1381 HATF: co-planning across distance

In this blogpost HATF People of 1381 participants, Andrew Sweet (@AndrewSweet4) and Rachel Wilson (@rachelswilson91), share the first part of their work relating to the Fellowship. Their school settings and students are very different, but their aims and curricular intentions are similar, they have planning autonomy and are able to plan with their own students learning needs as a priority. Their model for co-planning is one that could be adapted by colleagues outwith a Fellowship programme and it gives insights into networking to support one’s own CPD.

Introduction to the Fellowship 
Before starting the Fellowship, I deliberately posted a message to the History Teacher Book Club with a “this is what I’m reading.” We do this a lot and in the selection was Juliet Barker’s ‘England, Arise’. This was all a deliberate ploy to see if anyone in the Book Club might also have been successful in their application. At this stage neither Rachel nor I knew each other in person, or knew we were meeting in the next few weeks at Mansfield College, Oxford. But this HTBC connection meant we knew at least someone else on the course. Our discussions covered everything from thoughts on Barker’s interpretation of the Kent rebels to how to get to the College from the station. Although over the course of the next few days we only sat together in the first outline planning session when we did ‘report back’ at the end of the day or at breaks we came back to the same questions, and clearly were very much on the same page. 
Getting started:
When I saw Andrew’s “currently reading” post in the HTBC Whatsapp chat, my initial feeling was one of relief, and I quickly responded. What started as a way to find out if anyone else was on the 1381 Fellowship and discuss practicalities, quickly developed into a discussion of the book. I had a lot of ‘imposter syndrome’ in the build up to the residential – having been on maternity leave, and then returning to work mid-pandemic, there hasn’t been much opportunity for me to really think about my own practice in the past 2 years. Knowing there was someone else on the Fellowship who had similar approaches and ideas to me provided much needed reassurance. Despite this, we actually only sat near each other for a single session in Oxford. Nonetheless, it was clear that we were intrigued by similar aspects of the Revolt.
The Proposal 
I have always been very fond of this particular topic as it was my Ofsted lesson that went really well. The People of 1381 Fellowship offered the opportunity to work with historians at the cutting edge of academic research and teaching medieval history, this felt very much like the right time to apply to the HA after the success of previous Agincourt600 and the Transatlantic Slave Trade fellowships.   The Great Revolt deserves a place in the history curriculum on its own merits, not merely a subtopic and as a by-product of the Black Death thirty years before. As I have delved deeper into the topic, mining this rich vein of history, I have realised that the Peasants’ Revolt can become the bridge between Medieval and Early Modern history in the history classroom. The stories of those involved, and the decisive way in which it unfolded, act as windows into the lives of ordinary people, the mechanisms of Government, the discontent and mistrust from the peasantry (all 90% of the population) and get to the essence of why spontaneous risings took hold in the summer of 1381.   When conceiving a sequence of lessons and fully formed Scheme of Work, I was conscious that I wanted to find the individuals. I wanted their voices to be heard in each lesson and, by delving into the 1381 database, to use the astonishing array of individuals to tell us their – in many cases frustratingly fragmented – stories. Fortunately for me, the revolt spread as far west as Bridgwater and Ilchester from where I am writing. In essence, our proposal seeks to illuminate the Peasants’ Revolt using the local lens.   Having been working in a very small department for the past 4 years, I wanted to also work in a more collaborative way and Rachel and I found that although we have very different school contexts, we have very similar ideas about how to apply this in the Year 7 classroom.
The Proposal
My application for the Fellowship was inspired by my abject failure to teach the Peasants’ Revolt effectively. Despite having a generous amount of curriculum time (up to 8 lessons) available to me, I was stuck in a rut of “causes”, after an experiment which went badly wrong (written up in the “exploring and teaching Medieval History” HA special.) I was desperate to find inspiration for a new enquiry question which would be more meaningful. Everyone who is taking part in the Fellowship was captured by the scale of the Revolt; the fact that it went well beyond the traditional “story” of the march on London and Wat Tyler’s death at Smithfield. There were a number of local case studies picked out that illustrated the strands of a revolt which echoed across England in the summer of 1381. The Revolt, it became clear, was a series of challenges to local and national government, which operated under the same umbrella of issues; demands for reform of land-ownership, discontent with John of Gaunt and his mismanagement of royal finances, and the temporal power of the Church in England – particularly monastic lands. Exploiting this local angle – and using our very different local settings to do so – seemed the obvious way forward.    The challenge was how to weave all of this into a coherent scheme of work which was accessible for Y7, in a reasonably short amount of time (4-5 lessons, including an assessment). There were so many different rabbit-holes we could have disappeared into; from close analysis of the sources and building a narrative around these, to using the Revolt as a lens through which to view the medieval world, to an all-out challenge to the traditional narratives of power and suppression. Above all, we wanted to place the voices of the ordinary people at the heart of the story.   I am used to bouncing ideas around in my – reasonably large – department. Working with some very experienced teachers means that it’s rare to find a topic which has never been taught, and we happily share resources with one another. However, it’s very rare for the department to sit together and collaboratively plan an entire SoW. Working with Andrew, in very different settings on opposite sides of the country, but with similar aims and ideas about using the Revolt was ambitious. But it was far too good an opportunity to pass up. 

In summary

  • Seeing what other History teachers are reading – particularly when it comes to scholarship – can be a really valuable means of connecting and developing thinking around planning and teaching of topics.
  • Even with a short connection online it is possible to find points of shared understanding to inspire working together – in our case we found that championing of evidential thinking and the inclusion of scholarship in lessons was important to both of us and we started our co-planning from there.
  • Neither of us have experienced much in-person CPD over the last 2 years and we both felt a little nervous about the Fellowship. The initial connections proved to be a valuable support for us both as part of a wider CPD group.
  • We approached the Fellowship from different perspectives but ultimately for the same outcome: ‘how can we improve our teaching of the Peasants’ Revolt?’ and it is encouraging not to be working alone on this.
  • A key focus for us both was local history (Andrew has long been interested in using local stories to provide coherence for Y7. For Rachel, the local aspect of this story allows us to keep the ‘traditional’ story of the Peasants’ Revolt as a starting point before extending this narrative to reflect the broader picture of revolt.) By working together we have been able to build a comparative aspect into the local – more of that in another post.

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