Gregorian chanting meets hip-hop

Carmel Bones

Carmel Bones is an honorary fellow of the Historical Association and member of the national secondary committee. An advanced skills teacher, former HOD, GCSE and A2 examiner, she now works nationally and internationally helping schools to optimise outcomes for learners and teachers. For GCSE 2018, Carmel has written for BBC Bitesize, Clickview and Studytracks, was consulting editor for Hodder Dynamic Learning, showcased VR 360 at the Bett Show and is co-author of GCSE revision guides (AQA and OCR, published November 2017 and January 2018 respectively).

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Image credit: BBC Bitesize // Image credit: BBC Bitesize //

When it comes to traditional subjects - the ones that have been taught and used effectively for centuries without the use of technology - the co-existence of old and selective use of the new seems to be the best way to innovate the curriculum. As we get to grips with the ‘new’ GCSEs and learn more about the workings of the mind and memory, check tests, dual coding, factual recall and retrieval practise are all making a comeback.

We all have different purposes and assumptions. Each individual learns differently, with every pupil bringing a different set of attitudes, skills and habits to the classroom. The teachers’ role is to try and tap into what works best for each student, to help them to become more competent. This leads to self-regulation, ensuring that pupils are equipped with the right tools to get to grips with the topic or subject. This often means choosing the right resources, many of which are free-to-use...

In my experience of teaching History, being open-minded and experimenting with varied approaches and products is vital. Student-response systems have really developed over time, with Plickers, Kahoot and Quizlet currently being used very effectively by many teachers and students to identify and close gaps. Quick-fire use of whiteboards can do the job too. Online tutorials, webinars and videos can be especially helpful with many practising teachers offering explanations and directed-guidance, which can be replayed at the students’ leisure. This allows for showing as well as telling.

Left to right: Quizlet, Plickers and Kahoot

Virtual reality (VR) technology is now enabling experiences such as virtual field trips (and, as pointed out by Kayla Matthews, needn’t cost your school an arm and a leg!). The use of VR 360 technology is proving very popular as an economical way to access nominated sites. From my work on Elizabethan England, and exploration of Hardwick Hall 2017-18 with Nathan Ashman, I have seen that these activities can either be used on their own or as a way of further consolidating what has been learned on-site. Old and new ways of working are not mutually exclusive!

Music is well known as being the main driver of associations, evoking memories and providing context. History teachers often use music to create a sense of period (who doesn’t like some Gregorian chanting with Year 8 on a Thursday afternoon?), especially when the lyrics really lend themselves to setting the scene (I am reminded of Boney M’s Rasputin!). Active History (a website brimming with superb, free resources) has a playlist to make information stick. This idea has been taken a step further with platforms and apps like Studytracks - this one uses repetitive beats and the idea of ‘earworms’ to help commit details to long-term memory, improving the absorption and recall of material. Revision by way of hip-hop.

Studytracks in action

There are lots of ways to combine traditional teaching methods with newer technologies. Newly-published versions of textbooks and revision guides have taken a dynamic approach, moving away from purely static print versions of materials by incorporating QR codes and online links to worked answers and multiple-choice quizzes. BBC Bitesize recently launched a free app to run alongside the online content too. Stickability is more important than it has been in the recent past, and a renewed emphasis must be placed on it from an earlier stage.

BBC Bitesize History resources

Moving away from cramming and towards interleaving is an effective habit, and one which teachers should encourage. These approaches lend themselves to that; learners are able to compile mixed playlists, or access visual and virtual content little and often, while on the move.

Today’s students have to commit an unprecedented amount of information to memory. Considering the fact that they are part of the ‘Google Generation’ - who easily look things up and find out information for themselves - it’s understandable that the pervasive testing throughout education is difficult. Dare to devolve; put revision into their hands and encourage students to make their own revision guides using Google Docs (as suggested by Richard Kennett and The Historical Association’s One Big History Department), another free resource. Forward-thinking schools will need to consider a bespoke offering to make subject content stick, whether that’s tech-oriented, traditional, or a mixture of both.

The Historical Association's Great Debate 2018 finalists

The option to mix up the way we do things is endless. Of course, teachers know this; they are indefatigable, ambitious for and committed to their students! What we, as educators, have to consider is that, while a new type of learning or revision may not be the way that we would necessarily choose to learn, everybody is different and we need to offer options. It’s certainly not a case of ‘out with the old, and in with the new’; it’s about coexistence, choices, collaboration and being reflexive and responsive to changing needs. The challenge is to combine methods of studying to fit with students’ lifestyles, all while adhering to your school’s budgetary concerns.

Moving with the times - even if only a little bit - can reap rewards all round.

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