Step 5: The Battle - the death of Harold
As well as the battle the children were also very interested in the famous story of Harold’s death. Many had already heard how he was killed by an arrow in the eye and wanted to ‘see’ that part of the battle too. So, once again we lined up, the Normans on one side, the Saxons on the other. Only this time the Normans took up bows, ready to fire.
The children were familiar with the format:
“Stage 1, Normans take an arrow from your quiver. Saxons hold the line.”
“Stage 2, Normans fit an arrow to your bow. Saxons hold the line.”
“Stage 3, Normans aim high, remember fire over their wall. Saxons hold the line.”
“Stage 4, Normans fire!”
“As the arrows flew through the air,” I related “high above the shield wall, Harold and his body guard looked into the sky. One arrow, from the many thousands, found its mark.” On this cue the student representing the king fell to the ground, clutching his eye. “His brothers seeing the king had been wounded rushed to his side. But nothing they could do could stop his inevitable death and with it the last hope of Anglo-Saxon England.”
“Stage 5, the final painting. One side the grief of the defeated Saxons, on the other the joy of the Norman victors.”
The moment held the whole class for a few seconds and then that part of the story was over.
However, I felt it was important to explore further dimensions of this event and other points of view. I had read that Harold’s body was buried in secret after the battle and had been so badly hacked by William’s soldiers that only his wife had been able to identify the remains - [Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Godwinson]. I thought it would be interesting to follow this event back to when his wife, Edith Swannesha [Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Swannesha], first received the news and might create opportunities for further reflection on the impact of the battle beyond those directly involved.
Sequence 2: The news reaches the Queen
Step 1: Setting the scene
There are many ways to ‘set a scene’ [Ref. Strategy list for starting and extending inquiries, see Appendix 9] for this one I decided to use Strategy 2 -Sharing a partial narrative selected/created in advance - this was because I was working with the class separately on developing the use of dramatic imagination in their writing and thought this would be a good opportunity to illustrate its use.
I therefore started the sequence by using a variation of convention 20: A story told about another.
I read the following extract to the children:
The Queen lifted her head from her sewing when she heard the guards voice outside.
There was a short murmur of voices then a soft knock at the door.
'Enter' she said. There was the clunk of a lock and the door swung open silently. The candle on her table flickered sending shadows racing like rats into the corners of her bedchamber.
The guard dressed in full Armour stepped into the room, his chain mail creaking. 'Your Majesty' he said, bowing, 'There is a messenger outside. He says he brings important news from the battlefield.'
'Then let him in immediately', ordered the Queen.
The guard nodded and stepped outside. A moment later a short man came into the Queen's room. His face was covered in dry mud, his clothes ripped and stained with blood. He walked with a limp, his left leg dragging painfully behind his right.
'Your Majesty', he bowed. 'I have grave news concerning your Lord, the king.' His eyes looked down and his voice trailed off into silence.
'Talk man!' The Queen shouted.
The poor messenger nearly jumped out of his skin.
'Er, I'm sorry', he said, bowing once more. 'The news I bring is very sad your Majesty and my tongue can barely move with the telling, struck, as it is, with grief.'
Step 2 - The children’s contributions - ordinary life
It would have been tempting at this point to have brought the Queen in as an adult in role [ref. Strategy 3: Interacting with an adult representing a point-of-view (Adult in Role – AIR)], but I felt this would have been a mistake as the children had not yet had the opportunity to make a contribution to the context we were building. I therefore decided to hold back on the Queen and spend a bit of time exploring what else was happening at the same time in the castle [Ref. Strategy 6: Children creating the images and resources].
Using small pieces of A5 paper I asked the children to draw something they thought might be happening in the castle at the same time the Queen was hearing the news of her husband’s death.
As well as involving the children in the development of the context my aim was to explore how momentous events often happen while people are going about their normal lives. The Queen was receiving news that would mean the end of 500 years of Anglo-Saxon rule in England, but for the people baking bread or fishing in the moat or mending the walls everything seemed to the same as it had always been.
Step 3 - The story continues
For this step we turned the telling of the story into a kind of ritual using the line - 'In the castle on the night the Queen heard the news...' (I wrote this on the board, while the class sat together on the carpet)
Each child then followed the pattern by reading the line - 'In the castle on the night the Queen heard the news' -followed by their own contribution, for example: 'A traitor was hanging from chains in the dungeon'; 'The dogs where wailing in the kennels' etc
After they had made their contribution each child would come up and add their picture to the board.
As a side note, it was interesting how many of the children’s ideas could be interpreted as portents of things to come - “The dogs wailing, dark clouds blowing in, prisoners screaming”. Once we started to spot them the children enjoyed making further links.
