'Sticky' knowledge - making history stick...
Have you ever been in the situation where you taught an amazing history lesson, but the next time you come to look at it, the children have forgotten everything. Why does this happen and what can we do to stop it?
There are lots of ways, but here are some of the ones that I've found most useful: 1. Comparative lessons
Ensuring that each lesson comes back to knowledge previously learnt helps children to not only revisit previous work but also contextualises both the old information and the new. For example, if you have studied the Iron Age as a previous topic in either your own year group or elsewhere and you are currently studying the Romans, don't just study the Romans in isolation. If you are studying Roman housing, compare that with an Iron Age roundhouse. What kind of changes were made and what continuities existed? This can be done with virtually any topic and helps children not only revisit existing knowledge but also helps them see each topic in context and as part of a wider narrative. It also builds onto the concept of 'cause and effect' when looking at why changes were made.
2. Fun, low-stakes quizzing
Creating a fun and engaging quiz can be one of the simplest and most effective tools in helping children remember knowledge that they have learnt. The competitive element helps spur children on in remembering that vital knowledge whilst also fostering a passion for the subject as it becomes interactive, engaging and fun. These can be used as starters, plenaries or simply if you have a spare 5-minutes. Free websites like Kahoot, Quizizz or WordWall offer exciting and customisable avenues to explore which the children simply love. Most of the time, the children don't even realise that they're learning when playing!
3. Make it concrete
Giving children concrete examples like we would in English and maths is a surefire way of helping children retain that knowledge that we want them to retain. Concepts and knowledge in history can often be very abstract, so making them as real as they can be beneficial. To do this, we often have to put children in the position of whatever we are studying. If you want them to understand what a Stone Age hunter-gatherer was really like, then get them outside foraging for pieces of food and equipment that can be used for shelter and tools. If you want them to understand about Empire, turn the children into groups of countries with resources that are than either traded or taken from them by the relevant Empire. If you want them to understand what it was like to be an emperor, give them scenarios that let them decide what happens to groups of people and they must live with those consequences - will they be a good emperor or will the people hate them? Any opportunity in any topic to make the learning real and memorable is always a good move.
4. Make history visual
Pictures, videos and apps will help bring history to life and make it more relevant to the children. If we could take children back in time to the periods we are studying then we would do it instantly, giving them first-hand experience of what it was like to be in that situation. Unfortunately, videos, pictures and apps are as close as we can get to doing this, so let's use them to our advantage. Using apps like Mozaik3D helps bring history to life in a way that is much more likely to be remembered then if simply read in a textbook or viewed on a PowerPoint. Another great app is BBC Civilisations AR which allows you to bring artifacts from a variety of historical periods into the classroom to mesmerise and amaze the children. Pictures and videos are fantastic sources for analysis, allowing the children to dig deeper into the periods or civilizations they are studying and place these into the wider context of the historical narratives. Moving beyond surface level answers about what the children can see and what that tells us about the people of the time is a great way of children becoming actual historians. For example, a photo of a Roman mosaic with fighting warriors, decorative stylings on the side and writing at the top allows children to infer in number of things:
1. Whoever these people were, they could find and forge materials together and create advanced tools and weapons such as swords and shields. 2. They had their own art styles which may be similar or different to our own. 3. They had their own language which may be similar or different to our own and they could write, which means they could read and presumably means they had a system of education.
This information has all been gleaned simply by the teacher asking, 'What does that mean about these people?' 5. Make lessons memorable
Mixing up the resources and activities that you use in lessons helps create that sense of wonderment in children of 'What is going to happen next?' and 'What will we be doing in our next history lesson?' Using real or imitation artifacts that you've either bought yourself or borrowed from a museum service is a great way of putting history into the children's hands. Using augmented reality, virtual reality or any sort of technology in lessons instantly appeals to the children. Having them complete non-written tasks such as debates or reasoning-based activities helps engage those children who are reluctant to write but are fantastic at making their own interpretations. Depending on budgets, having visitors, workshops, online sessions or trips gives the children a change of scenery and often becomes one of the most memorable aspects of any topic. Children will always find it hard to remember their learning, but hopefully, by adopting some of the above strategies, you will help engage them and give every pupil the opportunity to retain as much information as they can for as long as they can. Don't be afraid to revisit previous learning because it is exactly what we would do in English and maths and don't be afraid to revisit activities, quizzes and resources that you've also used previously.