Pointless or Powerful? Should we bother creating teaching and learning policies in secondary, and what should they do?
This is just a short blog on the back of discussions I had yesterday evening about Teaching and Learning policies in secondary schools. I posted out some extracts from T&L policies from a couple of different schools, which (in my view): manage to place students at the heart of the teaching experience; set out broad principles for why teaching is important; promote wider aspects of good teaching; and are not overly prescriptive in terms of pedagogy.
The reaction to this post was very interesting. On the one hand, the examples got a handful of "likes" but there was quite a lot of criticism too:
This weekend, the West London Free School organised a history teachers’ conference which looked at the importance of knowledge in the curriculum. Although I was unable to attend, I followed the debates and keynotes closely on Twitter. One of the central ideas which came out of the conference was the importance of substantive knowledge and the potential role of the textbook in acting as a backbone (and even progression model) for a knowledge-rich curriculum. (*)
Textbook publishers have not been slow to catch onto this idea that the textbook might be making a return to the classroom and have started putting out flyers for books (old and new) described as being “knowledge rich” or “content driven”. In addition to this, these books are often sold as promoting the development of long-term memory, hooking into the other significant trend of neuro-science-driven pedagogy. (**)
One of the most important jobs any head of department does is selecting the resources for the department, especially when these may act as the progression model. I have therefore written this series of blogs as a way for departments to think critically about this decision making process and have tried to produce a list of key questions I used to ask when purchasing resources as as head of department. Hopefully this will act as a useful guide for other history departments.
To illustrate my selection methods, I am going to apply my criteria to the newly released ‘Knowing History’ series from Collins. The main reason I want to focus on these books is that they seem to be generating a lot of buzz (in the Carr sense?) in the history community at the moment; especially as a possible solution to teaching a knowledge-rich history curriculum. Another reason for my focus on the series is that the publishers have targeted them at a wide audience with a very competitive price £7.99 (take note other publishers). As many schools are likely to get these on a deal, a school could kit out a whole year group for say £1000. It is therefore plausible that these might end up being widely bought, especially in schools where there is concern to meet the new demands of subject knowledge but where subject specialists are few and far between (a really big issue still!). Finally, the author, Robert Peal has been very vocal in damning other textbooks and recommending his own, so I feel that his series makes a good test case for my selection criteria. (***) In essence, I am asking whether or not Peal’s books meet my criteria for teaching a knowledge-rich and disciplinary rigorous curriculum.
The following is a list of the key topics and questions I intend to cover in each blog. These will be updated and linked as I write them. EDIT: I would like to note that not all textbooks will hit all of these criteria perfectly (in fact I doubt many will - my own certainly doesn't) and that every textbook will have its shortcomings. However, using criteria such as these might allow departments to make more informed choices about which sacrifices they want to make.
(*) Proponents of knowledge-heavy curricula have often cited the idea of the textbook as the key to driving such a change – see for example Oates’ review of textbooks or Christodoulou’s work on AfL. I tend to be in agreement with the idea that the textbook can act as a progression model, but this needs careful writing.
(**) I am certainly not challenging the importance of understanding neuro-scientific research in education. Indeed, my Leeds Trinity students will be able to tell you that we have focused heavily on research by Howards-Jones, Willingham, Dweck, Brown, Roediger and the like in our first few weeks of ITT.
(***) I would like to clarify before I begin, that I have just written my first textbook and understand how difficult and time consuming a process this is. I also know how publishers can put demands on textbooks which run counter to an author’s intentions. In this case however, I imagine that Peal has probably had a large hand in determining the editorial direction. Collins advertises the series with the strapline: “Encourage a thirst for knowledge in your KS3 History students with high-quality, content-rich lessons that lay the groundwork for the new History GCSE” and endorsements such as “Knowing History has been designed to build historical thinking from the bottom-up and it does this with supreme confidence, taking the number one spot on my winner’s podium of history resources with ease.” As such, I think testing these claims is a worthwhile enterprise as part of my wider blog on resource selection. It should also be noted that Peal himself has never been backward in his critiques so I hope he takes this in the spirit it is intended, namely encouraging robust scrutiny of resources.
In my last blog, I spent some time explaining why I think we still have a long way to go in teaching students how to engage fully with historical interpretations, and not simply dismissing views on the grounds of an historian’s motive. Today I want to deal with a second key aspect of helping children to become better critical readers both in history, and more broadly, namely historical truth.
Putting truth back into history
I fear we spend too little time talking about historical truth in schools. This is because the idea of historical truth has become immensely unpopular. Post-modernists like Jenkins have argued that history has no objective truth, and that to pretend otherwise is a dangerous fallacy. Indeed, Jenkins (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2009) suggests that all history writing is a battle for different groups to construct their own histories in their own self-interest. Taking this to its extreme, he even made the case for the removal of the study of history altogether (Jenkins, 1999, 2009). To my mind, this rejection of the possibility of historical truth is a dangerous stance to take, now more than ever, and one which prevents our students from being properly critical of different truth-claims.
Just a short blog to thank all of you who attended my session at TFSI yesterday. As promised I am uploading the session resources here for you to download. Please do have a browse around the rest of the site whilst you are here. There are lots of links to blogs on progress, progression, second-order concepts and substantive knowledge in the blog bar on the right.
Blog posts which may be of particular interest:
Just a short post to say thanks to everyone who came and contributed to my HA session on the Making of America today. It was great to talk to so many enthusiastic historians.
You will be able to find relevant blog posts for C19th America by clicking on "GCSE/A Level Topics" above and following the LINK to "America 1789-1900". The blog posts are indexed and contain some interesting bits I have found whilst reading around the topic.
