Helping all student answer challenging questions about the causes of historical events and developments (Richard Kennett, Redland Green School, United Kingdom)

This image of Hitler saluting marching SA-troops in April 1932 helps students reflect on the question “why did so many Germans vote in 1932 for a party who actively hated people?” (Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-13378 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

This practice describes how a challenging question can be set to all students no matter their ability if the activities are correctly scaffolded. The example that is used to illustrate how the practice works analyses the reasons why the Nazis won the election of 1932. Answering such a complex question is challenging for all students, not just the most able. The practice demonstrates that it is possible to design a lesson where all students will be able to answer the key questions of the lesson and also uses challenging historical sources and is full of difficult historical thinking.

The practice

This exemplar lesson was designed for a scheme of work on the Holocaust. It looks at why the Nazis won the election in 1932. It could equally be used in a rise of the Nazis scheme of work. The whole lesson is designed to be challenging but accessible for all.

The lesson begins with a brief look at Nazi racial policy and then gets the students to consider why Germans would vote for a party who had these views.

Starter: Mein Kampf quote

The lesson should start with a provocative quote that makes reference to the challenging question tackled by the classroom. In the case of this example, it starts with a quote from Mein Kampf. As students enter the Mein Kampf quote about how Jewish people are the personification of evil should be on the board. This is purposefully shocking to hook them in ad get them thinking from the minute they enter the room. It is important to remind the students that this is from a book that sold millions and was a bestseller in its day.

Teacher Introduction:

Use the Mein Kampf quote as a way in to discuss Nazi racial ideas. On the PowerPoint are slides about the Ubermensch (the ideal – Aryans and the Master Race) and then a slide about the Untermensch (the sub humans – Jews, Gypsies etc.). It is important to make it really clear that these ideas are extreme and would be abhorrent today.

Task 1: Paired discussion

Now show the students the election results up to 1932 and get them to think about the fact that the Germans voted for a party who actively hated people. They are, therefore, introduced to the challenging question which will be the focus of the lesson, in this case: Why might people do that? Would people do this today? This is essentially the puzzle they need to solve in this lesson. This is a very challenging question but by the end all the students will be able to work this out.

Task 2: Posters

To get the students to solve this puzzle they will work with visual prompts, in this case with propaganda posters. Obviously, you could just use a textbook or history book but the volume of text might be a challenge for some. Instead using rich visual sources means that this enquiry is accessible to all. The sources chosen, in any case, should display the causes behind the research question.

In this case, using the pre-1933 posters shows you how the Nazis tried to win votes. From these posters students will see the main themes of why people voted for a party who hated people.

Choose a wide selection of posters. I normally use about 20 and stick these around your classroom on the walls. Label each poster with a letter, e.g. A, B etc. Explain to the students that there are five main reasons why people voted for the Nazis in 1932:

  • People were poor and desperate
  • People were looking for a strong leader
  • People were looking for a strong party
  • People wanted someone to blame for their problems
  • People were fed up of other political parties

Giving students the five main reasons frames their answer and scaffolds it. But do not give them more detail than this. They need to build these answers themselves using the posters.

Get the students to draw a table with five rows and two columns. In the left hand column they need to write the main five reasons. The right hand column can be left blank.

The students task is then to move around the room looking at each poster and decide which reason the poster is focused on. For example if Poster A shows that people were looking for a strong leader they would write A in the right hand column for this row. It is important, in this case, to stress that the students need to discuss each poster with someone else as they move around the room as they need to solve the puzzle. Again this is purposely very low stakes. All students can do this. Lots of class discussion with the students as they do this is crucial to help students to decipher the images and work out what is happening. This will take the majority of the lesson.

Task 3: Reading

Now give out the narrative of why the Nazis won in 1932 (available on the website above). Either get them to read it in silence or read as a class. Some of the terms will need defining. This will enable them to see if the predictions / inferences they made in Task 2 were correct.

Task 4: Writing

Finally to consolidate knowledge and understanding return to the lesson enquiry. Students are now required to do some writing. There is a differentiated task to produce a piece of structured writing on the lesson enquiry. There are three writing activities that build complexity. Some students may only do one of these tasks but by revealing all of them on the PowerPoint slide you are modelling to all what a more sophisticated response looks like. As the tasks progress so does the level of historical skill required.

A) Explain which ONE of the following was the most important:

  • People were poor and desperate
  • People were looking for a strong leader
  • People were looking for a strong party
  • People wanted someone to blame for their problems
  • People were fed up of other political parties

B) Explain why a second factor was LESS important than the first in leading the Germans to vote for the Nazis.

C) Add a third paragraph explaining why interpretations of this question might have changed over time, e.g. why immediately post-war someone might see this differently to now 70 years later

Plenary: Discussion

Finally wrap up the lesson with a class discussion. Would you have voted for the Nazis in 1932? – This is a controversial question and will need to be approached sensitively but is a valid question to ask.

Obstacles and lessons learned

This lesson showed me that no matter what ability all students can access tricky questions. It is important to have high expectations of students and not limit their learning. The bulk of this lesson uses visual sources which all can access. The writing task explicitly models the stages of historical thinking. This helps all to learn deeply about the topic.

The effect of the practice

Students really enjoy this lesson, especially because of the emphasis on visual sources, which means that there is not a lot of writing, and as a result all students can access the question and succeed in tackling it. This is key.

At the end of the lesson, students are able to identify causal reasons behind historical events and developments, and to argue which one of them is the most important.

 

About the interviewee

Richard Kennett works in Redland Green School in Bristol where he is Head of Humanities. In Bristol he runs the history teachers network. Richard is a Schools History Project fellow and sits on the UK Historical Association secondary committee. He tweet about history teaching (and cats) from @kenradical and his website is www.radicalhistory.co.uk

Background to the project

The practice is designed by Richard Kennet on the basis of the belief that no matter their background, all students should be given challenging historical enquiries.

Additional information

The resources for this lesson can all be downloaded from: http://radicalhistory.co.uk/resources-2/germans-vote-party-actively-hated-people/

The posters used for the practice have been retrieved from the German Propaganda Archive, which has an outstanding collection of posters.

Pedagogy articles that inspired this:

Richard Kerridge – Learning without Limits, Teaching History 168

https://www.history.org.uk/secondary/resource/9262/learning-without-limits

Michael Riley & Jamie Byrom – Professional wrestling in the history department, Teaching History 99

https://www.history.org.uk/secondary/resource/1628/professional-wrestling-in-the-history-department

History books that inspired this:

Richard J Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich: How the Nazis Destroyed Democracy and Seized Power in Germany (2003)

 

Written by Richard Kennett (Redland Green School) in Bristol, UK on October, 2018.

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