Hodder History Expert Blog

Some reflections on SHP’s GCSE textbook series
By Michael Riley - Director of the Schools History Project
01 Dec
Last month saw the publication of the final book in SHP’s series for the OCR B (SHP) GCSE.

As series editors, Jamie Byrom and I have spent the last two years working with a team of talented authors to provide a textbook for each of the twelve studies in the new SHP GCSE. It’s been enjoyable, fascinating, enlightening and sometimes gruelling.

Underlying all our thinking was the same fundamental question that all good history teachers constantly grapple with: how can we do justice to people from the past and our GCSE students with the limited space (authors) and time (teachers) we’ve been given? Feedback from teachers suggests that our wrestling with this question has resulted in textbooks that succeed in engaging students with the complexity of the past.

Five principles behind the textbooks

In particular, five principles underpin the success of this SHP series:

Each of the books brings fascinating historical scholarship into the history classroom.

Sometimes recent research is reflected in the approach to a particular topic. For example, in The People’s Health we move way beyond the stereotypical view of medieval public health found in most school textbooks to give a much richer understanding of the ways in which medieval people sought to improve the urban environment. On other occasions, we engage students directly with the work of a particular historian: Keith Wrightson on the 1636 plague in Newcastle, Jill Liddington on the working-class suffragist Selina Cooper, Tim Cole on the Holocaust in Hungary. This focus on the work of historians develops a deeper understanding of the past and demonstrates to GCSE students that history is a dynamic discipline.

2 We’ve engaged students with the knowledge they need for their GCSE exam by structuring each book around historical enquiries.

These provide a clear focus for students’ learning and encourage them to communicate their understanding in rigorous and creative ways. Big historical questions draw students into history, build their knowledge and develop their thinking. The five enquiries in The Norman Conquest are a good illustration of this:
  1. Too good to be true? What was Anglo-Saxon England really like in 1065?
  2. ‘Lucky Bastard’ What made William a conqueror in 1066?
  3. ‘Brutal slaughter’ Is this how William gained control of England, 1067-71?
  4. Military fortresses or status symbols? What can research reveal about early Norman castles?
  5. ‘A truck load of trouble’ What was the impact of the Norman Conquest on the English by 1087?  

As you’d expect in an SHP series, the diverse experiences of people in the past underpin each book. 

Each enquiry creates curiosity, and deepens understanding, by focussing on the lives and experiences of a wide range of people. The books are packed with stories. Some of these help students to get to grips with the big unfolding narratives of history, but many engage them with the fascinating details of people’s lives in the past. The ‘Closer Look’ features which appear between enquiries allows for an in-depth focus on some remarkable individuals: students studying Living Under Nazi Rule have been moved by the life and death of the boxer, Rukeli Trollmann; the life story of Quanah Parker makes a fascinating ‘Closer Look’ in The Making of America.

The constructive use of historical sources has always been central to SHP’s philosophy and we’ve ensured that our new GCSE books contain a range of fascinating sources.

Sometimes these act as a hook at the beginning of an enquiry. For example, in Crime and Punishment students are fascinated by the charge sheet of John Hearn, a twelve-year-old boy from Lambeth sentenced to one month’s hard labour in Wandsworth Prison in 1873. As well as written documents, the books contain a range of visual sources and artefacts. They also reflect SHP’s emphasis on ‘history around us’ by featuring a range of historic sites: the Hastings battle site, Leeds in the 1830s, the Taj Mahal and many more.

5 One of the joys of writing and editing SHP’s new GCSE series has been the discovery of a plethora of visual interpretations.

These range from the wonderful (but now out-dated) illustrations found in the magazine Look and Learn to the careful reconstructions of recent archaeological illustrators. The wide range of visual interpretations used in the books engages students with ways in which our image of the past is constructed and prepares them for the increased emphasis on interpretations in the GCSE history exams.            

Five strategies beyond the textbook…

The clear structure and engaging content of SHP’s new GCSE series will go a long way to ensuring that your students enjoy their GCSE SHP history course and do well in the exams. But lessons dominated by textbooks, however good these are, will be dreary. As series editors and authors, it’s a joy to see history teachers now going beyond the textbooks when planning for rigorous, engaging and accessible learning.

Five strategies, in particular, seem particularly helpful:
  • Adapting the author text, sources and interpretations in the books to make them more accessible for weaker students.
  • Building knowledge and understanding through plenty of pair-talk
  • Turning textbook narratives and situations into teacher-directed role-plays
  • Building in clips from historical documentaries and films
  • Developing your own local examples and case studies as alternatives to the ones in the book.

During this academic year, SHP will be sharing examples of these, and other, approaches on our website www.schoolshistoryproject.co.uk   
To help you in this, each of the books is available not just as a print textbook but as a Whiteboard eTextbook (for front-of-class teaching) and as a Student eTextbook (with embedded interactive tests). The six most popular units (Health, Crime, Norman Conquest, Elizabethans, Making of America and Nazi Rule) also have a range of Teaching & Learning Resources available through Dynamic Learning. These include revision podcasts, online interactive quizzes, lesson starters and masses of revision strategies. Plus: all the visual material from the textbook is available for mixing into your own presentations or learning resources. 

Michael Riley, Director of the Schools History Project

For more from the authors of each of the 2017 titles see:

The Making of America by Alex Ford
Living under Nazi Rule by Richard Kennett
Viking Expansion 750-1050 by Chris Culpin
The First Crusade by Rachel Foster and Kath Goudie
Aztecs and the Spanish Conquest, 1519-1535 by Kate Jarvis and Richard Woff
The Mughal Empire by Jamie Byrom and Michael Riley
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