What our century is all about

28th March 1997 at 00:00
The Twentieth Century: A World Transformed 1900-95 By Neil DeMarco and Richard Radway. Hodder amp; Stoughton Pounds 11.99

Heinemann Secondary History Project The Modern World. By Nigel Kelly and Rosemary Rees Heinemann Pounds 10.99. Assessment and Resources Pack Pounds 16.99

The Modern World (GCSE History) By Tony Lancaster and Derek Peaple Causeway Press Pounds 9.95 Teacher's Guide Pounds 19.95

Key Themes of the Twentieth Century By Philip Sauvain Stanley Thornes Pounds 9.50

Oxford History for GCSE. International Relations 1914-1995 By Tony Rea and John Wright Oxford University Press Pounds 10

New Nelson History. The Struggle for Peace 1918-1989 By John Traynor and Ian Dawson Nelson Pounds 8.75

Modern World History Teacher's Resource Book By Ben Walsh John Murray Pounds 25

Mark Williamson reviews core GCSE history texts for a wide range of ability

A quiet revolution has been taking place in publishing for GCSE history, reflecting not only the requirements of the new non-tiered syllabuses, but also the widening range of ability of those entered. Even Hodder amp; Stoughton, usually associated with the scrupulously crafted narrative, have broadened their appeal by attention to layout and generous visual evidence to support the commentary.

Neil DeMarco and Richard Radway in The Twentieth Century: A World Transformed have skilfully interwoven photographs and posters with large-scale coloured bar graphs to provide stimulus alongside the challenge without reducing the range of written sources. This particular core text remains one for the more able student with inexplicably dense paragraphs on the Munich Putsch and Austria post-Versailles, and somewhat laboured explanations of subjects such as the New Deal.

By contrast, Heinemann is a publisher with an established commitment to differentiation and has produced a foundation edition to their The Modern World to be used alongside the core text. Both are accompanied by an assessment and resources pack.

This is an attractive package for schools where GCSE teaching groups are of mixed ability and contain weak readers and those who need simplified texts and diagrams. The "enquiry questions" approach places the book in a clear teaching framework with useful summaries, highlighted key words, good mapping and the selective use of economic and similar data; the 1897 Russian census provides an illuminating insight into the cultural diversity of the land mass.

Questions range from those inviting an immediate oral answer to those at the end of each unit which reflect GCSE assessment objectives. The old and modern currency conversion chart is a thoughtful addition to a detailed index.

Teachers who have adopted the Causeway Press approach to key stage 3 will be interested in how a source-led text can be adapted to an examination-based course. The structure, which is common to each of the 12 units, is designed to help the student with little or no prior knowledge of a particular subject.

Each unit introduces the themes and key events and provides an overview, drawing upon such varied secondary sources as Eric Hobsbawm for the First World War and an anti-Communist high school textbook for "The USA and the Communist Threat". Good use is made of significant secondary sources such as Crisp's The Rise of Fascism (1991) - "The devotion Fascist leaders inspired could be religious in its intensity."

Presentation is disappointing with a small font size for the main text and erratic positioning of sources making some pages very hard to follow. However, the inclusion of so much information into what is a substantial volume of more than 200 pages makes this undeniably value for money.

The teacher's guide, which is, in reality, a course manual offering pathways through the text for each of the main syllabuses, lesson planners,extension material, more activities and even sample answers, makes this an attractive product for the budget if not the eye.

A simplified timechart of the 20th century on the back of Philip Sauvain's Key Themes endorses as a very student-friendly text, with red arrowheads to guide the reader through each page from text to source and summary boxes for complex areas such as the disputes which came before the League of Nations, the key decisions of the war-time conferences and the roles of the alphabet agencies under Roosevelt.

Although case-files such as the General Strike for "Britain between the Wars" and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan for "Detente 1963-85" provide the opportunity for a more detailed focus, there is limited coverage of China and South Africa which are covered by individual topic books. Again a compromise has to be struck.

Key Themes offers strong support for the average and below average student, but additional expenditure would be needed for more in-depth studies. The lightweight index also makes reference difficult: neither Potsdam nor Khruschev are mentioned.

The experience of two chief examiners for the new GCSE modern world history is evident in Oxford's International Relations 1914-1995, which offers serious and comprehensive coverage of the syllabus core. Unlike Sauvain there is no obvious attempt to enthuse or even engage, the only concession to human frailty being the odd conjunction at the beginning of a sentence.

This is essentially narrative history for the able student who can access information and explanation without undue difficulty. Visual evidence is used selectively, but includes such telling photographs as allied officers peering into the room where the Versailles Treaty was being signed and a dramatic snap of the Intifada on the streets.

The complexities of the Vietnam War are interpreted concisely and clearly,with films such as The Deer Hunter as recommended viewing, and an equally competent treatment of the Middle East is as up-to-date as could be expected with Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. Once again Khruschev is ignored by the compilers of the index, who redeem themselves with an excellent glossary. Students who can access rich text and complete the exercises set will be half-way there.

Eight references to Khruschev in the index of The Struggle for Peace 1918-89 (New Nelson History) are not quite sufficient to raise this text into the first order, but the use of "datapoints" for key information, a range of explanatory devices and large-scale photographs and cartoons to communicate such diverse matters as rearmament and the changing map of the Korean War, help to convey meaning and significance.

This book provides a platform of knowledge and understanding that in itself is insufficient for students striving for the highest grades, but an appealing option for those on the DC boundary. Mapping is commendably distinct, but the space devoted to some visual material such as the two minute silence in November 1919 and Stalin's lying in state is hard to justify even in this particular market.

"The book that teachers have been asking for" is the publisher's description of Ben Walsh's Modern World History Teacher's Resource Book. (The accompanying student's book was reviewed in The TES on September 6, 1996.) The reality is that, for most, the theoretical learning routes model and the explanation of the structure of the pupil's book, which should be familiar to those using it, will be bypassed in the rush to the worksheets, each of which has a stated aim.

The distinction between "focus tasks", which are concerned with understanding, and "activities", which are more creative, is a practical way of ensuring that assessment is planned and related to the objectives of the syllabus.

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

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