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History Blog

Collaborating with academic historians
By Tony Fox
02 Dec
Back in October I talked about the 9th of September being the 500th Anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field. Now is the time to revisit this, as the topic for the talk at my local Historical Association's branch Christmas Buffet will be ‘The 500th Anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field’. I mention this as it highlights my continued co-operation with academic Historians. I use the term 'co-operation' wisely, as my experience has shown that many academics are keen to involve young people and schools, whereas schools have, in my area especially, been reluctant reciprocate, to use them as a resource.

We were lucky to have the President of the Historical Association, Prof, Jackie Eales, speak to our branch last May. I have developed the highest regard for her from that visit, not only did she speak well, as one would expect, but she showed a level of dedication and commitment to student involvement that made my heart sing. She not only personally encouraged an A level student I was tutoring, but backed initiatives we planned to implement, to encourage more student involvement in the branch; initiatives which resulted in us linking up with Durham University Library and the PGCE History course.

A further development, which encourages student involvement in the Historical association is the Student section of the HA, which has its own section of the Association’s website. The resources are available to individuals or schools, and as a Chairman of a local branch as well as a History Teacher, I can argue the case for a school joining as a corporate member; at less than £100 it is easily within the budget of even the smallest department. Our school joined getting The Historian, which goes to the school library, as I already subscribe to Teaching History. My GCSE students have commented that the resources are more useful than the BBC resources, they especially like the podcasts. I have been pleased with the way the students have interacted with the site. I did set some homeworks where it was necessary for students to use some specific resources, but have been told that some students have read some articles, and listened to podcasts unrelated to their course. They were reading and listening simply for pleasure. I saw this as a vindication of the outlay, as I had inspired students to see historical enquiry as a pleasurable and rewarding experience.

My personal dealings with academics has had a number of rewarding outcomes, outcomes that have developed me as an Historian and as a teacher . I think I am able to call John Sadler a friend, he is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has been a  lecturer at Durham, Newcastle  and Sunderland  Universities. He has over forty publications to his name - an impressive academic pedigree I think you will agree. He is always willing to collaborate and share his work, which has enabled me to enrich my teaching. Two examples stand out. Firstly, his enthusiasm for the Border Reivers has encouraged me to squeeze this topic into my Year 8 scheme of work, despite the very limited time allowance. His prose and anecdotes add life to this interesting aspect of Northern Heritage. I was also lucky in that John spoke to me, and gave me sections from his book ‘The Great Siege of Newcastle’, which has allowed me to build  my teaching of the Civil Wars around a local aspect, focusing on the events and consequences in our region, which has enabled students to relate more closely with the era, and as a result have, I feel, more enthusiasm for the topic.

I have contact with many other academics, but these two examples are an indication of how I see my relationship with academic History. It is not a separate discipline to which my brightest students should aspire; it is a resource to enrich my teaching. It is also a two way process. I have recently completed a Masters module on The Holocaust in the Curriculum, and have in the past, due to my Fellowship of the Imperial War Museum, met with some of the foremost Holocaust scholars in the world. My experience has been that we classroom practitioners are treated like equals, we can contribute to the academic debate. For example, a few years ago we had Prof. Charles Esdaile speaking on Napoleon. After showing him the work my students had done using augmented reality he enthusiastically embraced the concept, and uses it with his students at the University of Liverpool .We all need to stay fresh, and good quality CPD will enable us to do so, but as this is being squeezed, I encourage you to consider taking your development into your own hands and researching the academic debates. I feel sure your teaching and your students will benefit.

With this in mind, it is refreshing to see someone willing to do the research necessary to back up pedagogical theory. Alex Ford’s (@apf102) thoughts on Progression and feedback, which inspired a few of my earlier posts, has developed further, check out this site for his latest ideas, which I for one feel adds to the debate in a professional and constructive manner, he follows the academic discipline of using good quality research and high quality evidence to support his assertions, whilst remaining open to argument. Keep up the fine work Alex, for your effort and willingness to share, and engage in debate is something which we should all aim to aspire to, for a healthy debate about the direction of the teaching of History will protect the discipline from those seeking to undermine its worthwhile ethos.  
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