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SHP’s new A level series – ‘Enquiring History’

SHP has always regarded the development of textbooks as an effective if discreet way of providing CPD for teachers. Good textbooks communicate new ideas about teaching and learning and about the content of History itself even if this CPD is disguised in the form of material written for use by KS3, GCSE or A level students. Our new A level series, ‘Enquiring History‘ (which appears from March 2012 onwards) is very much in this tradition, aiming to help develop the quality of teaching and learning at A level.

Our main concerns in planning the series and writing and editing the books have been to

  • create books that students are interested in reading, not simply ‘using’. This is probably the hardest task of all. One way we’ve gone about this is by focussing on individuals as people with personalities and depth of character who often face complex decisions. If people in the past are just names on the page then it’s no wonder students find learning difficult and reading a chore.
  • communicate up-to-date scholarship and help students understand that our historical knowledge and understanding is constantly developing as a result of research and the continuing ‘conversation amongst historians’. Each author has been working with a research historian to ensure that the books are as up-to-date as possible.
  • focus on helping students overcome the problems that recur every year. One key element in planning has been to identify a list of ‘this is what they struggle with’ items. Then, in the books, we’ve tried to tackle these head on and make them explicit, whether it’s a big conceptual issue or something that appears minor but saps confidence such as knowing that Richard of York and Richard of Gloucester were different people.
  • help students develop their ability to study independently, in groups or on their own. Each chapter takes the form of an enquiry with a single structured activity, guiding students through the material and encouraging them to use other books. These books are definitely NOT ‘the only book you’ll need’. We want students to use them as springboards for further reading.

The results we hope are books that are inspired by the drive to help students learn effectively while presenting the best possible picture of current scholarship. We want students to be able to use the books confidently on their own but you will also be able to use these books in class – they’re supported by a range of teaching activities and support material on the series website which will be free to teachers.

What you will not find (and it may be the first thing you notice) is that these books make no references to awarding bodies or their specifications or examinations. They’re in part a return to the olden days when books were about history, not about specifications, although those olden days books didn’t pay any attention to the problems and needs of students as I hope we’re doing. Of course we’ve been aware of the nature of specifications in planning but that’s a far cry from writing for the limitations of a single specification, especially given the difficulty that specifications and examiners have in keeping up with recent historical research.

Of course the aims above are our ideals. Any decent series of materials starts with high ideals and then tries to compromise as little as possible when faced with deadlines and all the practicalities of real life that confront authors. No author has the luxury of spending their time on one book. They’re all full-time teachers or educational free-lancers juggling a variety of projects. Therefore writing is often tucked away at weekends or in holidays – what’s remarkable is that those people who have written for SHP over the years have come so close to editorial ideals and hopefully will again on this series. As series editors, Michael Riley, Jamie Byrom and I are constantly grateful for all the hard work our authors put in and their patience when asked to rework a page, a section or even rethink a chapter.

So, what’s on offer? In spring and summer 2012 we’ll publish 4 books, partly chosen with an eye to supporting teachers of some ‘minority’ topics who are often excluded as publishers go first and foremost for ‘the big sellers’. Our first 4 topics are The Crusades, The Wars of the Roses, The French Revolution, The Russian Revolution (I know the last one’s popular but we have to accommodate Hodder’s wish to make a profit somewhere). Each book is 144pp and in colour (which makes, for example, family-trees so much more comprehensible by using different colours and writing explanatory text – ‘follow the blue line down until …’). Another ten topics are in development for publication in 2013 and 2014.

For more details keep an eye on this website as we’ll provide details of each book ahead of publication (and with a bit of luck video clips from the authors) and also on the Hodder History Website.

This has been an ‘information’ blog. Next time I’ll do something useful, exemplifying the series by focussing on one of the major problems faced by all students embarking on a new A level topic – how to gain an overview of the whole topic, both to boost their confidence and enable them to tackle individual questions more effectively.

(28 Nov 2011 Update: This particular blog has been inundated with spam and is now closed for comment – instead, please email your comments using the addresses found on the website).