What was the impact? The outcome of the immersive workshops showed that students had developed their historical understanding in tandem with their literacy and academic progression.
- They had learned more. As part of the activities the students wrote in role as either a soldier on the front line or families waiting at home to their local newspaper. The newspapers showed improvement in academic achievement supported by teacher feedback that the experiences ‘deepened their knowledge with a remarkable average sublevel improvement per student’ with 99% of pupils stating it helped them to make progress. One comment stated ‘it helped me by a mile in my assessment’.
- The learning was long term; it had ‘stuck’ with them. Questionnaires completed four months later indicated that 87% of students could recall why Ferguson had enlisted alongside 96% being able to explain the significance of the plum puddings and cross stitch, ‘to stop themselves feeling helpless’. This supported student feedback which suggested the students felt that they had ‘found out lots of new information and facts I didn’t know’
- Behaviour and learning was heightened when studying the topic. The teacher noted that ‘student feedback was very positive throughout… engagement in lessons was enhanced at the time of the project’ and ‘their engagement was clear to see, they responded to the hands on work.’
- They had enjoyed learning this way. Evaluation forms showed students had enjoyed this experience; Students stated that it was “challenging, but good”, while another said it was “good as it made you work how people in the war would have, showed I could do well on my own, I learned loads. I really enjoyed every minute of it, a once in a lifetime opportunity, we learned outside the classroom and it was better” and that it was “interesting, but educational at the same time” with 95% of respondents being able to recall facts about the soldier they had studied four months earlier.
What can be learned and what next? After returning to teaching, I began to consider how immersive learning can be constructed into a school’s curriculum. Museum visits are obviously linked to this mode of learning, but financial limitations and timetable constraints limit this. If immersive learning can create powerful experiences, how might we be able to exploit and utilise this in the classrooms?
- Debates, plays and role play. Discover a story or students research a story. Create the arguments, the script, the props and the costumes. Re-enact and teach others. Learn the stories by being the stories. I hold Suffragette debates and have a costume box.
- Research as experts. Be the curator and handle the objects in the classroom, asking questions and selecting what should be displayed in your classroom museum. Be the ‘Who do you think you are?’ researcher and trawl the internet for clues in IT. Be the archaeologist and piece together the pieces of pot from the sand.
- Cross-curricular. Become the families on the Home Front creating a Princess Mary tin for their loved ones by baking goods or stitching postcards in DT. Become soldiers on the Western Front by carrying out army drills in PE or walking distances with heavy items. Be Elizabeth I’s royal portrait artist with feather quills and paints.
- Outreach – Museums readily carry out workshops in schools, bringing objects and props with them. Universities also help organise archaeological digs in schools with students in role as real life ‘Tony Robinsons’.
- Link up with your local museum. I am currently co-creating a Workhouse workshop with a living museum whereby the students experience life as a pauper. At the museum they complete the chores in costume and eat gruel! At school, we use costume to carry out pre and post visit activities and dramas based on the experiences and write about them.
Immersive learning is powerful. It allows us to …
Alex Fairlamb has been teaching history for five years (three years at a state secondary in the North East, then a year out to work at a living history museum in the education team working on a WW1 Local history project and a project commemorating the centenary of Emily Davison’s death with the community of Morpeth/Longhorsley. She then returned to secondary teaching). She is on the teaching and learning team at school as a teaching and learning mentor. She is currently working on further research projects and would welcome opportunities to work with other peers nationally. Find her on Twitter at @lamb_heart_tea.