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

Madeleine Blaess’ diary: York woman in Nazi occupied Paris

This is a developing project. Madeleine Blaess was born in France, but grew up in Acomb and went to the Bar Convent School (now All Saints). She was trapped in Paris during the Nazi occupation and wrote a diary recording everyday life under occupation. She managed not to be interned, by pretending to be French. Two of her friends were murdered in Auschwitz. After the war she was an academic in Medieval French Literature at the University of Sheffield. The diary was revealed among her papers, which she left to the university when she died in 2013.  This was left to the University of Sheffield at her death.

The University of Sheffield are working on these papers and the diary is shortly to be publisned open access at White Rose University Press (which itself is something YorkClio folk should know about!) There is also a 35 minute film on its way.

This promises to be a fantastic way for York History and French teachers to connect a local story to a much bigger story that is commonly taught. We hope to develop the connection with this project further.

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.