Real History Masterclass

“Back to the Future!”

There cannot be a teacher worth their salt who does not desire to teach topics of their own choosing to students that are desperate to learn. So when asked to plan and deliver two Saturday morning history sessions for able and interested students along the theme of conflict, I gave little thought to losing my Saturday mornings. This is the third such project that I have been involved with in the last five years, I can remember each occasion as worthwhile and richly rewarding; this year was no different.

I unashamedly took full advantage of this excellent opportunity to attempt something that I have always wished to carry out in the classroom: oral history with people who have lived through historical conflicts. With the help of the considerable administrative skills of Mrs Aylett – and the lure of tea and biscuits – I set about locating willing volunteers that would consent to be interviewed by young people. Some of our primary sources agreed to travel to Manor for the event, others were too far afield but, thanks to the wonder of Skype, students were still able to interview them face-to-face. There was a rich variety of experience for the students to try to tap in to; we had a man who served in the navy during the Second World War, a Falklands war veteran, soldiers that are currently serving in theatres around the world such as Afghanistan and many more besides.

The first session began with a discussion of oral history and the difficulties surrounding the use of such material as evidence. We quickly moved on to interview techniques, using documents from various universities to ensure our evidence gathering was as professional as possible. Finally students were asked to choose their topic before spending some time researching around it. Students organised their research using a web-based mind mapping tool known as Popplet. An example of the work of one group can be found here:

At the end of the second session students were asked to reflect on the information gathered, including their findings surrounding our key question: ‘Is war hell?’ Students recorded their interviews but, owing to the number of people talking in the room, the conversations were not always picked up and therefore my intention of producing a lengthy, fascinating podcast fell short of the mark. However, it was possible to salvage some of the conversations, the results of which can be found here:

As you can hear from the podcast, not only did I have the privilege of working with intelligent, diligent and polite students, I was able to experience something that it would not normally be possible to do in an average school day. More importantly, students were able to experience history that is not set by exam boards and cannot be found in textbooks. Students were able to work without fear of disruptive students, alongside those of a similar ability, and on topics that might inspire them. On a day when one of the main headlines suggests that we do not do enough to stretch our most gifted students I say: long live the ISSP!

Adam Otway

The headline to which I refer:

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