Reflecting On… The Importance of Subject Scholarship

For many, if not most, teachers what originally inspired their choice of vocation was a love of subject and a desire to share this passion with a new generation.  Despite the negativity that can be prevalent on some parts of the web, most teachers I know retain this passion to a high degree.  Why else would PE teachers organise and enthuse about so many sporting fixtures, language teachers put so many hours into organising trips and cultural experiences and geography teachers spend days wading hip-deep in rivers in the middle of nowhere?

However it can be challenging to stay in touch with academic developments in your field which were often tough enough to track as a student, let alone a full-time teacher.

Which is why I found a one-day INSET organised by Jason Todd of the Oxford University Department of Education to be a particularly inspiring event when I first attended in 2016.  Although research critiques one-off INSET as low impact, this was perfectly timed post-exam period for reflection and implementation.  As well as material on the new specifications and teaching advice, it also included academics presenting on their historical work, particularly a talk by Steve Gunn on his work analysing coroners’ reports of accidental death in Tudor England for an understanding of both life and death in that period.

The talk fell at a perfect time for us, when we were revising Key Stage 3 with a particular emphasis on students’ feedback that they found the Tudor unit to lack challenge having already “done them” in primary school.  Their work was engaging, relevant and showed an innovative use of sources to draw inference with which my students could engage.  The lessons I devised based on this material were some of the most well-received I have delivered, based on feedback from the students.

At this year’s conference my eyes were especially opened by a talk about the delivery of black history in secondary schools by Abdul Mohamud and Robin Whitburn.  Their book “Doing Justice to History” challenges the teaching of slavery and the historical misconceptions they have found perpetuated including:  slavery as an economic phenomenon; the trade triangle as just part of a long history of slavery (as opposed to the terrible and dehumanising innovation it was); and the supposed ‘shared guilt’ of African nations in this exploitation.  Next year’s year 8s are going to have a radically rewritten Scheme of Learning in this area, drawing on their scholarship and the source material and life stories they shared with us.

Another talk on research into women in Oxford’s history and an accompanying website with podcasts and interviews with historians has already found its way into our year 7 scheme of learning.

This blog is not about history teaching specifically but about the fresh inspiration that can come from getting back in touch with the academic side of your subject specialism.  I am always excited to hear new teaching ideas or learn about new educational research but subject scholarship can be just as great an inspiration.  Teachers who retain a perspective beyond A-level standard often find they have a better picture of the full development journey of their students and are able to better structure challenge work at all A-levels.  And academics are often very willing, even keen, to give up their time and share some of their work with teachers.  I am very grateful to those who did so through the Oxford History Teachers’ Network; they have reminded me what is exciting about my subject and inspired me to revamp some tired lessons.

Questions that helped me reflect upon subject scholarship:

  1. What is new that is happening in this academic field and why is it exciting?
  2. What resources exist to help me develop this for my students in a workload-friendly way?
  3. Which area of this year’s teaching did students find least inspirational; where can I look to find support developing this?

 

For any historians interested in the specific projects referred to, find more information below:

Death in Tudor England:  http://tudoraccidents.history.ox.ac.uk/

Women in Oxford’s History:  https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/series/women-oxfords-history

 

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