Step 4 - More bad news
After setting the scene it was time to return to the Queen. However there would be little value in ‘re-enacting’ her getting the bad news - what would the children do? So the story had to be moved on to the next significant event - the visit of a second messenger (this time from William) who was to invite the Queen to view Harold’s body and identify him as the king.
The obvious tension in this scenario was should the Queen leave the relative safety of her castle to identify the body and, as a consequence, put her life in the hands of the enemy?
For the facilitation of this scene I decided to use Convention 1: The role actually present, naturalistic, yet significantly behaving, giving and accepting responses and Strategy 7: Interacting with the children representing one (or more) points-of-view (Children in Role CIR)
The Queen was represented by an adult, the children then choose to represent either:
1. her family/ladies in-waiting/entourage
2. her personal guards
3. the messengers from William
A note on Convention 1. Convention 1 can be quite tricky if not handled with a certain amount of ‘conviction’. By conviction I mean you have to be prepared to take control when needed. This is not so much the case with other conventions because those conventions ‘hold’ time. By which I mean time can be temporarily paused or rewound. In convention 1 time is happening now, in the moment, which means the dramatic control comes not from the convention itself, but from the participants. For this reason its often considered the most difficult of all the conventions to use successfully in the classroom.
For example, the Battle of Hasting sequence above would be very difficult to manage in convention 1 without the complete co-operation of all the participants. However, the convention we did use - Convention 4, were the children were cast as representing figures in a series of paintings - held time and the participants in place creating more opportunity for reflection and less opportunities for disorder.
Nevertheless, convention 1 can be very exciting and can give the participants freedom of expression and the chance to improvise ‘in the moment’. For these reasons children often enjoy convention 1 sessions more than any others.
However, as mentioned above, it is crucially important to agree from the beginning that things have to be done in an orderly way, with a sense of calm and control. The teacher’s mediation role is almost as a stage director treading a fine line between keeping the work on track while allowing the participants opportunities to improvise and contribute.
The following text is an approximate account of how the session developed using convention 1.
Scene: the Queen’s bedchamber
Present: the Queen, her ladies in waiting and her guards
Arriving: a number of messengers from King William
- Teacher as mediator (TAM): “So, how are the ladies in waiting and the guards going to be arranged when the messengers arrive?”
- Teacher leaves the ladies in waiting and the guards with the adult in role (AIR) as the Queen, while he talks to the messengers.
- Teacher in role (TIR): “Now you understand she is still a Queen and she has only recently heard the tragic news of her husbands death? She will need to be treated with understanding and respect.”
- Teacher ensures those representing the messengers understand how to treat a Queen, bowing etc.
- TIR speaking to the guards: “The messengers are outside, they have important news from William and wish to speak directly to the Queen.”
- At this point the ‘guards’ where arguing over who was standing where and were not ready to enter the fiction. To help them I needed to take on a directors role (TAD) outside the story: “OK. Lets get this sorted. Everyone else is ready. Have you decided where the doorway is? Right (They had made a narrow entrance using two table), I see. So, some of the guards will stand this side and some on the other, lets see that then. We need guards - backs straight, heads up, weapons in-hand. Right, that’s it. Have you decided if the messengers can bring in their weapons? They can’t, I think that’s right. So, you’re ready? Lets have the guards back and I’ll bring the messengers up, they’re at the bottom of the tower.”
- TIR speaking to the Queen and the ladies in waiting: “Your majesty there are in the courtyard a group of messengers from the traitor William, Duke of Normandy, they claim to have news of your husband, shall I let them in?”
- AIR - the Queen: “Yes, bring them up immediately.”
- TIR speaking to the messengers: “The Queen will see you now. But her guards have instructed that you must enter the bedchamber only one at a time and must hand in your weapons at the door. Is that understood?”
- TAM: “We know from history Edith Swannesha, Queen and wife of Harold Godwinson, did not die this night in her bedchamber so if any of the messengers did manage to smuggle a weapon into the bedchamber they did not use it to hurt the Queen or any of her household.” Its important to make this clear from the start otherwise once the drama enters convention 1 there is nothing to stop one of participants assassinating the Queen and rewriting history.
- The teacher now stands back and only intervenes if things start to loose coherence or if something happens that needs to re-negotiated. This is quite normal, don’t worry, the children won’t. Treat it as a rehearsal, come to an agreement and carry on.
- In the session I’m describing, the guards at the door let the messengers in one at a time, frisking them ‘gently’ and placing their weapons on the side. Once all in the messengers spoke to the Queen and respectfully requested that she visit King William’s tent and identify the body of her husband. There was then a discussion amongst her household about whether she should go or stay safely protected in her castle. After listening to all the arguments the Queen (in accordance with history) decided to leave as requested and visit William.
- We ended the session with a short discussion on the choices available to the Queen and how her life and the lives of all the other Anglo-Saxon nobility would never be the same again.
