How hard can Hastings be?

If, like me, you’re in the throes of your NQT (well, mine is my second time around, having had a year off as a new mum, so returning feels like my NQT again), you might be finding that those kids just don’t seem to get it! I’ve been battling (no pun intended) with the Norman Conquest. Something that I thought would be so accessible thanks to many great ideas in the history world about how to teach this topic, not to mention the blood and gore factor within what is a great story (check out the brilliant Battlefield Britain episode with Dan and Peter Snow if you haven’t already). But I’m facing some difficulties.

Firstly, the children are so fascinated by the story that trying to get them to DO something with that story (like consider the causation question on why William won), is like pulling teeth. My students just want to know more, rather than think about it per se. This leads to me to my second issue: now I’m in the midst of it, I’m not actually sure this should be taught as a causation enquiry. It feels rather woolly, debating why William won – by which I mean that it seems to be ungrounding the children because there appear to be so many possible valid arguments. This is unnerving for these young 11 year olds. They are adrift in a sea of historical possibility – and that makes it all seem too conceptual, too mind bending, too big. They are dealing with their own big sea of uncertainty (new secondary school) and I feel they don’t need another. So now I’m wondering whether I should have approached this as an interpretation enquiry (have you seen the SHP Year 7 book which has an enquiry on who told the truth about 1066?)

This might have allowed me to indulge the children in their desire to know more, and I could have gently steered them toward the idea of ‘whose knowledge, whose story, are we knowing here? We could have got into a fascinating consideration of fact and opinion, and perhaps even on to opinion versus interpretation.

So already in my NQT 2, I’m thinking about how I will do this the second time around. Thinking to the future and how to do it makes me excited at the possibility. But I’ve one slight (large?) problem: I’ve got a class of 31 here and now, immersed in the story but lost in the concept. What am I going to do? How will I rescue them? My medium term plan hasn’t gone to plan.

I’ve decided that I need to pause – and show the children how to pause and reflect. Reflection is a big word in those NQT profiles of ours. But why not for our students too? Every lesson needn’t be a romp through time at a pace to rival William’s charging horses. So I’m going to ask the students these questions: in relation to our big question (why did William win the battle) -

  1. What are we certain about?
  2. What are we reasonably confident about?
  3. What are we unsure about?

I’m going to give them all post it notes and get them to write one item per note and to stick them into their exercise books on different pages. They can work in pairs because I want them to talk about their responses as I think that the talking will help them to reflect. My hope for what this will achieve is as follows. In answer to the first question I think I will find lots of historical facts (e.g. William had knights on horseback, archers and foot soldiers, Harold had a shield wall). In answer to the second question I think I will find points relating to the events of the battle (e.g. Some soldiers thought Harold was dead and so morale dipped). In answer to the third question I suspect I will find questions about whether it is possible to know the ‘real’ reason William won, and questions about if one reason is more important than another.

So if I know the answers I am going to get, why am I doing this exercise? My belief is that the children need to see for themselves their certainties and uncertainties. If they can identify what we need to focus on (rather than me saying “you’re just not getting it!”), I am hoping it gives them a sense of ownership. My subsequent question is going to be ‘what shall we do about the things we are unsure about?’ At this point I fully expect them to be look blank and say ‘ask for your help Miss’ but that’s great and exactly what I need – by realising together that we are a bit adrift and that the question feels too big and scary, we can begin to use our certainties to shore up our uncertainties. For example: imagine this exchange…

Teacher: if one of your certain post it notes is that Harold had a shield wall, why did William win eventually?

Student: The shield wall must have given way.

Teacher: Ok so what does that tell us about why William won?

Student: Because Harold and his men were weaker?

Teacher: What made them weaker do you think?

Student: They had already fought a battle in the north. And didn’t some of them think they had won and so they ran down the hill?

Teacher: There are two things there. Are they both about weaknesses?

Student: Sort of. Running down the hill is a bit about poor discipline or organisation. And fighting another battle is about following orders so that’s Harold’s leadership. Actually maybe running down the hill is leadership too.

