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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Tomlinson)

HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference workshop#1: Teaching History through Literature

Posted by Lisa Hill on August 26, 2013


Blogged live, so apologies for typos, omissions, errors of interpretation, and US spelling imposed by the software.

Presenters Jo Clyne and Ingrid Purcell from HTAV are authors of a new resource called Dear Oma, A Story of Federation which is about to hit the bookshops.   The book was written with an awareness that in primary schools:

  • Composite classes complicate teaching a sequential curriculum
  • Literacy and numeracy take priority so there’s not much time for history
  • teachers also have to cover Civics and Citizenship
  • there is new AC history content to cover, and
  • Primary teachers are experienced at teaching through fiction.

Dear Oma aims to give context, to tune students in and to engage them emotionally, and is linked (of course) to the AC.  The authors actually chose Federation as a topic because it was a bit dry and hard to teach in an interesting way.  (A brave choice!) Set on the day of the Federation Parade in 1901, the book tells the story of a recent German immigrant to Melbourne, and is based on real people, real events, real places and real objects (using one of the digitised newspapers, The Argus, via Trove as a resource). Karl is a boy and he sells Federation souvenirs outside parliament (i.e. the Exhibition Buildings), and he meets a whole lot of people – which gives the authors the opportunity to show how Federation affects different sorts of people. Using Karl in this way also enables a child’s perspective on Federation as it happens, and the authors have used all kinds of clever ways to bring the period to life.

Karl, for example, meets a Chinese boy who’s not going to the parade.  The boy, Peng, explains resentfully why not: it’s because of the White Australia Policy which is to come in after Federation.  The authors faced a dilemma with using authentic objects as primary sources, because, for example, the souvenirs were racist, and unless these resources are used carefully they can have an unfortunate effect. So Jo and Ingrid have tried to problematise the issues rather than making judgements about them.  Some issues (such as the right to vote for Aboriginal people) are more complex than they seem at first glance, so teachers need to take care.

Most resources for Federation as a topic have been secondary focussed, so there’s a real need for primary resources that are age-appropriate. Jo and Ingrid have also provided web resources,  such as online mapping to find the actual places where these events took place; and worksheets analysing the multiple perspectives to develop empathy: immigrants, indigenous people, the old and the young.  These web resources include links to images, virtual history exhibitions and activities, i.e. it’s a 21st century teacher’s manual to support the book.

It sounds like a good package!

2 Responses to “HTAV Primary Teachers’ Conference workshop#1: Teaching History through Literature”

  1. Sally A said

    This resource sounds very intriguing! Federation certainly is a dry topic and I am sure that year 5 and 6 teachers would welcome this resource for their ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ unit.

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