Follow up activities
1. BBC documentary: Battlefield Britain - The Battle of Hastings.
After the activities outlined above we watched the BBC documentary - Battlefield Britain - The Battle of Hastings available at time of writing on YouTube.
2. Writing an account from the point of view of a participant in the battle
The children then spent some time drafting and writing accounts of the battle from different points of view. This is was done over two days using the Writing Workshop formula [Ref: Writing Workshop]. Below is a summary of the planning and some examples of the children’s writing.
Sequence: Bridging into the past
Any object or image from the past can be used to imaginatively travel into the past as if it were a place to visit. This is called ‘bridging’ and the object that creates the opportunity is called a ‘bridging device’.
Much like all these strategies and conventions they are much easier to describe and understand in context than they are in the abstract. So, lets look at an example from this context and how a bridging device was used to help the children to imagine themselves as people from the time of the Anglo-Saxons.
Example 1 - The Skeletons
Step 2: Drawing the skeletons
As mentioned above, the children in one of the classes were fascinated by the image of the ‘hugging’ skeletons. Developing this interest into an imaginative-inquiry was a simple matter of re-representing the photo of the skeletons as a drawing. We took a large sheet of appropriately coloured sugar paper and drew an outline around two willing volunteers (one child at a time, to spare them their blushes) and then added some drawings of bones - skulls, rib-cages, etc.
Note: The children were fascinated by skeletons and we took the opportunity to later explore this part of the curriculum through looking at books, animated images and 3-D models in a separate lesson.
Once the drawings were made, we sat back and looked at the images.
Teacher (T): “I wonder what brought these two people together?”
There followed a short discussion, were the children suggested a number of different ideas.
(T): “It might be there were some clues on the bodies that were discovered by the archeology team when they looked closer.”
Step 3: Clues
At this point you ask one of the children to take a lead. Its probably best not to ask for volunteers but to choose a student who you think will understand the task and give the others something to think about.
(T): “Leon could I give you this pen and ask you to draw an injury on one of these skeletons - that was later discovered by the archeology team - which might give a clue to how this person died.”
Leon drew a small crack at the back of one of the skulls.
Note: Generally almost anything is useable if an explanation can be made for it. For example, if Leon had drawn a huge crack, I would have asked the class: “That’s a much larger crack than I was expecting! I wonder how they missed it?” Or maybe Leon drew a gun (completely misunderstanding the task, but not wrecking). “Look at that… A gun. Hum, well it can’t be from Anglo-Saxon times, so how did it get there?” I would take this as a great opportunity to explore (for a short while) anachronisms and how different artefacts, on different layers, can tell archeologists a lot about the past. For instance, if there was a gun with the bodies, it would have to be on top or beside (indicating it was buried later), or the bodies would have been moved and re-buried on top of the gun. Whichever way, we have an intriguing mystery.
Teacher: “Oh, you can see why they missed this until they did the x-ray. Leon do you think whatever did that was the cause of this person’s death?”
Note: if he says no then there might be another mark which was responsible. “Oh, so not this one. Leon was it an old injury or one that happened close to the person’s death?” And, “Lilly, could I ask you to take the pen this time and see if there is a mark which was the one that killed this person.”
Step 4: Inquiry - What might have caused the injury?
(T): “What do you think might have caused an injury of this kind?”
Note: This is an inquiry question opening up a number of different possible hypothesis. In reference to Lesley Webb’s - Teacher Compass (you’ll find a copy in the Resources section of this Unit) the aim of the question is to create an opportunity for the children to explore a range of different ideas (a prodigality) without worrying too much about the 'quality' of the ideas (no penalty). In a sense, when in this sector of the compass, we are encouraging the children to be 'playful' with their thinking, not frivolous, but open minded and divergent. The teacher is not waiting for the right answer, but creating an opportunity for a wide range of ideas and scenarios.
Of course I could have asked the children to share their ideas verbally, as a straight-forward inquiry, perhaps supported by a drawing or a piece of writing, maybe framed as an eye-witness account. But, in this instance, I felt the children had been sitting for long enough and needed something more immediately engaging and challenging. So, I asked them to represent their ideas as if they were images from the past - a picture of the action that caused the wound, the moment before the action happened. [ref. Appendix 8]
"You might want to work alone or in a small group. What we will be looking for is an image of what happened here about a thousand years ago."
Note: Depending on the experience of the children in using drama this might be an activity they can cope with quite easily on their own. Other, less experienced groups, might need more support and possibly an example or two to illustrate the activity.
Step 5: Using drama conventions to represent what might have happened
The next step is to view one or more (occasionally all) of the images created by the children. As they work, extend the thinking around their ideas, encouraging the other children to contribute. For more guidance on this process take a look at the sequence below in Step 6: Sharing the stories - invested action.