So this conversation is totally made up, but I’m doing it to anticipate (and show) what I hope this reflective lesson will achieve. By relating each certainty post it note to the enquiry question I aim to help the children to get talking about why William won. By intervening with my own questions I am hoping to help the children to relate their certainties to factors or causes of William’s success. And there we have the beginnings of getting back on track. Using what they feel certain about to tether to the things they don’t (causation). The joy of post it notes is that we can restick them into a new formation – certainties notes will, I hope, become groups of causes with certainties in each. And as for those reasonably confident notes – the magic there is that they will most likely become points of debate (e.g. what does morale dipping tell us about why William won?) This will be important because it will mean that rather than the children’s answers being simplistic factor A + factor B lead to outcome X, they might begin to understand that factor A + factor B were essential up to a point, but that at various stages in the battle, different factors played a role.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck (no broken shield walls).

Esther

Letters to a New History Teacher …

… is a series of blogs by Esther Arnott as she experiences “NQT2″ – a return to teaching after a year being a new mum. Her return has given her similar feelings to those she had as an NQT, but this time around she has a bit of experience to share with herself and you, so these blogs are offered in the hope they support those of you setting out on your own new history teaching journeys – whether as NQTs or trainees on PGCE courses or other schemes. The blog will run through the year as ideas – and reality – strike Esther (and as motherhood allows!). She’d love to hear from you if you have particular questions, issues or features you’d like addressed.

 

About Esther

Esther qualified to teach in 2005 and took up a post at Lampton School in west London. She became head of department in 2008 – and this was swiftly followed by an Ofsted subject visit where she and her team achieved Outstanding in all categories. She works with a wide number of beginner teacher groups – including Roehampton University and Teach First – and she set up the London History Network to help share good practice. She became an SHP Fellow in 2009. When her school became one of the first Teaching Schools she applied to be a Specialist Leader of Education for history and has since worked with London schools to support heads of department and other middle leaders to achieve excellence. In 2012 she was promoted to leadership with responsibility for Literacy – and of course still teaching history! In 2013 she had baby Samuel, taking a year out …to now return as NQT 2!!

Someone else’s sense doesn’t always make sense!

I recently gave myself the tip to not reinvent the wheel – to use others’ resources and the text books wherever I could. But this week I’ve had one of those weeks where I had to take my own medicine and found it rather difficult to swallow. The problem is that I simply don’t have time to create a scheme of work for myself and, more importantly, what’s already in the department is very good (others vouch for the great progress made by the students). But the set of lessons and the enquiry they addressed just didn’t make sense to me… Someone else’s sense was not, well, my sense! So what did I do?

Well, I did not sit down and attempt to magic up some time and create a new scheme of work (as I would have in NQT1). Instead I did the following – and I’m sharing it as I realised that having given myself the tip not to reinvent the wheel, it might be helpful to give a few guidelines about ‘how to use someone else’s wheel’.

Ask the person who created the materials for 20 minutes of their time:

  1. Ask the person to bring with them some examples of students’ work from the unit – ideally some end products (which could well be assessments)
  2. Arm yourself with a print out of the resources and scheme of work (if the latter doesn’t exist, on a sheet of A4 prior to the meeting sketch out what you think the objectives, activities and outcomes are by scrutinising the resources; make sure you specify knowledge, skills and concepts outcomes)
  3. In the meeting sit at a computer together (or with pad and paper – whatever your preference) and start with these questions: (a) What is the big question / the enquiry question, (b) what are the overall outcomes you intend / hope for the students to achieve – break this down into knowledge, skills and concepts
  4. Now take each lesson, one by one, and ask the author to explain what the lesson does to contribute toward the enquiry and its intended outcomes. This discussion should be the most formative part of your meeting (for you) as you’ll be able to explore what the activities are about, how long they should last in a lesson, what differentiation will be needed (perhaps the author has some already), likely stumbling blocks for the children and so on. If you made a brief sketch on A4 of what you thought the unit was about (i.e. a scheme of work did not exist) this discussion helps to clarify your thinking about the unit.
  5. As you talk, make a note about each lesson – I find the most useful headings for my notes are: Lesson number, Lesson objectives, Lesson activities (inc time), Differentiation, Notes. If a scheme of work already existed making my own notes onto it help me to gain a little mastery of someone else’s explanation
  6. By the end of the meeting you’ve got a scheme of work and – through discussion – have helped yourself to make sense of someone else’s sense. What’s more, you might just find you’ve helped the author realise a few tweaks might be needed – bonus!
  7. Finally before you end the meeting review the student’s work together. Ask the author to explain the strengths of each piece (annotate them) and to explain why they gave each piece a particular mark. This gives you some models to work towards. Crucially, if you can’t see how the student created any parts of their work using the lessons you’ve discussed, now’s your chance to ask the author how. What you’re essentially trying to see is whether the ingredients (the lessons) lead to the product before you (the history ‘cake’!)

