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John Simkin

The Student as Historian: An ICT Revolution

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This thread is about teaching in the classroom (it was amazing how I could recognize different classrooms situations from my own school teaching experience when reading Raymond Blair postings) but also about filmed interviews of older people.

I presume that interviewing old people about their life is a good way to make history learning more lively and by this also more attractive. Fifteen years ago I asked my students just before leaving for Christmas leave to interview parents or grandparents about their life. When returning back to school after fourteen days most of them were holding typed papers with their relative’s stories. We made a beautiful booklet containing these stories and I also photocopied it to each of them. And then I tried to disseminate at least some of these stories inside the class and to my sorrow I discover that very few took care.

Today I participate when some of my classes make this kind of interviews with the help of modern technique and I see around me almost the same reaction to these products from fellow students.

My conclusion is that its fun and it’s a rewarding experience to produce these kinds of products but it is hard to disseminate them in a proper pedagogical way inside the classroom.

It is like students did not have time for these kinds of distractions “chased “ by fast flow of exams and work load from all other subjects they have to study during a single day.

Do anybody of you have different experience?

Edited by Dalibor Svoboda

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I presume that interviewing old people about their life is a good way to make history learning more lively and by this also more attractive. Fifteen years ago I asked my students just before leaving for Christmas leave to interview parents or grandparents about their life. When returning back to school after fourteen days most of them were holding typed papers with their relative’s stories. We made a beautiful booklet containing these stories and I also photocopied it to each of them. And then I tried to disseminate at least some of these stories inside the class and to my sorrow I discover that very few took care.

That is how I started. I got the idea from interviewing people about their experience of the Second World War for a book entitled “The Blitz”. It was clear that these people enjoyed the experience. It some cases I felt I was providing therapy.

I therefore decided to set a Year 9 (13-14 year olds) homework on interviewing relatives about the experience of the Second World War. I gave them six weeks to do it (including the Christmas holidays) to do it. I thought this would give them plenty of time to carry out the task. I was also aware that children tended to see elderly relatives over the Christmas holiday. I made arrangements for those without elderly relatives to visit local care homes.

It was a great success. What is more the children enjoyed it? They now felt like real historians. The most gratifying aspect of the project was the letters I received from those who were interviewed. As one woman wrote, it was the first time she had such a long conversation with her grand child.

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Harry Redknapp was interviewed about his time as a player at West Ham on TV over the weekend. He pointed out that Ron Greenwood was manager when he joined the club. He claimed that Greenwood was a revolutionary coach. For example, he argued that he introduced the strategy of the overlapping winger and the cross from the wing to the near post.

Redknapp provided some interesting information about Greenwood’s teaching strategy. He thought the best way to learn was to teach (the student as teacher). He therefore put all his players into pairs and sent them every afternoon to train the young lads in the local East End schools. This became very competitive as the players were permanently assigned to these schools. It also produced a system where local schools provided a stream of talented young footballers. This included Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Trevor Brooking, John Sissons, etc. Therefore, when they won the Cup Winners Cup in 1965, 10 of the 11 players were products of its youth system.

The system also produced a series of players who eventually became talented coaches. For example, Malcolm Allison, Noel Cantwell, John Bond, John Lyle, Harry Redknapp, etc.

The problem is that despite a team of great individual home-grown talent, every year West Ham finished in mid-table. Redknapp was asked why this was. He did not know but he pointed out that Ron Greenwood had one serious failing. He never praised his students. This had a bad effect on the players. Redknapp pointed out that even Bobby Moore suffered from self-doubt because of Greenwood’s attitude towards him.

There is a theory that the withholding of praise is in itself a motivating device. Brain Clough for example rarely praised his players. One of his players, Trevor Francis, claimed this was the secret of his success. Every week players played to their maximum in order to get the approval of Clough. However, it never came and resulted in them trying even harder the following week.

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Hi John,

Why can't the two ideas work side by side?

