List of contents:
2. Main part: My fictitious lesson
2.1 Information on the course of the unit and general teaching aims
2.4 Introduction of the new subject matter
2.7 The choice of the teaching aids used
The following piece of work entirely dedicates itself to the era of the Late Middle Ages. My model lesson does not concentrate on a particular aspect of this era, but gives an overview of a lot of topics. It can therefore be regarded as a multifunctional preparatory lesson: the first step into the overall thematic is portrayed and lots of occasions are given to find different fields to reflect upon. I prefer this open – but fixed – thematic because my target is not to provide the pupils with an overdose of facts. I want to offer them a general idea, an outline of the Middle Ages and would rather like them to understand the mentality of this time than to learn too many facts and dates by heart. According to the authors of the SMART-study, my approach is right: “the need to provide an overview, a framework, a sense of unity and coherence [is characterized as] centrally important”.
Apart from that, I pursue the aim of enabling the children to read medieval literature. The knowledge of the medieval way of thinking is an important condition in order to study written works dating from this era. It is interesting that we are looking back to ancient times because of two reasons: on the one hand, we want to get an impression of the living conditions which formed the background of medieval literature. On the other hand, “medieval history and literature […] [are] simply essential to a proper understanding of our own [stress: Ga.Sch.] society, which is not only heir to, but to a large degree the creation of, the Middle Ages”. Consequently, this epoch actually does not need any justification, its significance even in today’s life makes it obvious enough why we should deal with this topic at school. We live in a society which is coined by the Middle Ages, and this has to be mirrored in school life as well – “we cannot study literature or political history […] in isolation; all of our studies are ultimately studies of the entire culture of the Middle Ages”. That implies that the Middle Ages, their diversity and mysteriousness, their inventions and effects on our present time, are just part of our general knowledge, and one cannot avoid to be confronted with them.
In my essay I will design a fictitious English lesson in a ninth class of a Grammar School. To begin with, I will depict an invented class situation; afterwards I will illustrate each teaching phase of the lesson and give reasons for my approach as well as the media used as teaching aids. In the role of the master I want to make the learners realize that the Middle Ages extensively influence many fields even of our present time and let them submerge into the sphere of English.
2. Main part: My fictitious lesson
2.1 Information on the course of the unit and general teaching aims
The following model lesson is designed for a ninth class of a Grammar School, the equivalent to the highest school form in Germany. The class consists of twenty-eight pupils being fifteen or sixteen years old, with an asymmetrical distribution of seventeen girls and eleven boys which is typical of nowadays.
Today they are starting with a new teaching unit called “The Late Middle Ages under the Reign of King Richard II (1377-1399)”. The teacher’s intention is to give basic information on the background of the period first; this will enable the pupils to deal with passages of Geoffrey Chaucer’s masterpiece, his ‘Canterbury Tales’, which date from this time. Chaucer’s date of birth cannot be more specified than to the time between 1340 and 1345, but he unquestionably died in 1400. This is the time span on which the class is focusing – the Late Middle Ages.
The English lessons are held three times per week, so their timetable allows them to deal with this unit within the next six weeks. In my essay, I am only portraying the first lesson about medieval times, lasting forty-five minutes. This lesson is an introductory one into the overall topic of the Middle Ages and has as its target to arouse interest among the children and to stimulate their involvement in the whole unit. This basic introductory lesson will be inevitable, even if some issues are revealed as repetition; the pupils need to be made familiar with the atmosphere and mentality of this era to understand Chaucer’s work or other written pieces of his contemporaries. Even the interpretation of Shakespeare can be practised through this unit, due to the fact that his plays are set in the Middle Ages. And because traces of the epoch are still visible today, the topic will quickly raise attention and interest among the pupils. Boys playing with knight castles in younger ages, movies like ‘The First Knight’, “the popularity of pseudo-medieval settings in the fantasy fiction of Tolkien” or ‘real’ sirs and ladies in Britain’s House of Lords; even after more than five hundred years are the Middle Ages common in our time – because they present “another world of thought and experience”, are strange and familiar at the same time. This is an advantage the teacher can make use of to accelerate the pupils’ attention as well as their progress within the seminar.