I hope this helps make your ‘not reinventing the wheel’ a little easier too.

PS. If you’re trying to use a textbook activity and it doesn’t seem to make sense it is ok to tweet the author! If you get no reply try tweeting using the hashtag #historyteacher and you might just find a fellow teacher who’s been there and can make some suggestions. Or try out the forum on Schoolhistory. Either way don’t leave it til the night before the lessons are due – give yourself and the people you’re asking some lead time.

Esther

Letters to a New History Teacher …

… is a series of blogs by Esther Arnott as she experiences “NQT2″ – a return to teaching after a year being a new mum. Her return has given her similar feelings to those she had as an NQT, but this time around she has a bit of experience to share with herself and you, so these blogs are offered in the hope they support those of you setting out on your own new history teaching journeys – whether as NQTs or trainees on PGCE courses or other schemes. The blog will run through the year as ideas – and reality – strike Esther (and as motherhood allows!). She’d love to hear from you if you have particular questions, issues or features you’d like addressed.

 

About Esther

Esther qualified to teach in 2005 and took up a post at Lampton School in west London. She became head of department in 2008 – and this was swiftly followed by an Ofsted subject visit where she and her team achieved Outstanding in all categories. She works with a wide number of beginner teacher groups – including Roehampton University and Teach First – and she set up the London History Network to help share good practice. She became an SHP Fellow in 2009. When her school became one of the first Teaching Schools she applied to be a Specialist Leader of Education for history and has since worked with London schools to support heads of department and other middle leaders to achieve excellence. In 2012 she was promoted to leadership with responsibility for Literacy – and of course still teaching history! In 2013 she had baby Samuel, taking a year out …to now return as NQT 2!!

Last week I began my top tips for myself on things to remember as I start my NQT2 (here).

I talked about learning to ride the wave instead of controlling it, remembering that the children we teach are all someone’s child and so to love them, and about trying to plan lessons as a sequence rather than be a one-hit wonder circus performer. Here are my final four tips to myself.

Teach them how to talk and write

As history lovers, it’s rather easy to get caught up in the wonder of the past, telling stories like raconteurs and pouring forth our own opinions when asked. In hindsight I sometimes expected the magic of the past to be enough to engage children’s minds so as to to produce great writing. But I now know a child’s interest is not enough for great communication. In my 2nd NQT my advice to myself is to give children lots of opportunities to try talking and writing about the past. I will use word mats, thesauruses, examples of historians’ work, narratives from documentaries, film blurbs, historical fiction, other students’ essays – the list is endless – to model and unpack great historical communication. I will train them in how to craft essays and academic writing, but won’t let this be the only way I ask children to express themselves. Crucially, talking must come first. If the children can’t say it, it means they can’t think it, and so they won’t be able to write it. So planning for as much (structured / supported) talk as possible is going to be one of my top pieces of advice for my forthcoming year.

Work out a way to mark the books – religiously 

This is going to be my hardest challenge in my 2nd NQT. I hold my hand up now and admit I have never ever managed to crack marking in my first NQT. But I am going to give it a darn good try this time round. Not just because the children deserve my feedback. But also because it is the only way I know whether they understand what we are doing (see point below about history being hard!). If I don’t know what they don’t understand, how can I ever close the gap? Similarly, if they don’t know they don’t understand, how can they ever know how to get better? Two way feedback – literally a conversation about what is going well and what needs work – is the only way your children will improve. So this is my mission this year and every year onwards. My plan is to devise a marking timetable and to stick to it, religiously.

