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

HTAA Conference: Day Two Workshop Sessions

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 5, 2008


First up was Hilary MacLeod’s workshop called Looking Out – Global Perspectives in the History Curriculum.  This was really good, and because we had difficulty with this topic when we were writing our curriculum plan in 2007, I was pleased to discover that there is now a handy new framework for us to use.  (Download a copy here.) We had a quick look at it, (and we were given a copy to look at properly back at school) and then we did a lively activity where we had to place attributes of globalisation on a set of scales to indicate the pros and cons. The slideshow below is from the Global Education website and is well worth looking at.

After lunch I went to David Harri’s True Lies, Turning History into Adventure Stories. This was rivetting! With barely a pause to take a breath, David led us through the ways in which he rescues the most interesting people in history from oblivion, so that young people will want to read about them.
These are the ‘rules’ which enable his books to conform to the reading needs of 15 year olds:

  • Each chapter should end with a cliff hanger
  • Sentences should not be too long
  • Follow the Rules of 3 i.e. 3 main clauses, 3 main ideas, and not more than 12 words per lead sentence.
  • Begin with action or speech or a brilliant initial image, or a sense of smell, or a thought.
  • Avoid adverbs and adjectives because they slow adventure stories down
  • Strengthen verbs, and
  • Use vocabulary from the students’ world e.g. use ‘lover of old books’ not ‘archivist’
  • Compress time, events, space and characters e.g. from 5 years to a few days
  • Keep enemies together and friends apart
  • Reduce the number of characters e.g. 7 guides become one, for a character needs a sidekick to talk to, but doesn’t need many
  • Make historical figures enter real events, and fictional characters enter the real world.

Is this dumbing down?  Not in my opinion, not if it introduces an otherwise disinterested audience to history.  There are plenty of other books around for students with more advanced reading skills, and I’d rather books were accessible and engaging for kids who would otherwise not read anything at all.  I don’t subscribe to the toilet humour theory of reading for kids, but telling adventure stories to lure kids into history is different!

Here’s how David gets students to write structured stories in his workshops at schools: write one 1-2 line sentence for each sentence starter…

  • Every day…
  • But one day…
  • Because of that…
  • And because of that…
  • But that only made things worse…
  • The moment of truth was…
  • Finally…

and then write a resolution which is linked back to sentence one in some way.

This is what I wrote, in five minutes, about Chifley (hereby exposing my lack of real knowledge about him!)

  1. Every day, as Chifley drove his train, he dreamt of a better world.
  2. But one day there was new IR legislation and he no longer felt secure.
  3. Because of that he joined the union and represented the workers’ views.
  4. And because of that he went into politics and joined the Labour Party.
  5. But that only made things worse because he still had to compromise his views.
  6. The moment of truth was when as leader he had to break up a miner’s strike.
  7. Finally he decided to try promoting his views on the world stage.
  8. He died still dreaming of a better world.

My last session of the day was in the computer lab. Richard Ford, a wonderful young history teacher from St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney, showed us how to use Movier Maker for photo essays in history. This is what to do:

  1. Select images first and save as jpegs. Tip: When importing form google select which size – medium or large is best (use the drop down menu to select which).
  2. Open Movie maker and import them.
  3. Then, at the bottom of the screen choose timeline rather than storyboard (it’s easier).
  4. And for effects and transitions (see edit menu) eg. make it all sepia.
  5. Then add titles (but not over images – inappropriate).
  6. Remember to acknowledge sources.

There were lots of other tips, but alas, someone somewhere realised I was blogging on the school site, and shut down my access!

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