I work in a school where if you over use some of the methods that you have described the kids would just rip the teacher apart. Whatever teaching and learning model that you go for has to be sustainable in the long run or the teacher will simply burn out. I can see how ICT can make the model that you advocate sustainable on a one and one relationship via the net and in small class sizes, but not with the current factory based set up we have in our schools today.

The one thing which the kids prize above all in my school is a lesson where they can actually learn something in a safe environment where they can discuss ideas, be creative and have some good old fashioned fun at the same time. When we've surveyed out students to ask them what sot of teaching and learning styles they enjoy the most, they always opt for variety and prefer teachers who they see as specialists or 'experts' who can mix styles, control a class and engage them in active learning exercises as well as the more traditional styles.

Finally, to echo a comment made by Doug, how do you keep it up all the time? We have a number of ASTs in our school and from their perspective if a student gets a outstanding all singing and dancing activitive learning lesson once a fortnight, then they are doing well. The reality of the factory based eduaction system is that you have to priortise and sometimes bread and butter lessons - or lard - just has to do, whilst the teachers pauses and catches their breath!

Roy

Edited by Roy Huggins

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Why can't the two ideas work side by side?

I work in a school where if you over use some of the methods that you have described the kids would just rip the teacher apart. Whatever teaching and learning model that you go for has to be sustainable in the long run or the teacher will simply burn out. I can see how ICT can make the model that you advocate sustainable on a one and one relationship via the net and in small class sizes, but not with the current factory based set up we have in our schools today.

The one thing which the kids prize above all in my school is a lesson where they can actually learn something in a safe environment where they can discuss ideas, be creative and have some good old fashioned fun at the same time. When we've surveyed out students to ask them what sot of teaching and learning styles they enjoy the most, they always opt for variety and prefer teachers who they see as specialists or 'experts' who can mix styles, control a class and engage them in active learning exercises as well as the more traditional styles.

Finally, to echo a comment made by Doug, how do you keep it up all the time? We have a number of ASTs in our school and from their perspective if a student gets a outstanding all singing and dancing activitive learning lesson once a fortnight, then they are doing well. The reality of the factory based eduaction system is that you have to priortise and sometimes bread and butter lessons - or lard - just has to do, whilst the teachers pauses and catches their breath!

I have used these methods with very difficult students. They are obviously more time consuming than working through exercises in the textbook. Teachers do it because they think it is worth it. It helps to make them think they are not just working in an exam factory.

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I have used these methods with very difficult students. They are obviously more time consuming than working through exercises in the textbook. Teachers do it because they think it is worth it. It helps to make them think they are not just working in an exam factory.

Hi John,

I suppose the key question is how often or frequently in the course of a week or a day? Obviously, over a period of time you can build up a bank of resources that you can reuse, but how sustainable have you found these strategies in terms of your day to day classroom practice and workload? Did you also employ or fall back on other more traditional methods where you assumed the role of the teacher 'expert' model?

I'm also a great customiser of resources and believe very strongly that ICT can never replace the true artistry of a good teacher. For example, I rarely download resources and use them off the peg with my own students. I like to adapt them to suit their educational needs and tastes. How far do you believe that web based lessons can provide the individualised learning experiences that can meet the needs of all main stream students?

Kind Regards

Roy

Edited by Roy Huggins

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I work in a school where if you over use some of the methods that you have described the kids would just rip the teacher apart. Whatever teaching and learning model that you go for has to be sustainable in the long run or the teacher will simply burn out. I can see how ICT can make the model that you advocate sustainable on a one and one relationship via the net and in small class sizes, but not with the current factory based set up we have in our schools today.

I had an interesting experience a few years ago while teaching the Yalding stimulation. We were about to get an Ofsted inspection. One member of staff had difficulty controlling her students and was worried about the way they would behave during the inspection. Her students had been enjoying Yalding but had been very excitable during the lessons. She explained to me that she was considering teaching the Y7 students something else during that week. She argued that she would find it easier to keep them under control with a more traditional lesson. I replied that this decision might backfire as the students would be unhappy with her if she took away from the students something they found exciting.