The second phase of this lesson will provide the pupils with further topics for their group research projects of the next weeks in which they have to become absorbed themselves. Possible topics are ‘medieval family structures’, ‘knights and tournaments in the Middle Ages’, ‘medieval literature’ etc. In the planned course of the unit, they have to present their topics in class and allow their fellow students to discuss them in plenum. At the end of the period everyone will have the same level of knowledge; in view of the written test which is following after the six weeks, there will not be a difference in the new issues acquired amongst the children. It is important to mention that the last group is occupied with Geoffrey Chaucer and therefore supplies the reason as well as a good transition for continuing with extracts of the ‘Canterbury Tales’. That Chaucer is “the subject which has the largest enrollment of any medieval topic” is not surprising. His collection of tales namely offers a good summary of the entire teaching unit as it contains stories of a wide range of people from all classes, i.e. pilgrims, monks, knights, farmers’ wives etc. It consequently gives a versatile image of the Middle Ages – and this is one aim the teaching unit is to achieve: The children should be familiar with the features of the Late Middle Ages by the end of the six weeks. They should have gained an impression of what life used to be like to that time and should therefore logically understand which living conditions formed the background or content of Chaucer’s tales. Furthermore, they should be able to read and discuss parts of his masterwork and place them in the period of King Richard II.
The lesson is held monolingually; at least this is the ideal which cannot always be fulfilled though. Only if problems appear, or if new rules are introduced, will the instructor make use of German as their mother tongue in addition to a previous explanation in the English language.
At the same time, the teacher for English is also the pupils’ form master.
The teacher has just entered the classroom and welcomed the pupils. He wants to be informed about the latest occurrences and probable (social) problems in class. But he can start his lesson soon due to the fact that the students hold back any questions they might have. As can be seen, the possibility to talk about problems with the children is an essential part of this stage. Not only does the educator function as a mediator of knowledge, he holds a much closer and more familiar position in class.
The actual first phase lasts eight minutes and serves as an introduction into the lesson. The first questions the teacher raises are: “What do you associate with knights?” and “Do you know if they are still in existence even in our time?” After that they start talking about two pictures of which the pupils have already been given a copy. As homework for today, they were asked to write down briefly what their impressions of the pictures were. They were already prepared and knew what would be expected of them; besides, it gives quiet and shy pupils the chance to utter their ideas because it is easier for them to read out what they have noted down than to speak freely without any keywords as support. Now they can describe the atmosphere of the pictures (which are also displayed on the overhead projector), their associations which came up etc. The brainstorming is visualized by means of a sketch on the board. First the pupils raise their hands, and then they are allowed to write down their keywords and thoughts on the board one after another. During this process they are all copying the notes in order to have this scheme in their exercise books and be able to study it later on.
This method of teaching enables the instructor to arouse his pupils’ interest and win their attention for the entire course of the lesson. The teacher motivates them to participate actively and gives up his dominant position, standing only in the background.
It is useful to check their previous knowledge on the topic and furthermore, if there is not much previous experience, to give a first impression of the Middle Ages. In most cases though, this action will be a recapitulation for the pupils, since it happens to be a topic repeated frequently at school and to be prevalent even today, as I have shown in the introduction of my essay. Nevertheless this repetition is necessary to form a starting point on which they can build for future lessons. Besides, the pictures give a reason to repeat the techniques of describing images, with a specific vocabulary as “In the foreground / background you can see…” to be reminded of. In addition to that, it is also worth mentioning that the children do not have to stick to the pictures while talking about the era. If they have ideas of their own to add, this will be more than welcome.
The blackboard offers even more space to write down all their impressions when the teacher opens it:
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Of course, expressions like ‘the feudal system’, ‘crusades’ etc. are not part of the pupils’ every-day language. But it might occur that they have already dealt with a similar topic in their history class or even in other subjects, and therefore these expressions come to their minds first. It can also happen that they describe what they mean without knowing the certain expression for that. Then the teacher helps and names what they have suggested and paraphrased before.
The second phase is going to cover the next eleven minutes. After the pupils have uttered their impressions on the Middle Ages in the first part, the teacher now distributes quotations about other people’s views on this era, among them monks, historians and Geoffrey Chaucer as one of the most famous writers in this time:
“It was sincerely believed that [cathedrals] had to be grand and magnificent to show the power of God. They needed to reflect the glories of heaven, and enable services to be as impressive as possible.” (Paul Stollard, February 1993)
“God will sit as a stern judge above all the people. Sinners will suffer great misery as the horrible pit of hell opens up. Large numbers of devils will appear to drag them to the torture and burning of hell.” (Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, written in the late eleventh century)
 Robert V. Graybill, Robert L. Kindrick & Robert E. Lovell, Teaching the Middle Ages; Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching (Missouri: Warrensburg, 1982) 28.
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 4.
 Picture 1 is taken from: Rolf Schneider, Vor 1000 Jahren: Alltag im Mittelalter (Augsburg: Weltbild Buchverlag, 1999) 62. Picture 2 is taken from: Kathleen Gormley & Richard Neill, The Norman Impact on the Medieval World (Cambridge: University Press, 1997) 39.
 Ibid., 38.
 Ibid., 39.
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- Institution / Hochschule
- Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf – Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
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- Late Middle Ages England Introductory Lesson Class Nine Hauptseminar Teaching English Literature Medieval Times Early Renaissance