We can’t possibly allow this! by @Dai_James1942

  1. Differences of fact which cannot be resolved. I write into the Versions differences which I have found in ‘real books’: in a piece on Sarajevo I might say in one Version that there were six, and in the other that there were seven conspirators hidden in Sarajevo waiting for the Archduke. Not hard to spot, this one: “As Francis Ferdinand approached Sarajevo, six enemies lay in wait for him as against “As Francis Ferdinand approached Sarajevo, seven enemies lay in wait for him.” They can read it, and they can understand it and they can see the difference, but they are not yet in a position to know which Version is right. To convey the extent of this little victory to me, the users are taught to put a question mark in the space provided at the right hand side of the page[6]. Prowling round listening to the discussions, I can see from the question mark that the children saw the problem and recognised that they could not solve it. (I agree with Peter Abelard that ‘Doubt is the beginning of wisdom’) In the post mortem at the end of the lesson I reveal about the ‘real book’ origin of the contradiction and we discuss why ‘real History books’ should not be contradicting each other. We debate who is qualified to write books, and the checks that publishers carry out pre-publication. We agree that something is amiss when they contradict each other.
  2. Non-Semantic Differences: The initial reaction of most people when hearing of my work is to say ‘Ah! Spot the Mistakes’. It is more subtle than that, because not all the differences are errors. I might make one version say ‘After the First World War there was a meeting to discuss what to do with Germany’ and the other ‘After World War I a conference was held to decide what to do about Germany’. These two statements mean the same, and are therefore ‘right’. The children need (and must) make no comment or correction (sc in the space provided on the right). Two able children will float effortlessly past this, immediately able to say that a conference is a meeting for discussion. Two less able ones may have quite an argument because, since they have only the vaguest idea what a conference is, they do not know if a conference is ‘a meeting’ or not. If they don’t know, the question mark on the side will show me, either at once as I prowl, or later when I mark, that there is an issue which needs my intervention, because for their exam they will certainly need to know that a conference is a meeting for discussion. In a class discussion I may stumble upon a misapprehension of this kind, but with all these pairs of children discussing and recording, I find out far more about the children’s understanding (and lack of it) than is generally possible[7]. Such’non-semantic differences’ make the children maintain concentration at every instant of the work with the Versions, because of having to decide whether differences are of meaning or simply in words. Nessun Dorma[8]. On the other hand, every mini-discussion ‘drains the cognitive batteries’ of a child, and too great a cognitive dissonance will hasten the moment when the children’s limit (the ‘concentration span’) is reached. A skilled professional teacher will make enormous efforts to control the amount of cognitive dissonance involved in each successive mini-discussion, and be forever re-editing his texts to get them exactly right. I am promised a conversation with some American mathematicians to get the cognitive dissonances in my ‘Pythagoras’ dialogue right.[9]
  3. Differences of fact which refer back to previous work: I might begin a pair of texts like this: ‘After the Russian Revolution Lenin ruled Russia’ against ‘After the Russian Revolution Czar Nicholas ruled Russia’ – If this were their first acquaintance with the topic there would be no way of knowing, but since if it would come after a unit on the events of 1917 you would expect them to know that it was Lenin. A series of such items, dotted throughout the unit, amounts to a revision test on the previous work. As Figure 1 (below) is the ‘Recall Test’ hidden inside my A Level dialogue on Lenin as Ruler of Russia. One can play about with these questions, for example in Dialogue 2 on the causes of 1905 the two versions say


  • The Russian governor of Finland was killed in 1898, and between 1901 and 1904 no less than three Education ministers were assassinated. Such political violence had never been seen in Russia before.
  • The Russian governor of Finland was killed in 1898, and between 1901 and 1904 no less than three Education ministers were assassinated. Such political violence had of course been common throughout the previous reign.

They are required here to remember that although there had been a lot of political violence by the SRs, including the assassination of Alexander II, it had tended to die away in the latter part of Alexander III’s reign. Violence was therefore neither unprecedented nor a constant feature of Russian history. Neither version is correct and a good response will say this. Here are the items bearing on recall which appeared in one dialogue:

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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