History is hard and doesn’t make sense – you’re trying to understand people after all!

My advice to myself here is to remember that asking a child to make sense of, and then convey in writing, the whys and wherefores of people totally alien to themselves in time and age (school history is usually about the actions of adults), is like trying to understand a foreign culture and explain that foreign place in a totally alien language too. I’m stealing other people’s phrases here, but I need to remind myself how alien and unnatural history is to children. So when I mark a piece of work or hear a comment that makes little sense, I shouldn’t feel like a failure. Instead I need to work out the main problem. Is the child misunderstanding the content, the concept or is it a communication issue, and what can we do about it? So actually my advice is to read or listen carefully and take time to respond. If it helps, work with your mentor to discuss common problems and what can be done to tackle them. For my GCSE students I have a common errors sheet with solutions for each one. It may seem crude but I will remember to use it as a starting point for making this past business a bit less crazy!

Team work

I started my first NQT with the mission to be Outstanding ASAP. As I return this September I now know that I can only be a great teacher with the help, support and wisdom of those around me. So I won’t be reinventing the wheel, jazzing up a resource just because it doesn’t look right, trying to cope alone with a child’s behaviour, or seeking to solve how to teach interpretations all by myself. If you are starting your NQT I can guarantee someone somewhere in your school can help you, and if you don’t have any help in history, get online to the many websites and Twitter users that offer history support (like SHP of course!). In particular online forums and communities like SHP offer amazing resources and teaching ideas, so reinventing the wheel really isn’t necessary, and you’ll see that you and your students are not alone in finding particular things difficult when teaching and learning history. Without a doubt aim for the stars with your students, but remember to rely on your team or colleagues or online communities especially on the days where your invincibility cloak doesn’t seem to work.

I wish myself and you good luck. See you soon!

Esther

Letters to a New History Teacher …

… is a series of blogs by Esther Arnott as she experiences “NQT2″ – a return to teaching after a year being a new mum. Her return has given her similar feelings to those she had as an NQT, but this time around she has a bit of experience to share with herself and you, so these blogs are offered in the hope they support those of you setting out on your own new history teaching journeys – whether as NQTs or trainees on PGCE courses or other schemes. The blog will run through the year as ideas – and reality – strike Esther (and as motherhood allows!). She’d love to hear from you if you have particular questions, issues or features you’d like addressed.

 

About Esther

Esther qualified to teach in 2005 and took up a post at Lampton School in west London. She became head of department in 2008 – and this was swiftly followed by an Ofsted subject visit where she and her team achieved Outstanding in all categories. She works with a wide number of beginner teacher groups – including Roehampton University and Teach First – and she set up the London History Network to help share good practice. She became an SHP Fellow in 2009. When her school became one of the first Teaching Schools she applied to be a Specialist Leader of Education for history and has since worked with London schools to support heads of department and other middle leaders to achieve excellence. In 2012 she was promoted to leadership with responsibility for Literacy – and of course still teaching history! In 2013 she had baby Samuel, taking a year out …to now return as NQT 2!!

New History Teacher - words that conjure up so much hope and yet which flash like red warning lights ‘danger, danger’ – not allayed by those who have been through it, who look at us knowingly and let us know without saying too much that it will probably be the hardest year of our professional lives. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.

I’d also be lying if I led you to believe this is my first time. I completed my PGCE in July 2005, and took up my NQT post that same month in a London school. But today, 2014, I’m returning to work after one year’s leave (motherhood called) and am surprised to find I am filled with the NQT-style feelings I had in 2005. So I decided I needed a good talking to. Having been through NQT already, what should I tell myself as I prepare to return this September? Perhaps in doing so I can share with you some thoughts that might serve to help?

