents are harder to convince - many simply don’t see the point of studying history, and have already laid out plans for their offspring to be doctors, businessmen and accountants. Global perspectives is the other humanities option, and many parents choose this for their children because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that it is easier. Out of a class of 14, 3 students chose history.
To kick things off with my secondary 3’s, we started looking at Unit 4, who was to blame for the Cold War? This is one of my favourite units to teach, and offer lots of opportunity for role-play and engaging lessons. When teaching the Cold War, I always start with a brief lesson on the Second World War. I know this isn't in the CIE syllabus, but I think that it is essential to understanding the origins of the Cold War. Also, students find this interesting and have a curiosity about the definitive conflict of the twentieth century. I don’t understand CIE’s logic for students to study the build up, and aftermath of the Second World War, without looking at the conflict on any level. After that, role play can work well, especially with the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. I had my students re-enact Yalta using puppets, to look at the dynamics between the leaders.
In secondary 4 we are looking at the League of Nations (unit 2). This is not normally one of my favourite units to teach; the parts about the League’s structure and organisation can be pretty dry to teach. However, I found an excellent resource on TES about doodling and learning, which made for an interesting lesson. I would thoroughly recommend it to liven up any lesson on structure. Lessons on Manchuria, the World Disarmament Conference and Abyssinia follow, and again, I would recommend role play, with students playing the security council in these crisis.
IGCSE History has a lot content, and whatever your teaching pedagogy, a certain amount of teacher-based lessons with powerpoint and note taking is inevitable. I try to make as many of my lessons engaging and student based as I can (my students may disagree!), but it can be a struggle, especially as the spectre of IGCSE begins to loom.
Stuart Ratcliffe is the subject head of history and English at an international school in Jakarta.