Collaborative History Education: Thoughts on Future Teaching Practices

In the second of our posts reflecting on the PGCE placement, participants were asked to think about the practical outcomes of the collaboration. The historians brought experience of teaching to the sessions, but little training. Many of them reflected upon the value of gaining knowledge of pedagogical theory and approaches in improving their future teaching. Another key outcome that the historians highlighted was a better understanding of what happens in schools, which they hope will enable them to better aid their students in the transition to undergraduate History. Most participants left the placement with ideas for individual lessons, tasks, and frameworks. For the PGCE students, this involved making use of source materials that have not made it into the secondary classroom on a large scale – the potential of oral history as a teaching tool was especially popular. All participants felt that their teaching will improve as a result of taking part in the placement.


 How will the discussions you had during the placement inform your approach to teaching in the future?


Alistair Ward, History Teacher, former PGCE History student [@alistairward]

This placement will enrich our lesson content, give us new depth where the textbooks and even scholarship are lacking. We have found out about so many excellent sources e.g Medicine: the Casebook of a Stratford Practitioner, Wellcome Images; Slavery: John Newton’s Ship logs, adverts where formerly enslaved people are searching for family –


Amy Gower, PhD Student [@AmyG_Historrry]

We discussed the concept of scaffolding, a term familiar to nearly all teachers, but less familiar to those of us in university teaching, especially given the nature of our roles as sessional staff, who don’t often have scope to design our own content. Thinking about how to build up to the big questions and create those supports early on, rather than just enthusiastically barrelling into a seminar with an ambitious plan, provoked some important reflections.

Hearing from the PGCE teachers about the way enquiry questions, and sometimes problematic exam requirements, shape the way secondary school history is taught was completely illuminating; we often encounter common misconceptions and clashing approaches among first-year undergraduates without interrogating why this is the case.

Building on this more nuanced understanding of what toolkit our students arrive with will, I hope, be transformative in how we can support students to develop this skillset further.


Becca Grose, PhD Student [@Becca_Grose]

The placement highlighted the importance of discussing reception and historiography in teaching and outreach when we talk about primary sources i.e. highlighting other historians, different interpretations, and other forms of interpretation like historical fiction.

Scaffolding emerged as key to classes and outreach. Backwards planning is not always possible as a seminar tutor or when speaking at a one-off outreach event. Collaboration is central, as is thinking critically about the knowledge or skills that we assume and whether we could make our sessions more inclusive.

Given the unusual format, we discussed spaces of learning both in my session and during the sessions with guest speakers. E-learning changes the way we interact, and discussion centred discussion about spaces and hierarchies. In the future I will consider the ways that space enforces or destabilises hierarchies when making decisions between different sites of learning (online, in seminar and lecture rooms, off-campus institutions and public spaces).


Beth Rebisz, PhD Student [@BRebisz]

This placement is particularly wonderful for PhD students as it provides us an opportunity to learn and better refine our own teaching practices with the experts themselves. They have offered me ways in which to teach my research, sharing ideas and strategies. Collaborating with the PGCE students has enabled me to better contextualise my own research in relation to broader topics. Preparing for this placement encourages me to reflect on how I can best present my research in relation to current affairs. For example, we discussed at length the ongoing need to decolonise the secondary education curriculum. This is something that sits at the forefront in my mind when considering further steps I need to take to ensure my teaching and writing is inclusive and actively anti-racist.


Charli Burns, History Teacher, former PGCE Student [@cburnshistory]

I think, for me, the biggest issue that was raised in our discussions about History was around humanising the people of the past. I think for me, the place where this became the clearest was when looking at medieval/early modern medicine with Dr Katie Phillips [@ktfaith] and Amie Bolissian-McRae [@AuntieAmie]. What became apparent in both of our discussions was the massive role that women played in medicine at these times. By seeking to approach the history of medicine as a very human experience (which it is – what better way to get your students to relate to the people of the past, then through something which they will have experienced themselves), it is not unbelievable that students will be able to see the people of the past as more human, rather than as fictional characters. In my own experiences, students have laughed at the ‘nonsense’ cures people came up with during the Black Death, but by helping students understand not only the way that people thought about medicine in the past, but also the way that separate genders experienced medicine, perhaps this can lead to a more nuanced discussion in the classroom that goes further than ‘well they were stupid so that’s why they all died’.


Liz Barnes, Early Career Researcher [@E_M_Barnes]

I have so much more awareness now of the skills, knowledge, and approaches that my students have when they first arrive at university. At times I have found it hard to meet my students where they’re at, but the placement has given me a much firmer understanding of why some of what I try to do doesn’t land.

The teachers had some fascinating, creative ideas about individual lessons that I’ll definitely try to work into my teaching. There were some especially interesting ideas about how to make historiography more interesting and approachable, using it as a lens to analyse not only the era we’re studying but also the changing nature of the history profession. Given the deeply embedded problems of inequality in the profession, this was something I was especially drawn to. Their commitment to weaving through different methods, sources, fields and lenses was inspiring. I’ve found that I often sacrifice creativity in teaching in the name of just getting the job done; this session made me realise that doing both at once isn’t actually as complicated as I’d convinced myself it was.


Tom Collins, History Teacher, former PGCE Student [@Tomcol23]

I found the idea of using oral history in the classroom a fantastic idea and this is something that I will certainly be taking forward. The school where I will be teaching includes many SEN and EAL pupils and getting pupils to hear and/or see an interpretation of history becomes much easier for these pupils than simply reading them. Pupils can hear and see the emotion the historian gives, which making it easier for pupils to see that passion and enthusiasm from historians, rather than trying to imagine it simply by reading it.

I will certainly be using more scholarship in the classroom – it is vitally important for pupils to see the arguments historians write, and get them to identify history as a construct that can change over time with constantly having new information being released to the public.


Check back in tomorrow for our participants’ final thoughts on the placement as a whole, including reflections on this format as a space for thinking about gender history and teaching.

Please do join in the conversation using the hashtag #Rdgcollab2020

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