A demanding route through the Tudors

19th January 1996 at 00:00
PRIMARY. Heinemann Our World, Life in Tudor Times, By Jane Shuter, Pounds 4.99, Teacher's guide Pounds 21.95. Supplementary books: The Tudor Court. Life in a Tudor Town. The Poor in Tudor England. Shakespeare and the Theatre. Heinemann Pounds 4.25 each Pack of 4 Pounds 15.99, Age range: 8 to 10

An age of brilliance and brutality: Wendy Pierce and Tom Deveson look at two packs on teaching the Tudors. Heinemann's Our World History series with its designated ages suggests a chronological approach to British history at key stage 2. The latest materials, Tudor Times, include topic starter packs with teacher's guide, six pupil books and a poster pack.

The books enable children to investigate the period through a text which attempts to explain - rather than merely inform - and which is based on a variety of primary sources, many of which have been modified to make them more accessible.

The updated pupil book, Life in Tudor Times, is more focused than the earlier edition. After a look at the Tudor monarchs, the chapters about town and country life, entertainment, privateers and the Armada, have been restructured. New chapters have been added about the Mary Rose, Elizabeth 1, and explorers and settlers in North America.

The book contains essential knowledge for study unit 2, but it is a pity more chapters don't incorporate a focus in their title. Where they do, the sources and activities offer more direction for the pupils.

The teacher's guide is an integral part of the pack. The content grid is a useful aid to planning a route through the topic. Some of the worksheets and suggested activities look at children's competency in English or art rather than history, and teachers need to ask themselves "where is the history?" when deciding what to use.

The pack encourages children to respond to a variety of well-considered questions which will promote a critical use of sources. They should also enjoy looking at the colourful, well-presented material, but may need support.

The books demand good higher-order reading skills such as deduction, reasoning and inference. Even the most able children will need help in teasing out all the relevant threads from the variety of sources.

The recommended use of the sources implies that children are operating between level 3 and level 5 - that is, combining, selecting and evaluating a variety of sources. The effective use of these books depends on the children having a good background in handling source materials.

The teacher's guide includes an assessment grid which gives information on coverage of the key elements. Teachers could use this to plot their assessment opportunities within the topic, but would need to make their own judgments about the children's understanding of the key elements.

The four supplementary books add depth to study of these periods. Presenting source material in the same style as the pupil books, they closely relate to each programme of study and are excellent reference material.

These books, especially the new packs of topic books, are a useful addition to history resources at key stage 2. They will enhance learning opportunities, but no one pack will provide children with everything they need to develop their historical skills. So, user, beware.

Wendy Pierce teaches at South Primary School, Plymouth

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