United by the past
These new materials in the Schools History Project Discovering the Past series for key stage 3 are designed to help learning support teachers make history accessible and interesting to low-attaining or special needs pupils.
There is much to commend in the teacher's notes, workbook and attractive illustrative materials. The teacher's resource book clearly states aims, objectives and the ways in which materials can be exploited in the classroom, explaining how these can be followed by pupils experiencing varying degrees of difficulty with reading and understanding. The introduction also provides a useful definition of differentiation and a concise summary of good practice.
The worksheets and suggested activities are presented in stimulating ways that are clearly not patronising. The emphasis on problem tackling and imaginative reconstruction of the past is likely to promote a positive response, with opportunities for successful completion of tasks which do not have the appearance of simplicity.
There are nice touches of humour, often involving help for "poor old Ernest Muddle", and the emphasis is on variety of approaches. The pupils are respected throughout and made aware that they are doing "real history". Care is taken to introduce them to primary source material and the work of historians.
The quality and range of the picture cards are excellent. They are interesting in their own right and ideal as starting points for prepared interpretation, and various activities, including teacher-led discussion, all of which are helpfully suggested in the pack notes.
The content is well judged, with suitable emphasis on social history, but attention paid to the great political events of the time. Teachers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will find that little refers to the making of their particular parts of the United Kingdom. All social history relates to life in England and the reader is left to anticipate that things were no different elsewhere. The Anglo-centred view is detectable in a number of places, such as the map in the Britain 1750-1900 picture pack teachers' notes, which shows a map of the British Isles with the single word "England" off the west coast of Scotland.
Overall, however, the special needs support materials will prove an excellent investment for any school wishing to provide appropriate history-based work for pupils across the ability range, extending the accessibility of the subject to those pupils who find learning and reading difficult.
Iain Hall is a lecturer at the University of Paisley faculty of education