Collaboration is the key to better history lessons
Imagine, a few months from now, you are refreshed from the summer break and you are about to start teaching a new course. You are providing a course with the best lessons you've seen (as they've been co-produced by history teachers from various different schools around Scotland). A course infused with new and fascinating details provided by history lecturers from Scotland's universities. A course that implements the best historical teaching techniques (you know, as you've discussed this with colleagues at conferences, over Twitter, Facebook and forums). A course that is complemented by a presentation and QA session with a university professor, an expert in the subject.
Sound good? Of course it does. But does it sound feasible? After a recent conference looking at how history is taught in schools, Teaching History: A Model for Collaboration, I firmly believe the answer is yes, and this is the type of course most history teachers around Scotland could be implementing in the near future.
At the beginning of February, I was lucky enough to be present at this Royal Society of Edinburgh-hosted event. There was an almost palpable buzz throughout the day about the opportunities that lay ahead of us as a community.
The morning session, hosted by Professor Christopher Whatley, vice-principal of the University of Dundee, consisted of four presentations by important figures from the world of history and education - Graham Donaldson, author of the Donaldson report on teacher education, from the University of Glasgow, Professor Dauvit Brown, Scottish history lecturer from the University of Glasgow, David Gregory, HM inspector from Education Scotland, and myself (definitely not included in the bracket of important figures - tall, likes music, anally retentive).
Each of the presentations was different in its content and style, but all focused on the same thing - how do we bring history across the different sectors together? This is an important question we could all be asking - how can we work to provide a more consistent learning journey for the youngsters, from primary all the way to university?
The key, which came through clearly on that day, is working together. As David Gregory put it: "In order to have the best learning, we need to have a community of connections". The importance of this point really cannot be exaggerated.
The afternoon session, which organised people by sector and then geographically, produced some really exciting ideas:
- using Skype to talk to academics and historians anywhere in the world;
- the extended use of social media;
- the provision of history-focused continuing professional development for teachers;
- one central bank of formative materials;
- the creation of local networks;
- using university students to teach secondary pupils, and secondary pupils to teach primary pupils;
- access to a wide database of university lectures and podcasts online;
- teacher placement within heritage bodies, perhaps as part of a master's course;
- history ambassadors that come and speak to schools, akin to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ambassadors;
- a website with approved materials for student research ...
The list goes on.
These are fantastic ideas and you are probably already imagining how you could implement them into your current practice. You may recognise some of the ideas - in fact you may be implementing them already, and in this you wouldn't be alone.
We are in the very fortunate position of having good collaborative links already under way, with many instances of great cooperation between schools and universities. There is the Sharing Practice Dropbox, to which any history teacher can get access and which shares some 850 files, with 56 members (and counting). There are working groups like Annie Tindley's Scotland History Resources group, which connects secondary teachers and university academics for collaboration on courses. Karin Bowie and Dauvit Broun are hosting the second "Aiming High in Higher Scottish History" event in March, as well as working on websites that provide resources for teachers and students. SATH (the Scottish Association of Teachers of History) continues its good work in bringing together practitioners from all over. And we have started a committee looking at the creation of one central website for history education in Scotland.
If we can come together as a community, share our work and our expertise, we will all improve, and so will the experience for our pupils. Yes, it will take work, and time, but imagine the benefits we will reap.
We have many great examples of teaching and learning within the history community - now we need to make sure we find a way to connect them. To do that we need you to get involved - start sharing your coursework, contact the local historian, have a coffee with a primary teacher to discuss history transition projects.
There was a feeling at the RSE event that this could be the start of something special. Let's not allow that to slip away.
Start sharing your great coursework by using the #histedchat on twitter. All the presentations from the RSE event can be found on the Royal Society of Edinburgh website, along with an audio clip of the speakers' presentations.
Nelson Mundell is a probationer history teacher at Hillpark Secondary, a member of the SATH committee and on several history working groups. He is, along with Karin Bowie (University of Glasgow) and Annie Tindley (Glasgow Caledonian University), leading a committee on the creation of a central website for history education in Scotland. If you would like access to the Dropbox, please contact him: NelsonChrisMundell@hotmail.co.uk.