A series with the right connections

27th October 1995 at 00:00
HISTORY. COLLINS HISTORY CONNECTIONS SERIES. Age range 11 to 14 Book 1 Medieval Realms 1066-1500 The World of Islam By Christopher Culpin and Fiona Macdonald Pounds 6.95. 0 00 327282 6

Teacher's Notes Pounds 11. 0 00 327290 7 Book 2 The Making of the United Kingdom 1500-1750 The French Revolution and Napoleon By Christopher Culpin and Fiona Macdonald Pounds 6.50. 0 00 327281 8 Teacher's Notes Pounds 11. 0 00 327291 5 Book 3 Britain 1750-1900 The 20th Century World By Christopher Culpin and Peter Fisher Pounds 7.95. 0 00 327280 X Teacher's Notes Pounds 12. 0 00 327292 3

There are several advantages in using the same series throughout key stage 3: a common assessment scheme enables teachers to chart coherently each pupil's progression across the key stage, and a familiar format helps students to access material and locate tasks more easily. A teacher's book allows greater consistency in planning.

In History Connections, Collins have gone one step further. In response to OFSTED criticism that schools tend to approach each study unit in isolation, they have produced a course comprising three "pairings", setting out in some detail how key concepts are developed across the units. They also claim to have addressed, in the context of what is a series for a broad range of ability, the need for greater differentiation or, as the word has now been declared verboten, "match".

The distinctive character of the series is more clearly seen in Books 1 and 2 in which "Making Connections" pages appear at various points. In Book 1 these cover such topics as war and peace, government and religion in everyday life, with pupils encouraged to use the sources to identify similarities and differences between the English and Muslim worlds. The ability of pupils to succeed in this type of exercise depends crucially on the range and relevance of the evidence.

Whereas a comparison of the leadership qualities of Cromwell and Napoleon (Book 2) is supported by summaries of their biographies, with pupils directed to revisit previously studied sections to scour for material, the device can lead to superficiality; in a Connections feature on the radical movements of the 17th century, pupils are asked to make links with the French Revolution without adequate sourcing or guidance.

In Book 3, the study units Britain 1750-1900 and The 20th Century World are constructed in accordance with the model contained in the new Order - an overview of prescribed content followed by one or more depth studies. The breakdown of each period into three sub-topics gives substance to the overview and prevents it from becoming merely a generalised survey of a long and complex period. The period 1750-1900 is approach- ed through industry and cities, trade and empire and popular responses, with the 20th-century structured around the two world wars and the inter-war years. Six depth studies are offered for study units 3 and 4. The writers appear to have taken account of the rubric requiring that the opportunities for depth studies should include main events, personalities and developments; the range for study unit 3 has the 1832 Reform Act, Richard Arkwright and changes to women's lives.

The level of support in the accompanying teachers' notes is impressive. A detailed scheme for assessment identifies the relevant key element for each activity, allocates numerical marks on a "levels of response" basis and suggests how a teacher can use impressionistic judgments or arithmetical methods, or a combination of the two, to move from the grading of individual assignments to the award of a national curriculum level which can, it is argued, have a value in formative as well as the statutory summative assessment. The notes include a substantial resource bank of copy sheets for both information and activity; a discreet triangle at the top of a sheet indicates its suitability for less able pupils.

This is a series designed with the classroom in mind throughout. Each unit has clearly written sections on specific subjects, in almost all cases with an accompanying visual source and often a short comprehension exercise which could be either oral or written. The aim of including the maximum number of visual sources results in the successful interplay of narrative and illustration which is at the heart of good teaching. Well-designed timelines, family trees and diagrams are complemented by a stimulating, colourful layout.

While the concept of Connections remains somewhat tangential, the overall quality is indisputable. This could become the standard key stage 3 series for mixed-ability teaching for the remainder of the Nineties and beyond.

Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and RE in the London borough of Hounslow

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