Linking study of history and English enhances students’ understanding of both

Linking study of history and English enhances students' understanding of both

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Emma Stroud, English coordinator, Harris Academy South Norwood, responds to last month’s article interdisciplinary collaboration on the wider aims of our teaching by her colleague Alan Marshall-Hick.

A driving value behind the curriculum at our academy is the ‘pursuit of truth’. In English, in line with the whole school vision, we ‘turn mirrors into windows’ by providing students with the opportunity of social mobility through an academically rigorous and challenging curriculum that not only explores the practicality of the English language, but encourages students to pursue truths about the human experience.

From year 7 right through to year 13, we have developed a curriculum that allows students to seek this truth by examining, considering and challenging the values and morals reflected in stories, plays and poetry throughout history, from the greatest minds all over the world. As teachers, we act as guides to cultivate the core values of morality and empathy.

When we met as a team to agree on the key concepts of which we wanted students to develop their understanding over their seven-year journey, we agreed that knowledge of the historical and social context in which texts are written and received is an integral component of truly understanding the truth of human experience.

So when Alan asked me to consider potential interdisciplinary work between our subjects, it seemed logical to look outside the English department, to consider history as well. We extend the opportunity for students to recall and develop their knowledge context around the literature texts they are studying in other lessons too; to explore the connection between the pursuit of historical and literary truth.

We found that there were points in our long-term plans for every year group where we could signpost clear links between the two subjects. For example, by the time students were considering Priestley’s message in An Inspector Calls at the end of year 10, they would have already studied the difference between capitalism and socialism in history. Not only does this provide a platform for students to immediately grasp Priestley’s political message, it also gives them an opportunity to revise and develop their understanding of two concepts they need to remember to be successful in history. When both subjects make a clear link between what they are studying in the lesson, and where they have come across this knowledge elsewhere in the curriculum, students’ understanding of the concepts are strengthened.

There are also clear opportunities for interdisciplinary links at key stage three, where students’ understanding of the events leading up to World War 1 for example enhances their ability to interpret the emotion in Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. Here, history acts as a gateway to their emotional engagement with the text, while their pursuit of historical truth aids them in their pursuit of literary truth, and vice versa.

Creating these opportunities to work together at certain points in the year has not only benefited our students; it has opened a channel through which we can draw on each other’s expertise to develop our own subject knowledge. For example, having stronger ties with the history department has allowed me to develop my own knowledge of Elizabeth 1’s reign, and therefore the historical context I can share with A-level English Literature students studying Hamlet.

The benefits of helping our students to immerse themselves in the ‘pursuit of truth’ through drawing links between what they are studying in English, and what they are studying in history, persuaded me to look further afield. I have recently taken the first steps in standardising the ways that we define grammatical concepts with the head of MFL. By breaking down the barriers between our subjects we hope students will better grasp how our disciplines offer different routes to truths about the world.

The benefits of helping our students through drawing links between what they are studying in English and what they are studying in history persuaded me to look further afield… to standardising the ways we define grammatical concepts with MFL.

Emma Stroud

Emma Stroud, Harris Academy South Norwood

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