Eventually, she agreed to continue with Yalding and just hoped that the Ofsted inspectors would not select this lesson to observe. However, the inspectors did choose to watch this lesson. It involved the class deciding which village members to send to France as archers during the 100 Years War. The lesson was the last of the afternoon and the students were already “high” when they entered the room. They were very difficult to control and the teacher concerned thought the lesson was a failure. In fact, at the end of the lesson she broke down in tears. Much to her surprise, the inspector told her it was a highly successful lesson. In his opinion the students had learnt a lot during the lesson and he was especially impressed with their involvement with the subject matter. However, the inspector was highly critical of a lesson he had observed earlier in the week with an Y13 “A” level class. This had been a traditional note-taking lesson that both the students and the inspector found very boring. The teacher made the mistake in thinking the inspectors were more interested in "control" than in "learning".

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This is just the sort of thing I'd like to learn through E-HELP. I understand how powerful this approach could be. I've seen it work. My problem is that I really lack the confidence to get started. I know that's cowardly, but so often, I start off full of enthusiasm on some new ICT project and then just run into the sand when I get to some technical hitch I just can't get around. We have a GREAT tech dept here, but, unfortunately, they're all techies... As soon as they start to "explain" things to me, I feel my eyes beginning to glaze over, at which point, one of them takes over, does a couple of amazingly rapid keystrokes and everything's fixed.... Until the next time the same thing happens, I STILL can't fix it, and am now way too embarrassed to call up the tech dept again...

Another caveat I have with some of the "eye-witness history" projects mentioned above is that I think teachers who try to do this don't always give students enough guidance about the common pitfalls of oral history evidence. One of my students last year wrote her IB extended essay on aspects of fascist rule in a small town in Tuscany. Through her grandparents and other family in the town, she managed to line up a whole series of oral history interviews which she planned to carry out over the summer holidays. When she came back in September, she was unhappy with the results. There were all sorts of problems:

* obviously, the people she was interviewing were all very old and had been very young when the events they described took place.

* she encountered huge discrepancies between accounts of the same events between witnesses, even witnesses with the same sort of political views -- even her grandfather and grandmother seemed to remember events they had witnessed TOGETHER quite differently.

* she ran into some very "rose-tinted glasses"; even members of the Communist partisans seemed to compare Mussolini's regime quite favorably with contemporary Italy!

She was lucky enough to run into a doctoral candidate who was writing her PhD thesis on the local Partisans and local support for them. She got access to the communal archives and the students showed her how to use them. She said that she found this material much easier to work with and organize...

However, she was adamant that even given the difficulties, this had been a very valuable exercise from which she had learned a great deal. I just wish I'd prepared her more thoroughly for the challenges she met...

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This is just the sort of thing I'd like to learn through E-HELP. I understand how powerful this approach could be. I've seen it work. My problem is that I really lack the confidence to get started. I know that's cowardly, but so often, I start off full of enthusiasm on some new ICT project and then just run into the sand when I get to some technical hitch I just can't get around. We have a GREAT tech dept here, but, unfortunately, they're all techies... As soon as they start to "explain" things to me, I feel my eyes beginning to glaze over, at which point, one of them takes over, does a couple of amazingly rapid keystrokes and everything's fixed.... Until the next time the same thing happens, I STILL can't fix it, and am now way too embarrassed to call up the tech dept again...

Another caveat I have with some of the "eye-witness history" projects mentioned above is that I think teachers who try to do this don't always give students enough guidance about the common pitfalls of oral history evidence. One of my students last year wrote her IB extended essay on aspects of fascist rule in a small town in Tuscany. Through her grandparents and other family in the town, she managed to line up a whole series of oral history interviews which she planned to carry out over the summer holidays. When she came back in September, she was unhappy with the results. There were all sorts of problems:

* obviously, the people she was interviewing were all very old and had been very young when the events they described took place.

