Improving my history teaching by working in a non-history teaching environment

This year I’ve ended up working in two very different capacities both far removed from my history teaching, that have conversely improved by history teaching immeasurably. This blog is a brief reflection on this so far.

1. Working with the English Department

At the SHP Conference last year I went to a workshop ran by Dan Lyndon and Don Cumming on literacy. In the workshop they both said that one of the greatest way to improve literacy in the history classroom is by working with your colleagues in the English department. They were right.

This year I’ve ended up leading literacy whole school with a colleague from English. The leading literacy bit has been great but very selfishly the best bit has been nicking ideas from my English colleague to improve my own teaching! English teachers live and breath literacy and I don’t just mean writing, I mean all three strands of literacy – writing, reading and speaking and listening and they don’t just have a toolkit for tackling these issues, they have a blooming arsenal.

Through this partnership I’ve come to really consider how I approach literacy in the history classroom. For example I’ve pretty much stopped using wall displays to show off kids work and now am using them to improve learning…just like my English colleague does! Simple I know, but something I’d never properly considered before. So now I’ve got a ‘what does great history writing look like?‘ wall, a window full of synonyms for similar and different (useful for those source questions) and next term plan to make a banned words display (e.g. bigger or biggest) whole sale nicking the idea of a word graveyard from my colleague’s room.

Additionally, I’ve upped the amount of speaking and listening I do – my stock phrase appears to be “and now turn to your partner and discuss that for 30 seconds” and have really thought about the purpose and benefit of reading more in history, whether it be fiction or non fiction.

Genuinely, these are only a few of the things I’ve changed as a result of this partnership. I know they sound basic – they are. But when you’re over stretched and busy they are things that pass you by. However, they’ve really improved the history my students are producing, so as far as I’m concerned go out and grab an English teacher, make them tell you their magic.


2. Volunteering at IntoUniversity

About 10 years ago a friend of mine set up a charity in London called IntoUniversity. Their vision is simple:

“We believe that every child deserves the opportunity to develop their potential. Our programme of support provides children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the help that middle-class children receive as a matter of course.”

They do this through mentor programmes and academic support. The charity has been going from strength to strength with 15 centres now open nationwide. When they opened in Bristol last year I volunteered to help  out at the after school academic support sessions once every fortnight. At the sessions students from disadvantaged backgrounds from around the city come to work at their centre in Easton where they are given support from the volunteers, who are mostly University of Bristol students.

Volunteering at Easton has been eye opening. I’ll be honest I work in the most privileged end of Bristol (so much so that I regularly feel guilty!) so it’s been great to work with a far more diverse group of students, many of whom speak English as an additional language. This alone has been beneficial as I’ve really had to reflect on how I explain tasks and give help, especially when I am trying to teach mathematics or science and I feel this has had a positive impact on the way I give instructions in the class.

It’s also really made me think about the way I set homework tasks. It’s easy to forget but even if you explain a homework to death in the classroom unless you give out detailed instructions they can access later, printed or online, kids will inevitably forget what you’ve said and struggle, so I am working on improving this.