Learn to ride the wave, not control it 

On my return this September I am going to remember that trying to magically fill up 32 children’s brains just won’t happen – I don’t have Moses-like abilities to control the seas, and my teaching just isn’t that magical (as much as I’d like it to be). As a result, I have to start with the students and where they are – (1) what do they know, understand and do already? and (2) where do I want them to end up? And thus (3) what’s the learning journey I need to plan for? Too often in my NQT I started with what I wanted them to know instead of first asking where they were. As a result, the gap was just too wide and few crossed it – leaving me feeling like a failure. If only I had stopped to ask these 3 key questions (riding the wave and harnessing its power) rather than just believing that through the sheer might of my teaching ability (to control the wave) they’d be ok, there would have been fewer hellish lessons for me and – importantly – them.

They are all someone’s child

This is only something that has come to me since becoming a mum 10 months ago. Before this time I might have put it as ‘everyone is an individual’ but that seems too impersonal, too jargony. But now as a mum the advice I give myself for my 2nd NQT is to love the children in my care (and yes I am using that word!). Remember that they are children – young, needy, impressionable, frustrating at times, but deserving of your care, attention and love. I can’t begin to explain how much blood, sweat and tears has gone into the first 10 months of my son’s life just trying to get it right, and to make sure he is happy and grows up happy. And this is going to continue for years – well past 18! So I will remind myself in the deepest darkest days of the year ahead that I am teaching a class full of someone’s child; I implore you to do the same. Just because they are 11, or 15 or 18, we shouldn’t expect the world – by all means have high expectations, but don’t dash them when they don’t yet fulfil them! They each deserve help, guidance and a bit of TLC to boot. History is hard at the easiest of times (!) so when it all goes belly up, be patient, start again and work it through together – just as you would with anyone you care for.

Be the planning teacher, not the circus performer 

Too often I would get really fired up about a particular lesson and want to teach a cracking, explosive, exciting session like a circus performer (I won’t lie – it was often when I was being observed). Only to be followed the next time by a slightly damp squib as I’d expended all my good ideas last week. But, actually, had I spent a little time at the front end planning out what I was teaching as a series of lessons, I would have been able to give the children a much better diet – with lots of excitement as well. By planning the knowledge, skills and concepts that you want the children to know, understand and do by the end of the enquiry (even if it’s only 3 lessons long), you can then reverse engineer lesson by lesson (including homework), breaking down what needs to be covered, layering each week toward the final crescendo. That way you don’t need to do knowledge, skills and concepts every lesson but rather you can carefully plan for what needs to be done and when, leading to the final destination. Furthermore by planning in this way it enables you to see if some lessons appear rather mundane (and so what you can do to energise them), and you can identify which ones you might need the help of an experienced colleague to thresh out.

Heck I’ve taken up over a page already so I’ll leave it there for now. There are 4 more tips I have for myself (and you) so if you’re interested to read more, pop back next week.

Esther

Letters to a New History Teacher

This is the first in a series of blogs by Esther Arnott as she experiences “NQT2″ – a return to teaching after a year being a new mum. Her return has given her similar feelings to those she had as an NQT, but this time around she has a bit of experience to share with herself and you, so these blogs are offered in the hope they support those of you setting out on your own new history teaching journeys – whether as NQTs or trainees on PGCE courses or other schemes. The blog will run through the year as ideas – and reality – strike Esther (and as motherhood allows!). She’d love to hear from you if you have particular questions, issues or features you’d like addressed.

 

About Esther

Esther qualified to teach in 2005 and took up a post at Lampton School in west London. She became head of department in 2008 – and this was swiftly followed by an Ofsted subject visit where she and her team achieved Outstanding in all categories. She works with a wide number of beginner teacher groups – including Roehampton University and Teach First – and she set up the London History Network to help share good practice. She became an SHP Fellow in 2009. When her school became one of the first Teaching Schools she applied to be a Specialist Leader of Education for history and has since worked with London schools to support heads of department and other middle leaders to achieve excellence. In 2012 she was promoted to leadership with responsibility for Literacy – and of course still teaching history! In 2013 she had baby Samuel, taking a year out …to now return as NQT 2!!