* she encountered huge discrepancies between accounts of the same events between witnesses, even witnesses with the same sort of political views -- even her grandfather and grandmother seemed to remember events they had witnessed TOGETHER quite differently.

* she ran into some very "rose-tinted glasses"; even members of the Communist partisans seemed to compare Mussolini's regime quite favorably with contemporary Italy!

She was lucky enough to run into a doctoral candidate who was writing her PhD thesis on the local Partisans and local support for them. She got access to the communal archives and the students showed her how to use them. She said that she found this material much easier to work with and organize...

However, she was adamant that even given the difficulties, this had been a very valuable exercise from which she had learned a great deal. I just wish I'd prepared her more thoroughly for the challenges she met...

This is an interesting point and has relevance to Nicholas Winton E-HELP Project. I was recently reading a book about the football coach, Malcolm Allison. The author, David Tossell, interviewed a lot of the footballers who played under Allison. One recalled how he would never forget the day he scored his first goal for Manchester City. He then went into considerable detail about the event. This included naming the goalkeeper he beat that day. Tossell accepted his account as being true. However, soon afterwards he had reason to look at the club archives and discovered that the goalkeeper named in the account did not play that day.

Last Monday I got talking to a 84 year-old man in a pub. He told me that his son had played under Malcolm Allison at Crystal Palace. He claimed he was doing really well in the first-team when Allison sold him to an Australian club when the club was in financial difficulties. When I got home I looked up this player in my copy of “The PFA Premier & Football League Players’ Records: 1946-2005”. The records show that he was only an apprentice at Crystal Palace and his only first-team game was for Southend United during a loan spell in 1973.

These “mistake” has no historical meaning but it does illustrate how first-hand accounts can be very unreliable. This is especially true when the witness has good reason to communicate false information. I once read a study of the reactions of people who had been involved in car accidents. The researcher argued that it was very difficult for the motorist to accept they were responsible for the accident. They therefore retold the story in a way that shifted the blame to someone else. Each time they told the story the changed it a little bit. Eventually, they told a story where they were completely innocent. The researcher claimed that they had gradually brainwashed themselves and they were totally convinced they were telling the truth. I am sure this is a process that takes place a great deal and is a major problem with oral history.

David Kaiser, has claimed that any information supplied by any witness sometime after an event is virtually worthless to an academic historian. He is someone who believes in the primacy of documents. I disagree with this position but there is no doubt you have to be very careful when using interviews that have taken place many years before.

In 1987 I carried out a series of interviews with people who had lived during the Second World War for a book I was writing. This included an interview with a Major General who took part in the Normandy landings and the march on Germany. His account was like a PR exercise and despite my questions, he kept to what amounted to a pre-prepared script. I found his account unusable.

I also interviewed my uncle who was a member of the 8th Army that fought in the Middle-East and invaded Italy. He was reluctant to talk about these events and once again I could not make use of the interview. I also interviewed a man who saw considerable action in the Far East. He was only willing to talk about funny incidents that happened to him while he was in the army. In both cases, they were unable to talk about the fighting that took place. I suspect this was because they could not come to terms with the fact they had to kill fellow human-beings during the war. According to my mum, my own father, who was an anti-aircraft gunner, never got over killing Germans during the war. She claims that his personality completely changed when he returned after the war. He suffered from depression and she believes that his death in 1956 might have been an act of suicide (he was on a bike that went under a lorry).

However, I did get some great interviews with civilians who had lived through the Blitz. These women were extremely honest about what happened to them. One, admitted that she was disciplined after she fled the ammunition factory where she was working, after it came under attack from German bombs. Another woman, who was only a child at the time, spoke movingly about how she was responsible for the death of her sister during a bombing raid. In both cases, these women used the interview as a kind of therapy.

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