The Old Lady in the Post Office – how to teach writing a strong line of argument to any key stage

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If you’re finding it difficult to teach students in any Key Stage what an argued piece of writing that offers a substantiated judgement looks like, you need to meet someone. She’s called the Old Lady in the Post Office and nothing I’ve tried has been more effective in helping students understand what a line of argument looks like when it runs throughout an essay. Here is the monologue as a PPT: The Old Lady in the Post Office . It has a screen and handout version.

Inspired by the work of Daisy Christodoulou, and her argument that we can teach and formatively assess specific elements within longer pieces of writing, the Old Lady is an attempt to characterise the line of argument, helping students self- and peer-assess this particular element of writing judgement essays in History.

The task is simple – the student with the best ‘Old Lady’ voice reads out the argument and the other students have to identify the core problem she has with the Post Office. They can then identify how she acknowledges subsidiary factors and how she brings them into her argument and builds her opinion from start to finish.

Once they have done this ten-minute task, they are able to identify the line of argument in their own and other essays by answering questions like ‘Can you ‘hear’ the Old Lady coming through?’ and ‘Has she got a clear answer to this question?’ Consequently students are far quicker at identifying their own and other lines of argument.

Bonus Tip 1: To exemplify a ‘real historian’ doing this, look no further than The Old Man in the Army Uniform. He can be found presenting an argued case about the causes of the American Civil War on YouTube for Prager University. (YouTube clip)

Bonus Tip 2: This characterisation of a line of argument as the ‘Old Lady in the Post Office’ is showing promising signs in the task of analysing written interpretations and looking for the overarching interpretation. It seems particularly useful for distinguishing between the interpretation and the evidence offered in support of it.

Hugh Richards

for YorkClio in Feb 2018

YHEP is launched!

This week we have launched YHEP: the Yorkshire History Education Partnership 

It is intended to be a site for drawing together, celebrating and promoting history subject-specific ITT and CPD. YorkClio is, of course, a fantastic example of Yorkshire based partnership in action. You can follow on Twitter @YHEPnews and a Facebook group is arriving next week. Meanwhile, we hope Yorkies are enjoying Residents’ First Weekend despite the drizzle.

History Pedagogy as 5 features

One of our YorkClio team, Hugh Richards, was asked by SLT to define the subject specific pedagogy of History in 5 features. Definitely a ‘phone a friend(s)’ moment! This has really started us thinking – hard! We have pasted below our working thoughts after 36 hours batting it about. We’d love to get a wider discussion going on about this. There is comment function on this blog page. Or tweet with #historyhydra. Please chip in!

History Pedagogy as Five Features – first stab at the Hydra. 

Note this was a collaborative effort with some other Heads of History across the city – Helen Snelson at the Mount/University of York and Ruth Lingard at Millthorpe. 

Preface: The nature of school history is that there is considerable overlap with academic history. They are not the same, but it is fair to say that there is more overlap than is the case with many/most other school subjects.  

1)Making learning enquiry based: usually the teacher will define the enquiry. It should be framed as a question over which there is genuine historical debate. To be successful it will require students to fully engage with the relevant narratives and with the relevant disciplinary and substantive concepts. It is sometimes possible and desirable at KS3 for students to define the enquiry themselves (more in the manner of university level of history.) (In Denmark this is what they do at their equivalent of history A-level!) Crucially, enquiries will end with clear, conditional conclusions or judgements about the past (see point 4). 

2) Presenting narratives of the past: this is about what is generally accepted to be known about ‘what happened’ and we underestimate the need for contextual knowledge at our peril. It is the teacher role to make clear champion, and to model, the status of a narrative. That is, to use language of certainty / uncertainty, as defined by the fragmentary/contested nature of the evidence on which it is based.  

3) Conceptual learning: to teach students so that they can define disciplinary and substantive concepts as tools to unpick and explain the historical narrative. To teach them how to engage with these concepts in the manner of a historian, for example to test hypotheses, organise thoughts and weigh up evidence – all in relation to the historical narrative.  

4) Conditional conclusions: to teach in a way that makes it clear that all conclusions made by historians are open to evidence-based debate. The debate is ongoing. This links back to 1) that the enquiries in school should be areas of genuine historical debate. It also requires history teachers to continue to be engaged in this debate by constantly updating their subject knowledge. At the higher levels of the school curriculum this involves engagement with the ‘multi-voicedness’ of the past and the nature of historical truth.  

5) Historical communication: to teach the accepted vocabulary, register, structures and modes used by historians to communicate. This should enable students to feel confident in expressing their own evidence-based views in relation to historical debate.  

Endnote: This assumes entitlement and equity – the aspiration that all should be given the opportunity to be able to go as far as they wish with academic learning about the past. Additionally, there is a huge contribution of history as a subject to citizens who are happy and fulfilled in a thriving multi-perspective democracy.  

 

 

Talking History with SLT

Christine Counsell gave a really helpful session on ‘Talking History with SLT’ at the SHP conference this year. Here is a summary note. Any lack of sense is the fault of the note-taker! Hopefully it will be useful for prompting thoughts and ideas about how to explain our subject to SLT colleagues.

CC on Talking History with SLT