A lively debate will ensure first-day nerves are history

1st July 2016 at 00:00
Interaction with older students should be an integral part of the settling-in process for your new Year 7s

So often in the process of transition, you find that it is an adult-to-child process: children meet teachers, are instructed by teachers, are told about the curriculum by teachers and are told not to worry by – you guessed it – teachers.

So at the International School of Toulouse, we have established a number of projects that involve our secondary students working with different primary year groups in primary. It means that students arriving in secondary are already familiar with the school and the approaches to teaching and learning that we use – and it all comes from the mouths of those currently experiencing it.

One simple but effective example involves Year 8 pupils helping Year 4s to investigate whether Henry VIII deserves to be remembered as a hero or as a villain.

The groundwork for this starts in a Year 8 history lesson, where pairs of students are given a pile of evidence slips about the tudor monarch’s life and reign.

Hero or villain?

These are organised by the students into “hero” and “villain” piles, with the strongest evidence towards the top ready for further research. Next, half the class is given instructions on how to write an illustrated short story about Henry, focusing purely on his heroic qualities, while the other half writes the story from the opposite perspective.

When these stories are finished, we take them across to the Year 4 primary students, who are seated in groups.

The stories are read to each group in turn by the secondary students and the readers can be questioned on any aspect of the story.

This lively process continues for about 25 minutes. At the end of the allotted time, everyone goes to the playground outside and the primary students have to arrange themselves in a continuum line: on the extreme left are those students who regard Henry as a hero, and on the extreme right are all those who consider him a villain, and everything in between.

Meanwhile, the Year 8 students are busy trying to persuade students across to their side of the argument (this part of the exercise can get particularly noisy).

When things have all settled down, two students from different extremes of the argument are asked to explain their position and this leads into the conclusion that history is all about interpretation.

Combined with similar crossover projects involving different year groups (the “rise of Hitler through Mr Men books” with Year 10 and Year 6 being the most notorious example), we are now at a stage where the secondary classes can remember participating in these events as younger students themselves, and do so with a keen enthusiasm about how much they enjoyed working with the older students.

The next step is to engineer more situations where the primary students come across to secondary to share their work directly with us. In this way we will have a system in place where the transition from primary to secondary has become a thoroughly ongoing and almost seamless process.

Russel Tarr teaches history at the International School of Toulouse @russeltarr

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