 

In case you missed it, here’s a list of all the material that we’ve added to the site for Secondary since February 2014.

07.08.14 Principally intended for conference delegates Polishing and protecting the curriculum jewel of interpretations

28.07.14 Principally intended for workshop delegates From Better Literacy to Better History

17.06.14 Planning for 2014 NC

15.05.14 Getting Started with The Crusades

16.02.14 Teaching the Industrial Revolution:What kinds of stories should we tell about it?

In case you missed it, here’s a list of all the material that we’ve added to the site for Primary and the date it was added.

28.08.14 Introducing the Chronology of Prehistory

06.08.14 Stone Age to Romans: A Guide to (Pre)History

16.04.14 Sutton Hoo Discussion

15.04.14 How Children Lived 100 years ago

07.04.14 Dr. Maddison (HMI): Primary Conference Plenary

15.03.14 Why is historical enquiry so important?

15.03.14 Do you remember when we did an enquiry?

15.03.14 Enquiry at historical sites and museums

15.03.14 Sutton Hoo Enquiry

08.03.14 Chronology Pairs

07.03.14 Chronology Counts

01.03.14 The Big Human Timeline

23.02.14 Chronological Understanding: A Brief Intro

21.02.14 The Role of Women in WW1

09.02.14 WW1: How the War Began

20.01.14 Cross Curricular Activities for WW1

06.01.14 Poppy Day: Remembrance

29.12.13 Organising Historical Enquiry

28.12.13 Captain Noel Chavasse: WW1 Hero

27.12.13 World War 1: A Whole School Approach

04.12.13 Changes to the subject content in the 2014 NC

01.12.13 Sally’s Special History Lesson

01.12.13 Historical Questions to ask – Pictures & Artefacts

01.12.13 Our Locality and WW2

01.12.13 Planning for the 2014 National Curriculum

Plans are in hand for reorganising and redesigning the whole of the website during the next year. Meanwhile …

1. The Primary Hub has already been reorganised to make its structure clearer to visitors. The discussions and resources can now be found via one of two boxes – General Guidance and Subject Content here …

In the next couple of weeks we’ll be changing the layout of the Home Page and the News Hub but we’ve also been doing useful things which we hope will contribute to your teaching!

Here are the summer’s additions:

2. A new item for KS2 teachers on developing understanding of the chronology of prehistory here …

3. July Conference resources – material from Christine Counsell and Dale Banham is now on the site – see Christine here … and Dale here …

4. And read the first of a series of blogs aimed at supporting those new to history teaching – ‘Letters to a New History Teacher’ written by Esther Arnott here…

Ian

Jun 172014

If your history department is planning for the 2014 National Curriculum now that exams have finished, see this guidance from Jamie Byrom.

See it [ here ]

Michael

Apr 262014

At the start of the school Easter holiday, the Department for Education finally published guidance on subject content for the new GCSEs [here...]. Ofqual also announced details of the assessment objectives for different GCSE subjects [here...]. These two documents will determine the nature of new GCSE courses from September 2016. As far as history is concerned, they will lead to the most radical shake-up of the 14-16 curriculum since the introduction of the Schools Council History Project course in the 1970s. An overhaul of GCSE history is long overdue. The Schools History Project has argued that Modern World specifications offer a restricted historical experience for 14-16 year-olds. At the same time, we have been dismayed by the way in which current SHP specifications only partially reflect the principles on which the Project is based. Our students deserve a more rigorous and enjoyable experience of learning history than the current GCSE Modern World and SHP specifications allow. We believe that the guidance on subject content and assessment objectives for the new GCSE history provide a robust framework for the transformation of students’ experience beyond 14.

At the heart of the new guidance are worthwhile subject aims and learning outcomes that accurately define the discipline of history and explain why studying our subject should matters so much to14-16 year-olds. As an elucidation of SHP’s first principle – that studying history should have a profound impact on the lives of young people – the new aims and learning outcomes for GCSE history would be hard to beat. The scope of study statement requires that new specifications should build on the foundations established at key stage 3. It provides an entitlement to study history from three different eras, on three different time scales and in three different geographical contexts. This offers a strong basis for the prescribed diversity in 14-16 history that SHP believes can lead to a more rigorous and engaging history GCSE. New GCSE courses will be structured around British and European/Wider World depth studies, a period study, a thematic study and a study of a particular site in its historical context. This structure offers an excellent way forward. Potentially, a varied and coherent five-part GCSE course that enshrines different approaches to studying history has much to offer 14-16 year-olds.

