Give them a fighting chance;Reviews;Books;Features and arts

26th November 1999 at 00:00
BRITAIN 1750-1900 HISTORY INVESTIGATIONS PACK. By Sue Johnson, Keith Worrall,Chris Culpin and Peter Fisher. Collins Educational. pound;59.99

STORIES FROM HISTORY SERIES Medieval Times. By Rosemary Rees and Jane Shuter. TUDORS AND STUARTS By Rosemary Rees and Jane Shuter. Heinemann pound;4.99 each

HISTORY HOMEWORK PACKS:The Romans and Medieval Realms. By Judith Kidd and Linda Richards. THE MAKING OF THE UK, INDIANS OF NORTH AMERICA, BLACK PEOPLES OF THE AMERICAS. By Judith Kidd and Linda Richards. Heinemann pound;39.99 each

KNIGHTS, CRUSADERS AND CASTLES (CD-Rom). By Helen Windsor and Gwyneth Windsor. Heinemann pound;49.99 + VAT.

Mark Williamson samples resources to guide lower ability students through the history battlefield

Most history teachers experience a common problem when introducing the past to lower ability pupils: the texts can be too complex. This makes it difficult for them to identify long-term causes and patterns, which in turn makes it difficult for them to select and organise information in response to questions. Tasks can be remote or too easy, and lacking historical purpose.

Collins has brought together a team to tackle these problems. The complex period 1750 to 1900 presents a difficult test bed, but the audio-tape introductions and visual sources in their investigations pack combine effectively to lead the pupil through the trials and tribulations of a hand-loom weaver's family transported from Essex to Manchester, with glances at events such as Peterloo and themes such as the Empire.

Teachers with distinctively lower ability groups should look seriously at this series; it would be harder to use in a mixed ability setting.

Story makes history memorable. A ruin with a story becomes a castle under siege, with blood and ghosts. Without the story it remains a tip of sandstone and ashlar.

Rosemary Rees and Jane Shuter know this, but fail to convince in the first of their titles from the odd Stories from History series, which seems to have no clear purpose and lacks a recognisable register. The "further discussion" and "extension exercises" are unrealistic in their expectations, given the time allocation for history in key stage 3. Are these rewards for the more able or support for "weaker readers"? The publisher seems unclear on this. Some could profitably be read to a mixed ability class for the purpose of illustration or enrichment, but the accompanying activity booklets suggest a parallel learning track.

The selection takes in different perspectives such as the experiences of a child crusader in 1196; Giles, an English boy disguised as a Spanish cabin boy in 1588; and Elizabeth Dysart, Cromwell's mistress. But the eye-witness account of the burning of Ridley and Latimer sits incongruously with Alfred Noyes's poem "The Highwayman".

Stephen Wisdom's illustrations are a redeeming feature, and show a consistency which is strangely lacking in the storytelling which ranges from the "Silence you dog" genre to the rhapsodic "sunlit, longshadowed peace of the early summer evening". Cost alone would make this an expensive buy as a pupil's book.

A full year's programme of homework for the compulsory key stage 3 units and the more popular options is an appealing prospect, and heads of department should take a close look at the brace of Heinemann's History Homework packs.

These provide photocopiable sheets classified as "core" or "foundation" which provide further information to that found in most textbooks, and suitably open-ended tasks for the more able and shorter, less demanding tasks for those needing support.

Attention is paid to the structure and layout of work, which should help promote presentational skills for the organisationally challenged. Photocopying bills will be high, but there are other cost benefits in terms of time once these packs have been assimilated.

Castles fall and crusaders drip blood in Helen and Gwyneth Windsor's excellent CD-Rom which comprehensively covers a daunting period through separate sections on knights and crusaders, castles, heraldry and weapons. From the opening, the music and sound effects give the resource a momentum of its own and the problem will be to persuade pupils to stop, rather than scroll ever onwards.

Whereas some CD-Roms which claim to be interactive offer disappointingly limited activities, Knights, Crusaders and Castles brims over with tasks such as designing a castle and planning a banquet which involve the pupil in medieval life in an imaginative way, without lessening the challenge.

The quantity of information (2,500 screens and 4,000 pictures) is as monumental as the problem many teachers have in integrating IT as a teaching aid, but this CD-Rom makes the effort worthwhile. All pupils working on this study unit should be given the opportunity to use it - not merely those who find it by chance in the library.

Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and religious education in the London Borough of Hounslow

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