The month of June is always an odd one to teach in: by that point our first year A-level students have finished their AS exams, but yet return for four more weeks of teaching until early July. These teaching weeks are characterised by lower energy levels, of a restlessness for the summer to begin, and of the college itself becoming something of a ghost town due to the majority of other courses having finished. Furthermore, we have the problem of considering what topics and content to cover: much may be forgotten by the time the new academic year begins in September, but if a minimal amount is covered it can lead to students coming to the conclusion that attendance is not important. As such, engaging students is a difficult task.
A couple of weeks ago a colleague of mine at South Devon College suggested that we do something a tad more inventive with the time that we had toward the end of the academic year. Her suggestion was that History students link up with English Literature students for a morning to allow us to impress upon learners the various links between the subjects, especially within the early modern historical period (in A-level History we cover the Tudor dynasty, and in A-level English Literature Shakespeare’s Hamlet is studied). The idea was that the History team could highlight historical context (such as changes to society and the impact of the Reformation), and the English team could highlight the themes within Hamlet, thereby providing a double-whammy to impress upon the students.
When getting together to discuss initial ideas for this collaboration, we all seemed a tad apprehensive as to what shape this would take. But after a couple of discussions we decided on a structure, with the format being a series of short talks over the course of a Friday morning, with both groups of students combined. The location chosen for this was at the top floor of University Centre South Devon, which provided a handy and fitting room. And as for the title of this morning? Well, that was perhaps one of the more difficult questions, perhaps because we found it hard to fully understand what we were attempting! But in the end we settled on a Renaissance “Mash-up”.
So, the students were directed and welcomed in the room, and from there we covered a fair bit of ground of key themes of the Renaissance / early modern period:
- A discussion about humanism and humanist values
- An overview of the key historical changes: political change (growth of centralised monarchies), social and economic change (the development from feudalism toward capitalism), and cultural change (toward Renaissance values).
- Religious changes explored in more detail in terms of the reasons for the Reformation.
- Exploration of themes within Hamlet, connecting to this historical change (for example, the move from an old world to a new world).
- Discussion regarding the ideas contained within Machiavelli’s writings, and some examples provided of Machievelli in action during the Tudor period.
Furthermore, the morning concluded with a re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth. This re-enactment had been postponed from earlier in the year, and it was a nice way for our international students (many of which were leaving that weekend) to get involved.
The teaching teams were really impressed by the contributions from the students, and the whole morning has emboldened us to attempt more of these events in the next academic year. We were slightly concerned that the whole thing would collapse, perhaps because we didn’t fully understand what we trying to achieve. However, the mash-up worked, and next time round we intend to make it all the more engaging and effective.