Turning the guidance on subject content and assessment objectives into engaging and rigorous specifications should be both rewarding and challenging. Let’s not hide away from the fact that the introduction of new GCSEs in history will mean considerable upheaval and much hard work by both Awarding Bodies and history teachers. Hopefully, some worthwhile elements of current specifications (whether Modern World or SHP) will re-emerge in new forms. However, now is the time for some radical and creative thinking from the Awarding Bodies about new definitions of content and approaches to assessment. Only through a willingness to engage with, and take forward, best practice at key stage 3 will GCSE history be set on a new and more sustainable course in the years following 2016. From the perspective of the Schools History Project, there are five particular challenges and opportunities that Awarding Bodies will need to confront as they prepare new GCSE history specifications:

  1. Establishing clear and rigorous criteria for knowledge selection. The guidance on subject content provides a sound framework for approaching historical knowledge, but important choices will have to be made about the focus of thematic, depth and period studies. It’s crucial that new GCSE courses offer meaningful and academically-rigorous history that will appeal to 14-16 year-olds. It’s also crucial that the creative thinking on blending outline and depth knowledge that has characterised so much innovative practice in key stage 3 planning is now taken forward into new GCSE specifications.
  2. Developing new approaches to assessment. Officially, Ofqual has still to make an announcement on non-examination assessment in individual subjects, but it seems highly likely that the new GCSE history will be assessed entirely through terminal exams. This is regrettable, but it makes the case for developing new and innovative forms of assessment even stronger. Of course, there is much good practice (including levels of response mark-schemes) that that can be carried forward from existing GCSEs, but there is also dire practice that it’s time to ditch. We now have the opportunity to develop new approaches to assessment that will make history exams challenging, meaningful and accessible for all GCSE students.
  3. Making source-work meaningful. We all know that historical sources are wonderful things: archives treasure them; historians salivate over them; thanks to the internet, we can all enjoy them. Analysing, evaluating and using historical sources to pursue historical enquiries should be a fascinating and enjoyable process for GCSE students. Yet, ask students what they dislike most about GCSE history and many will say source-work! The new GCSE specifications should put historical sources in their proper place. Banal and formulaic questions based on ill-chosen source-snippets must be banished. New ways of assessing our students’ use of sources must be developed.
  4. Taking forward historical interpretations. Understanding how and why different interpretations of history have been constructed is enshrined in the new guidance on subject content and is accorded 15% in the new assessment objectives. Since it first achieved formal curricular presence in the National Curriculum of 1991‘Interpretations’ has become the most treasured element of our history curriculum. The challenge is now to take forward into GCSE some of the inspiring work on historical interpretations that has emerged at key stage 3.
  5.  Assessing students’ understanding of the historic environment.  Generating an interest in, and knowledge of, the historic environment has been a core principle of the Schools History Project since its inception. We are therefore delighted that all new GCSE specifications will require students to study a particular site in its historical context. This should be an engaging and motivating element of new courses. Our challenge now is to devise methods of assessment that promote enjoyable and meaningful studies of particular historic sites.

It’s crucial to meet these challenges and to grasp this opportunity to improve the experience of leaning history for the next generation of 14-16 students. For SHP, the priority is now to work with Awarding Organisations in developing new GCSE specifications and to provide the resources and professional development that will help to promote more enjoyable and rigorous learning from September 2016. Over the next two years, the Project will be dedicated to creating GCSE history courses that our young people deserve.

Michael Riley

Director, Schools History Project

A former colleague told me on hearing I was pregnant with my first son, that being a parent doesn’t make you a better teacher but makes you a more understanding one. Sixteen years later I continue to echo his thoughts and as my children advance towards public examinations, nevermore have I been more appreciative of the challenges our young people face. Faced with the prospect of 26 examinations this summer that same son has finally succumbed to the fact that his mother might be able to help him with revision.

