A couple of years ago I wrote this on Staffrm about rewriting the story.

I rewrite texts myself for particular classes. From introductions to topics to in-depth analyses of data, I rewrite in a way that is both academic but also my-student-friendly. After all, I know my students. I know what they can and can’t yet do and so need to push them at a pace that is appropriate. Textbooks so often have their own theme or even plot that gets in the way of the actual history. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.

When rewriting I follow a few simple rules.

  1. Push new terminology, explain and repeat often.
  2. Be consistent when deploying dates and names.
  3. Write maximum two A4 pages in a consistent style and format.
  4. Have a set of questions, open and closed, to ask afterwards. This sounds obvious, but it’s not to just check understanding. I also need to know if I’ve written clearly enough.

The main advantage for me is that I sometimes have to think quite hard about how to phrase my explanations. I often find that whilst I need to add something I had previously thought superfluous I can also get rid of other redundant information, especially if we’re looking at a new topic.

This is actually an extremely powerful tool for self-reflection, despite it being the production of a resource before the lesson has even happened.

I guess that it does take a bit of time, but in terms of helping me to better my explanations the time is well worth spent. 

The advantage for the students is that they get a piece of text tailored for their needs. They can keep this, glue it in and refer to it as we learn more. There are emboldened key words for their glossaries. They can annotate. Perhaps most powerfully they get to see how I might write and then analyse that, considering the tone as well as the deployment and weighting ratio of details to explanation.

Anyway, it doesn’t sound particularly exciting but it is really worthwhile.

I now do this for all of KS3 history at my school. After many tweaks and typos I’m ready to roll out the first booklets for Y7 in the summer term. Everything is linked back to the curriculum map and their knowledge organisers (which are also their homework revision). This is particularly helpful for non-specialists as not only do they have everything they need on one double-sided page, but I can ensure that all KS3, whether taught by a history specialist or not, get the same deal in terms of historical explanation.

It’s a lot of work, and I have a lot more to write for Y8, but this is such a worthwhile task. I’ve found myself questioning my own explanations, the level of challenge and the pace at which it’s introduced, and even my own historical knowledge. As I’ve found better ways to explain the past I’ve reassessed what pupils need to know, and that’s led to more detail, ‘hook’ phrases and a better understanding of how best to push the domain without going too far. The elegance is in its simplicity.

I make PowerPoint slides for non-specialists which I don’t really use aside from key images. On these are the key steps for each question, but I also place questions at the end of each piece of text. Ideally we wouldn’t need slides, but it’s helpful for others and I’m happy to oblige.