The History in Castles

This week I have been lucky enough to have visited not one but TWO castles, have been learning about history teaching in lectures and have frankly loved every second of it. I went to visit family for the weekend in Northumberland and with them knowing how much I love history, going round the castles seemed the best activities to undertake. The first was Bamburgh Castle – the ‘King of the castles’ which looks over the sea, was built in the medieval period and is now home to the Armstrong family. Sunday’s stunning castle was Alnwick castle – home to the Duke of Northumberland, has some magnificent state rooms and is some of the inspiration to the outside of Hogwarts, including where the broomstick lesson scene was filmed in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (absolutely not the reason I went *ahem).

However, my week of history started on Thursday with my first social studies lecture based around history. As I aspire to someday become a history teacher in a prep school, I was eager to get started and learn what I can. But, I am very aware that history can be one of the more challenging and emotive subjects to be teaching in a primary classroom and some teachers will keep as far away as possible from the subject and for as long as they can. Furthermore, one of our first tasks has been to ensure that we fully understand the constraints when teaching history and what good practices we can keep to help ourselves as professional practitioners.

We have been asked to look at the The Historical Association (2007) TEACH booklet which has some very useful tips to teachers who need some guidance when it comes to teaching history and also what the constraints are that teachers find the most trying. Moreover, one of the more regular constraints I saw popping up was that there is not enough time given to the subject. But I honestly cannot blame some teachers! The amount some teachers have to do is incredible and then the government have the cheek to pile more on. It’s quite ridiculous. But at the end of the day, none of this would be the problem that it is if teachers had the training in history they needed because they would be more willing to find the time. We all know how good history is at falling into the themes that teachers know (and usually love to teach), but teachers have inadequate subject knowledge.

Bamburgh castle was simply gorgeous!

Moreover, although self study would help this quite considerably, teachers do not have the time to simply buy books to teach themselves what happened here and watch lengthy documentaries about what this person did there and it is unfair to ask teachers to give up their time to do this! If schools and councils were able to give suitable training and information sessions on certain history topics, I am without a doubt that teaching history would not be quite as much of a chore to some professionals as it seems.

Resources are my bug bare in schools, I love creating them and the laminator is my ultimate best friend, however as before I constantly find there is just not enough time to be cutting and laminating a whole topics worth of resources (and I applaud those who do) every couple of weeks. Some teachers will read this gritting their teeth and minds screaming “but its your job!”. However, I am not the only trainee on a placement to be hunting around the school’s resources to see what I can borrow for my “mini project” and know from speaking to other professionals that it is all to easy to slip into the routine of grabbing that box off the top shelf, dusting it off and rifling through the same resources used in the eighties for something to teach the children with. I hold my hands up and say I am a hypocrite because I have done it, but am very aware this is one of the worst things that you can do! All of these old resources will have some value yes, and I’m not in anyway saying we should bin them, all I’m saying is we should be not relying on them but mixing them with newer ideas. The Historical Association (2007, p.21) TEACH booklet suggests using puppets, music, films and cartoons that will appeal to today’s children and can also encourage personal engagement with the topic.

I would teach children about cooking in different times and the challenges big banquets would have brought!

Walking around both castles, I also saw many different ways in which you could link different periods of history with other curriculum subjects. Both castles had libraries which I would take as an opportunity to explore some of the books that were written years ago but are still read and thoroughly enjoyed today. Health and wellbeing could be explored through how people would prepare meals and which foods they would eat. I might even attempt to get my class to prepare their own meal from this era to see if they would like eating/prepping foods from these times – if taught the right way, it would certainly relate to their lives today! Finally, I might take a look at some of the scientific findings that have been discovered – for example Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb in 1879 – and do some experiments, involving light, of our own. It would all take a little more thought than little old me typing away at my keyboard for 5 minutes, but you all get the idea that it can all be linked together if you try..

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my weekend, and I would go to both castles with classes of children to give them a close up view of how people used to live. Moreover, I feel that getting the children out there to see these castles on school trips is a vital part to learning, something which is concured by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2004, pp. 4). I see the value in teaching history greatly, and cannot see my opinion changing but only becoming stronger on my social studies course which I am really happy about and excited for. The upcoming weeks will hopefully provide me with many more good practices and recommendations to help me with the constraints that teaching social studies can prove. I might even force myself to visit a few more castles…

References

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2004) Inspiration, Identity, Learning: The Value of Museums, Leicester: RCMG.

The Historical Association (2007) T.E.A.C.H: Teaching Emotive and Controversial History 3-19, London: The Historical Association.

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