Note: in this example we were using the injury into the deaths of the skeletons as the bridging device and the drama convention as the form representing the children's ideas. In the next example we built on this first device and then created opportunities for the children to invent bridging devices of their own and - by using these - explore the Anglo-Saxon settlement from the time it was first established 500 years before the Battle of Hastings.
Example 2: Objects from the settlement
Note: When designing an imaginative inquiry-context there are always multiple points of entry. This is especially true of history contexts, which have the added dimension of time. Some entry points will have obvious advantages over others - perhaps to do with interest to the children, locality or within the children’s own experiences - however they will always involve some compromises and a certain amount of adjustment will be needed to make them work effectively. In this context we chose to start in the present with the BBC commission and then ’step back’ through the skeleton ‘bridging device’ to the Battle of Hastings at the end of the Anglo-Saxon period. This, we felt, would be the most engaging and most accessible route of entry for the children. However, we understood starting the context at the end (as it were) might make it more difficult for the children to understand how the Anglo-Saxon invasion and occupation developed and changed over time. We were always mindful that at some point we would need a bridging strategy to take the context back to the beginning of the period and to create opportunities for the children to study the full historical significance of the Anglo-Saxon occupation and settlement.
Our aim then was to work with the children to create an early Anglo-Saxon settlement. We planned various sessions over a two week period which would result in the children making a model of the settlement in the classroom and inventing multiple different stories and people who lived there. Bearing in mind the children only know what they know we gathered and prepared various resources and sources of information which they could use as research while engaged in the work. These included:
- Topic books - many are available from the local library
- Webpages - links can be found in resources section of this context
- Drawings and other pictures of Anglo-Saxon settlements - copied and laminated for the children to look at
- Pictures and descriptions of artefacts - you can find copies of these in the artefacts section of this context
Step 1: Settlement Story
1. A stack of A5 plain paper
2. A list of ordinary, every day, objects that might be found by archaeologists on an Anglo-Saxon dig (See artefacts list)
3. Possibly a map of the Anglo-Saxon settlements from Germany (see other resources)
Gather the children together on the carpet.
“You know 1066 was the end of the Anglo-Saxon kings. Harold was the last. After William’s victory the Normans became the rulers of England and they built great castles to keep the Anglo-Saxon people in their place. But the Anglo-Saxons were themselves invaders. They came originally from Germany on ships.”
You might want to show the children the map of the Anglo-Saxon settlements from Germany at this point or save it for later.
“This happened 500 years before the Battle of Hastings, so they had been in Britain for a long time. They stopped thinking of themselves as Germans and thought of themselves as English. But when the first Anglo-Saxons came they had to find places to live. They didn’t have to fight any battles or defeat a king like William. Britain was very empty, there were lots of tribes - small communities of people - all over the country, living in different places, but there was also a great deal of empty land where the Anglo-Saxon people could build their own villages and settle down.
“Often these places became permanent settlements and over time grew into important towns. Many names of places today have Anglo-Saxon origins, like Norwich (-wich means farm in Anglo-Saxon). Its possible the archaeologists digging in our story will find artefacts going back to the original Anglo-Saxon invasions. The objects themselves would be easy to overlook. They wouldn’t be flashy gold or wonderful suits of armour, but perhaps a tiny piece of pottery or a small round bead. Let me show you…”
Step 2: Drawing a small artefact
Take a piece of the A5 and draw in front of the children a small broken piece of pottery. [Fig.1]
“When this was found, by one of the archaeologists, it was covered in mud. It would have been easy, for someone who didn’t know what they were doing, to ignore it or disregard it as unimportant. But the archaeologist knew better, and after cleaning off the mud and using some sophisticated equipment she was able to date the shard of pottery from the very beginning of the Anglo-Saxon period, 550 AD. She was also able to reconstruct what the object looked like before it was broken. I’ll show you…”
Turn over the paper and draw a small bowl [Fig.2]
“This bowl, the archaeologist believed, came from Germany and might have been among the original possessions brought over on the Anglo-Saxon ships. Imagine what it must have been like for those people, leaving their homes, packing together their possessions and sailing to a new country? I guess some of them where excited, others scared, perhaps one or two didn’t want to leave, but had too. Those are unanswered questions for archaeologists.
“After sailing across the sea, they arrived in England. But they didn’t leave their ships, they sailed up the rivers looking for islands or bends in the river where they could disembark and build a settlement. I guess whoever brought this bowl was among them. They then cut down trees and built houses, and walls to protect themselves, and dug and sewed fields for crops. Everyone had to help. The first few years would have been the hardest. But they survived and had children, children who never knew the old home, and eventually there was no one left that had come on the ships.
“All those people are gone. They’re not here to tell their stories. But what if their stories somehow survived in the objects? The things they left behind. Imagine the story this bowl could tell? Of the people leaving their homes and travelling on ships, of arriving in a new land, or building new homes, of struggling and surviving.”