In my current role as deputy head teacher of a large comprehensive in Norwich it can at times be easy to get diverted away from the very purpose of a teacher’s role in supporting student need. With an aim to keep myself grounded and remember that I am first and foremost a teacher, I ensure I teach history and mentor students in order to support them through this challenging time. Mentoring year 11, 12 and 13 students has revealed to me at common gap in their ability to work and revise independently; this is their ability to plan an effective schedule of revision and then know what revision actually means in its broadest terms. I try to address this whole school by leading student and parent/carer assemblies in methodology of revision. Much of my thinking and the ideas I present to both students and their parents is based upon SHP models. This blog therefore seems the most appropriate vehicle to share this thinking with you at a time when all students, including two of my sons, need to be thinking about the demands of revision.

Stage one – Plan it!
Medium-term planning is for me one of the most intrinsically interesting aspects of my job. SHP conferences taught me at a very early stage in my career to follow a backwards planning model. As SHP devotees reading this blog you will be clear on what that means in terms of thinking of your endpoint and then working backwards from that point as to how you hope to achieve it. This principle can be applied to any form of planning and becomes particularly pertinent when considering a revision schedule; map the exams on the timeline and work backwards from this point as to how many sessions of revision these particular areas will demand. Students repeatedly quote that history and science are the most demanding of their revision subjects and building a macro and micro knowledge of the history units examined at GCSE requires resilience but most of all allocation of time. The timetable should be flexible but not lenient and allow for some downtime in an incredibly stressful period of the young person’s life.

Stage two – Learn it!
Yet again, SHP conference and text books spring to mind with the many different learning styles demonstrated by some of the best teachers in the country. Pick up any of the SHP GCSE textbooks and you will find a wide range of learning approaches including that of mind mapping, factor diagrams, keywords, timelines, practice questions and more active approaches to learning all of which make fantastic methods the revision. Follow the links to Dale Banham and Russell Hall’s excellent work on raising attainment at GCSE and A’ level for further research and ideas on methodology and strategies to promote independence and motivation.

Banham and Hall: 1

Banham and Hall: 2

 Stage three – Test it!

In the classroom many teachers will differentiate essential knowledge from desirable knowledge when supporting their students in revision. Do your students know the difference that they know what is absolutely necessary to learn inside out in order to achieve the very best they can on that paper and what is the extra knowledge that  will cloud some students them rather than support them in their learning? As a parent I can make use of my son’s stage two revision techniques when testing him on the knowledge that he requires; a less supported student can find this difficult and will need some help in achieving this. At school we allocate peer mentors to students in order to support them through these ‘testing’ times when they don’t have the adult support at home. Again SHP textbooks and resources help with this, by demonstrating model examination answers so that students can use their own approaches and then check them against the exemplar answers; both the surgery and protest unit three books do this particularly well.

Stage four – Reflect upon it!
This stage is really tough and demands a huge level of maturity from any student, though I have found that year 12 and 13 students become increasingly adept at it during the journey through their A-levels. Self, peer and teacher marking can allow students to see where their weaknesses are thus allowing the student to return to stage one to work on their identified gaps. This is often the weakest link in effective revision as it requires honesty and a high level of resilience to return to the beginning. Sixth form students often fall fowl here as they have managed to do stages one to three effectively at GCSE but do not recognise that stage four is the deal-breaker when it comes to that desired A-level grade.

So will my son listen to this SHP disciple/ teacher/parent advice? Well, he has got the mock exam timetable on the wall, there are mind maps littered all over the dining room table, I even did some GCSE food tech testing with him yesterday but he has just announced is going out to play football and is unlikely to back until teatime with a promise that he will make up the time tomorrow! I need to remember my own words ‘…flexible but not lenient and allow for some downtime’ and that I am after all his mum.

Please share your history revision strategies and ideas below.

Jo Philpott
SHP Fellow
Deputy Headteacher City of Norwich School

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