The ESSR Team Spills: Our Biggest MistakesOctober 14, 2018
In the early stages of choosing material for Socialism Realised, ÚSTR had several more text-based sources in the proposed catalogue than it actually ended up having in the final version. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using texts as primary sources — in some instances, they can work very well. We were trying to find texts that will work with as many people from as many places as possible, and texts that were more than about two paragraphs or that had a lot of complicated vocabulary didn’t go over very well in our piloting process. While it was easy to get students discussing the material with short video clips, the texts that they had to focus on for a long time really didn’t produce fruitful discussion at all — and some of the discussion that it did produce showed us that the students hadn’t really understood what we meant as the aim of the text anyway (which was our fault for choosing the material, not theirs at all!).
Our experience at Sofia Platform has shown that failing to make our references relevant to students’ everyday life or current events makes the material abstract and difficult for them to understand the historical topic in question. Therefore, it is helpful to work with the topic using an example that enables them to connect it with their own experiences somehow. Another important lesson learned is to keep the length and information included within our teaching methods short and to the point, be it videos, lectures, or group work formats. We aim to avoid giving too much information at once, lecturing for too long, or not involving students in an interactive way, in order to keep their focus on the lesson and their interest engaged. Ideally, our aim is to structure lessons so that information takes turns with practical exercises and discussions.
One important point from us at the ITG about bad practices is connected with text-based sources. After various workshops for teachers and for students, we have come to the conclusion that we have to work with text-based sources that are as short as possible, but that at the same time have the potential to work for our educational purposes. A few times, activities designed with texts that were too long really broke up the whole lesson, losing the students’ attention and losing us the most important element: time.