"Look into the spaces"
Keynote speaker, Professor Bettany Hughes, asked us in her address to ‘Look into the spaces’ - and that is what we all did over three days. The annual history teachers’ conference brings together history educators from all over the country, where they avidly listen, question, learn and share ideas. For an ancient historian, there is no doubt that Prof Hughes was a huge draw card, but there were so many other fantastic sessions that certainly helped me to ‘look into the spaces’.
Hughes outlined the significant role women have played in the development of the human identity. Just by speaking the names of the many ‘forgotten’ women (forgotten in too many history syllabi, but that is a whole other rant still to come!), we bring life back into their stories and we give them space to flourish in the modern world. As a teacher at an all girls’ school, it is my duty to bring these ancient women to the attention of today’s women - for they blazed the trail for us and we blaze the trail for our children. It was fabulous to hear Hughes talk about the incredibly inspiring Theodora. I am more determined than ever to find a way for her to appear in my senior program.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Ancient Persia make a showing at the conference. I have always included a study of Persia - albeit as part of 5thC Athens and the conflicts between the two. Emily Shanahan spoke passionately about the richness of the Persian Empire and how it rivals that of Rome when addressing the breadth and depth of the ancient history syllabus. What followed was a fabulous discussion about why Persia is overlooked - are we too western-centric, are we unconsciously (or consciously) being driven by socio-political agendas that are creeping into our classroom? Is Persia seeing a resurgence within the ancient history syllabus due to recent political events? It is always a pleasure getting together with passionate history educators to discuss the importance of ancient civilisations and how we can make it real and relevant to our 21stC students. Recently, one of my students chose Persia for her assignment and she reveled in the complexity and magic of the civilization.
From a pedagogical standpoint, there was so much going on. The benefits of a Blended Learning approach were outlined by Ashley Pratt and, while many of us are already incorporating elements of this in our classroom practice, his ideas - underpinned by some important research - provided great inspiration for those in the room. He commented that a BL approach more accurately reflects what historians do and this is what we are aiming to teach our students - to be historians.
This was followed up with Kate Cameron’s session - teaching writing to reluctant learners! With vast experience, Kate provided some easy and effective strategies to encourage even the most reluctant writer to pick up a pen and put it to paper. In addition, Sally Johnstone provided several effective ideas to help develop students’ academic writing.
What came out of many sessions, including David Prosker Hill’s session on the Roman ludi, was that the narrative is so critically important in ancient history. Students often fall into two categories - avid ancient nerds who are convinced they were once a pharaoh or those who find themselves in the class because there was nothing else on the line to take. What teachers of ancient history already know is that the stories are so cool - blood, guts, power, passion, goodies, badies, war, peace, art, literature and fashion. There is always something to grab even the most disinterested. The narrative is how we hook them in. As Kate reminded us: “If they can’t talk about it, they can’t write about it.” When there is a cool story to tell, students will write about it - and we can guide them to success.
I had fabulous opportunities to look into the spaces - the spaces of history, the spaces in my own teaching practice and the spaces in my own knowledge. There were so many brilliant presenters this year and I believe that their resources and presentations will be available on the HTAA website in the near future. Alternatively, check #HTAA18 on twitter for all the insights.
Go forth and conquer.