I was a little taken aback by the reaction to my resignation post. I braced myself for charges of ‘traitor’ and instead all I got was a current of support that carried me past tears into hopefulness. So thank you for reading and responding. And I’m not leaving teaching per se – I’ll still come and play in any school that will have me. I’ve not abandoned hope. And hope was very much in the air today with the Year 5 class I was working with in Huddersfield. It is the same school in which we’ve been wizarding – see this post - http://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/lying-is-just-lovely/ for more on that. But in the mornings, we’re Tudoring and so I thought I’d share some of our process and our work, because these kids blew my socks off today.
When we co-planned this unit, the Year 5 teachers were keen that the children would be exposed to the complexity of the Tudor monarchy, particularly some of the issues facing Henry VIII. They didn’t want children to simply reel off the dates, names of wives and to chant how they died. The wonderful head at the school is clear “History matters because it gives us an understanding of who we are today” and she is keen that the children really engage with that through line, connecting, empathising and understanding. We wanted to lure them into learning – entice them with a starting point that would fire their imaginations, but also open up some deep questions and so….we built a secret little priest hole in a cupboard in the library and put a ‘body’ in there with a lot of religious artefacts and a coded letter.
On our first day, we went into role as Heritage experts called in by the owner of a house whose builders had come upon a hollow section of the wall hidden behind an old tapestry. We talked about what values we would have as a Heritage team – what our responsibilities would be. What we would never, ever do (in still image) and from these, we created our code of conduct.
1. We will treat the dead with dignity and respect.
2. We will never touch ancient objects with our bare hands but always wear gloves.
3. We will keep a list of everything we find so that nothing is lost or stolen.
4. We will take all measures necessary to make sure that we don’t damage anything.
5. We would never steal or deliberately harm anything or anyone.
Once our code was in place, we went to the hole. Each team had a special job. One to photograph and record everything (without flash of course). Another to keep careful lists of everything that came out. One to remove the body with care and respect. Others to collect and wrap the objects and carefully transport them back to the ‘lab’. Once there, we analysed the objects and the class came to the conclusion that this must be a holy man. The skeleton was still holding rosary beads. There was a communion chalice in the room, icons and statues and a large brass key with a crucifix on it. Whoever this was, they decided, he was religious and cared about these objects. Perhaps he had taken them from a church. One Polish child declared that she thought the man was Catholic because of the rosary beads. “Aaaahhhh” said several children and their latent knowledge of Catholic/Protestant poured out of them. We created a list of things we knew for sure and things we had better find out. “But what about this”? I asked, putting the ancient letter on the visualiser. It made no sense.
This day the 31st January 1539
“Our Dearest Friend,
Snowy trees overhang near Ely. Its simple drooping elegance arcs divine. Flying larks enter evening with everlasting, heavenly, angelic voices ere swooping and floating, endlessly pleasing. Long are Christmas eves, toasty hearths, even keen incensed nights gone. So may enter none who insist lying lazily, complaining of moods eternally saddened or morose. All kin, even horrors, are sleeping tonight entertained by ever snowy, wild in freedom trees.
M and C”.
First of all the children looked for clues in the text:-
“Angels, horrors sleeping….has someone died?”
“Maybe the trees are telling him that he is going to be hanged?”
“Maybe it’s in code”
In teams they try to work out what the code might be. And one team hits upon using all the first letters of the words. “Stone is dead. Flee. We have safe place. The King’s Men Will Come. So make haste, be swift.”
Over a number of days, the children and their teacher explore the situation together, building both knowledge – who is Stone, how did he die and why? What were the differences between a protestant and catholic church? How has the Church of England affected who we are as a country today? And they worked on their imaginations – so why did our priest die in the hole, what happened to M and C – why did no-one come for him? They create a house, a coat of arms, a history of the relationships between these characters. The priest, the teacher names as Father Catesby – a nod to the future gunpowder plotter – the children name Lady Catherine Leigh and deduce that she must have been arrested. They write fearful and heart wrenching diary entries from the priest and they explore why and how the Church of England was established. By the time I go back, they’re pretty clued up.
Today, we wanted to explore the situation from the point of the king, but also to round off our little story. I told them that we were going to imagine that we could bring back a witness – a maid of the Lady Catherine to cast light on what had happened. They had to think of questions to ask her. In role, I became the maid. They probed into her background and asked what had happened to Lady Leigh. They discovered that her son had fled to Spain and that she was being held prisoner in the tower on suspicion of assisting his departure and hiding a priest. The maid told them that there was no evidence of this – that the house had been turned over and that “poor father Catesby seems to have disappeared – no-one has seen him for over two weeks.” At that point, the children, somewhat exasperated, shouted out that the priest was in the house and that if he’d been there for two weeks, he was probably dead by now. The maid was shocked. So shocked we came out of role.
“We must send her back to the past” I said “What do you think she will do and what will the consequences of her actions be?”
They create short scenes with no more than ten words in them.
Some choose for her to return to the priest hole and give the priest a proper Christian burial. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. Rest in Peace.”
Some find the priest half alive “Water” he gasps “Miracle” she replies.
Some show the maid being arrested as King’s spies see her. “in the name of the King we arrest you – traitor”
Some show her weeping as her Lady is tried for treason, knowing that she led the Kings men to the evidence
No-one leaves the priest where he is. Why?
“Because even if there is the tiniest chance that he might be alive, she has to try to save him.”
“Because he deserves to be buried.”
We create a moral continuum. Is it right to open the priest hole? All bar one child stands at the Yes end. He alone stands at No. Why?
“Because he is probably dead, but if she leads the King’s men to the hole, her Lady will die and she might as well. One death is better than three.”
I ask the others “knowing what might happen, and thinking that this is still the right thing to do, how many of you think you would be brave enough to do it?”
Half of them move away. They know it’s right, but they recognise that it would be a hard thing to do. “What did she do?”
“We don’t know.”
” She didn’t go back – or we wouldn’t have found the body.”
We return to our ongoing role on the wall profiles of the King and add new information and questions. On an opinion continuum they stand in judgement of him and they think he is bad. The hanging, drawing and quartering of John Stone and other Catholics is their evidence. They also think he is cruel to divorce his wife and foolish to upset the Pope. So we decide to question the king.
“Who,” I ask, “would have enough power and protection to challenge the King”?
“Would he come himself?”
“No – he’ll send his people.”
The children discuss – they decide he will send Spanish delegates – the Spanish king is angered by Henry’s decision to divorce his aunt. He is loyal to the Pope, but they know that both he and Henry might need each other in the future. The Spanish King’s delegation will be safe to question the king. So we begin.
They quiz me about my choices, my feelings for Catherine and for Anne. They want to know why I am so fat! (A king can’t be seen to turn down food – rumours might start that he is unwell and he cannot admit weakness. And anyway, weight is a sign of wealth). The king speaks of his fears for the security of the throne. His sorrow at the loss of his children. His hopes for a male heir. He outlines for the children that a secure line makes for a secure country – he will not risk civil war or destabilise the country. This is an act of sacrifice for England. “Why”, they blurt out, “Do you put people’s heads on sticks outside the Tower of London?” “Because if they were on the floor, no-one would see them would they?” They supress their giggles.
When he is gone, they look at their role on the wall profiles again and add new comments:-
“It was hard to be King – you had a lot of things to worry about.”
“He was cruel but did it for some good reasons”
“I still think he is bad.”
“It’ll be a long time before the Spanish trust him again.”
And the morning is over. I put on my wizard hat and go to play with Year 3. And I can’t wait to go back for more. Tell me this is not knowledge based learning. That it is not memorable and meaningful. I dare you :p