I need to be careful here, because I don’t want to get a reputation, but I quite like writing schemes of learning. I like putting together something cohesive, I like adding new historical tidbits when I learn something new, I like creating a coherent rolling homeworks with a theme and I really like that a whole year will be following the same history, even if it’s taught differently. At my previous school I came up with something that, I felt, was pretty ace: it was broad, but with chances for more in-depth studies; it had a medical theme throughout the three years; it had challenging enquiry questions, many of which were inspired by and adapted (or simply taken) from the Historical Association and the excellent blogs of Michael Fordham, Richard Kennett, Alex Ford and Harry Fletcher-Wood. The work of Christine Counsell, Richard McFahn and Michael Riley has also been incredibly useful in helping me develop these schemes.
Here’s a screenshot of an earlier version of that scheme. Not everyone mentioned above would agree with all of it and there clearly are problems: I hadn’t taught the Islamic Empire before and soon realised that not only did I need to radically alter the period studied but that the question didn’t quite fit. In Y8 units 1 and 2 merged to become an investigation into the development of first transportation and then medicine, whilst I decided to teach an American West style course in the summer despite it not fitting into the narrative at all. We also didn’t move on to Y9 Summer 2 as WWII is just too large a topic. However, I’m reasonably happy with it: it was perhaps too ambitious in terms of the sheer amount covered but each unit built on the knowledge of previous topics. There weren’t too many stand-alone lessons as each hour relied upon the previous to try to answer the overarching enquiry question. This was supposed to be storytelling. By the early part of the second year we felt that the students really were beginning to understand history more coherently. Planning term by term is just easier in terms of admin but not really how we ended up teaching it as both we and our students found more to question. We actually began to try out, with some success, cumulative testing, as outlined by Michael Fordham in Table 3 here.
The other thing we found was that the more students knew, and the more links they were making with previous topics, the more they wanted to write and the more their writing improved. We had students writing 3,000 word essays – of very good quality, much at GCSE standard at least – in Y8. And here’s the thing: they wanted to write. There’s not a much more satisfying question, to my mind, than a class asking if we’re going to have time to redraft an essay because they know so much.
This year I’ve had a new challenge. Just before the October half-term I was tasked with putting together a new SOL for our two-year KS3. There are many issues to overcome. These eight are my main concerns:
- It’s only two years. How can I stuff enough history in to the curriculum in order that it is broad and balanced but not just a massive list of events?
- Although we have a bit of time in Y9 to play around with certain concepts we also need to use the extra time effectively, especially given our new GCSEs. Thus we have to squeeze more out of KS3. How can I ensure that students have had the time and space to practise communicating history?
- Students are expected to have made their three-year progress in two. I actually think this is entirely possible for most, though the concern is that lack of breadth and/or depth. How can I give students the opportunity to improve so much faster?
- We run on a four cycle, as opposed to three term/six half-term, calendar. This is broken into assessment and ‘super teaching’ weeks. Whilst this has had an undoubtedly positive effect on student attitudes it does place an incredible burden on staff in order to quickly turn exam papers around. The data also has to be put in to the system. How can I reduce pressure on staff whilst keeping that focus for students?
- Our students are bright and really do want to know more. But they also lack self-esteem at a level I’ve not really come across before. They also have no idea how to succeed. The school is working hard to change this but it’s a very difficult task. So, how can I increase the challenge in a knowledge-rich curriculum whilst offering enough support to ensure students don’t give up?
- We assess both knowledge and skills, the latter using a skills grid. But there are no skills in history, I’d argue, and assessing via second-order concepts on a 25-point scale is likely to be both unreliable and valueless. How can I create assessments which both fit the school’s policy but also have meaning in the history classroom?
- Y8 did not study history in Y7. They essentially have one year to master the basics before picking their GCSEs. How do I give them a curriculum that is going to support their history as well as enabling them to make informed decisions at the beginning of 2016?
- Finally, there are only three history teachers. The rest of the entire of Y7 and Y8 is taught by non-specialists. With six GCSE classes plus A level I hardly teach Y8 at all. So how do I make all this accesible to non-specialists whilst ensuring the history is top-notch? And how do I avoid creating stand-alone, PPT-driven lessons? Indeed; will I be able to manage this?
Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to explain my methods and reasoning by focusing on each of the eight questions above in three posts: curriculum, assessment and resourcing. I do not expect to get this all right the first time: I expect to make mistakes; I expect to have to swallow some principles; I expect some readers to question what I’m doing and offer (hopefully constructive) criticism.
And if you do think I should be asking something else then please let me know. I might have just forgotten to write it down here or I might genuinely have not thought about it – please tell me!