Pictures of summer long gone

5th September 1997 at 01:00
MADGE AT THE SEASIDE. By Sue Aldridge. Essex Museum Education Service, Library HQ, Goldlay Gardens, Chelmsford CM2 0EQ, Pounds 6.20 including postage

VICTORIAN SOUTHWARK LOCAL HISTORY PACK. By Christopher Culpin and Graham Jackson. Southwark Education and Leisure Services, Bradenham Close, London SE17 2QA Pounds 27.50 including postage

John D Clare examines two packs of source material for pupils studying Victorian Britain

Document packs have limitations in the classroom. The cards become dog-eared and torn and they get muddled or lost - all too easily the learning focus becomes "How do we share the cards?", rather than the historical task. The questions rarely fit, as they depend so much on the age and ability of individual pupils.

Most document packs require careful lesson planning and skilful classroom administration. Madge at the Seaside is a rare example of a successful activity pack - it is clear and directed.

In 1894, a toddler called Madge Druitt went on holiday to Clacton. Her father took a large number of photographs. A century later, Essex County Museum Service reproduced them on stiff card. We see the family's rented villa, the children playing on the beach, Madge in a goat cart, her brother on a donkey ride - "a way of life that has now vanished and yet reminds us that holiday pleasures have changed very little", comments Sue Aldridge. Perhaps that is what makes the pack so appealing.

The pack has a simple, focused objective - for key stage 1 pupils to compare "What we did on our holiday" to "What Madge did on her holiday".

The activity booklet suggests questions for a discussion that should develop pupils' descriptive skills. It will also teach them how things were different (or not so different) a century ago - particularly because the pictures show children and situations to which the pupils can relate. At the same time, just using the photographs will give pupils practical experience of handling evidence.

The booklet has a simple "spot the anachronism" drawing, and suggests other places to gather facts - old people's memories, maps of seaside places, directories and so on.

Although aimed at key stage 1, this excellent - and cheap - pack could be used with key stage 2 pupils studying the Victorians, and even with special needs key stage 3 pupils studying Britain 1750-1900.

Victorian Southwark, by contrast, is a huge local history pack of 95 sources, including photographs, maps, census returns, log books and letters, It exemplifies the problems that confront a teacher using a document pack. The sheets are too flimsy to start with.

Although the sources are well-organised into six themed sections, documents in each section are numbered from 1 onwards - inviting muddle if you try to use more than one section at a time. It doesn't help that the pack has not been properly proof-read (for instance, all the documents in the Schools section are incorrectly numbered for the work-tasks).

The pack has materials applicable to key stages 1-4, but the work-tasks seem best geared for key stage 3 - for example, at one point pupils are told to "use a textbook" to find out about the repeal of the corn laws.

Victorian Southwark is not designed simply to be set before pupils. It suggests many realistic document-based work-tasks and a dozen useful key questions. And the sources (which are interesting in their own right) are well-selected to provide answers. Teachers will be able to plunder it with profit for documents and ideas.

John D Clare is head of history at Greenfield Comprehensive School, County Durham

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