I will also be uploading a range of teaching resources which you can find by clicking on the "NEW UNIT" resources on the right hand side of the page. These will be updated as I add new things. I have also added a CPD folder in which I will put today's PowerPoint. My old American West A Level resources are also available here for download.
If you do trial any of the materials; make useful modifications; or want to share your own resources, please do get in touch via the contact form and I will make them available on the blog and in the file store.
Finally, here are some links to recommended books. Many of these are available as audiobooks so you could even get a copy with a free Audible trial and listen to them on your commute:
Or to give this it’s fuller title: “Shackled to a corpse by hands and feet, tied to a 50 tonne block made of GCSE specifications, in a sea of indifference, blinded by the sea-spray of accountability, with a guy sat in a boat asking why we are not swimming better: Why can’t we make progress in our understanding of progression?” To be honest, if you want the short version and have a bit of imagination, you can stop reading right there.
I will warn you now, this is a long post. But then again, progression is a complex subject…or rather it is a subject which has been made complex. Please bear with me though, because I think this is fundamental!
If you have not yet read my “primers” on progression, you may wish to do so now.
If you are already familiar with the two aspects above then please feel free to read on...
Over the last week or so I have been marking PGCE trainees’ assessments on planning for progression in history. As I have done this, I have found myself returning to a common theme in my comments; namely that trainees first need to consider WHAT they want pupils to get better at before they start considering HOW they want to achieve this. Where trainees did focus on the substance of history, there was either too much generic focus on the development of historical “skills” and processes (and issue which I will deal with later), or too much time spent on discussing knowledge acquisition and aggregation with little sense of how this contributed to overall historical progression. Knowledge acquisition certainly is a type of progress, but I would argue is insufficient to count for all progression in history. In essence, trainees have found themselves wrestling with history’s twin goals of developing pupils’ knowledge as well as their second-order modes of thinking. Too often they fell down the gap in between.
Interestingly, these confusions were much less evident in work produced by maths trainees. This may be because the maths curriculum specifies a series of substantive concepts for students to master. For example, in understanding algebra, students are asked to “simplify and manipulate algebraic expressions”, to “model situations or procedures by translating them into algebraic expressions”, or “use algebraic methods to solve linear equations in 1 variable” (DfE, 2013, p. 6). As such, maths teachers can help pupils progress to more powerful ideas about maths through a clear content focus. Maths does still have its unifying second-order concepts, “select and use appropriate calculation strategies to solve increasingly complex problems” for example (DfE, 2013, p. 4), but progression in these is can be tied to precise curriculum content. To be fair, this does also come unstuck, as pupils failed to use their second-order ability to apply maths in context in the “Hannah’s Sweets” controversy last year!
A very real confusion
In many ways, the confusion about progression is at the heart of history teaching more generally. Indeed, the recent book "New Directions in Assessing Historical Thinking" (Ercikan & Seixas, 2015) suggests that there are vastly different approaches to understanding historical progression both internationally and within countries and states. This is certainly true of history education in England. There are many reasons for this:
This is a primer post which goes with my upcoming blog on progression in history. You can find the main post HERE. You can also find my other primer post, in which I attempted to do a demolition job on the idea of linear progression models HERE.
Linear progression models are riddled with problems. In this post, I want to focus on one response to the confusions created them: research-based progression models. Let me be clear from the outset, research-based models of progression were not designed as a replacement for National Curriculum levels, rather to address their myriad shortcomings and help teachers to really get to grips with what progression in history looks like.
The best thing to do to understand research-based models of progression is to read Lee and Shemilt’s seminal article in Teaching History 113, “A scaffold not a cage”. Research based models differ from linear models because they take students’ work and understanding as a starting point to describe what improvement in history actually looks like. In the above article, Lee and Shemilt offer some descriptions of what pupils’ thinking about historical evidence looks like. They then divide this into “stages” of development. The upper four stages of their model are given here.
This blog is a primer for my upcoming post on thinking about progression in history. You can find the main post HERE.
Linear progression models have dominated the way we talk about progression in history for many years now. Once upon a time, they were an odd perversion created by the mis-use of National Curriculum levels, but now they are absolutely everywhere, infiltrating everything from A Level to GCSE.
Linear progression models attempt to create a series of steps which pupils must climb in order to improve at a subject. In maths for example, pupils might begin to understand the concept of angles and their relationships to straight lines by looking at how angles on a straight line add up to 360 degrees, then moving on to deal with angles on parallel lines, and so on. In maths this has the potential to work because there are clear steps for pupils to take to improve in their knowledge of angles and lines.
In history the situation is quite different. Linear progression models, such as those used by many schools up until the abolition of the National Curriculum level descriptors, were generally based on the idea that students could improve through a focus on their second-order understanding, rather than knowledge; that is to say, the ways in which we understand history, for example through our understanding of significance, cause, or change. See the example below:
So buried in amongst the tax tweaks, smoke and mirrors of today's budget announcement is a major statement from the government about the future of education in England. George Osbourne (yes the Chancellor, not the Secretary of State for Education) has announced that all schools will need to have left Local Authority control and have become academies between 2020 and 2022. There are many reasons to be wary of such a change, but I really want to focus in on one of those here: the loss of the National Curriculum.
As academies have the freedom to set their own currciulum and are not bound by the nationally agreed document, the movement of all schools to become academies means an end to over two decades of government-set curriculum. "Good!" you may cry. But actually I am not sure it is all that good. Like it or not, the National Curriculum has done an awful lot of good to British education, as well as the more widely publicised negative impacts. The reason it does some good is mainly down to the fact that it balances out other pressures which the government puts on educations, notably the drive to produce ever improving exam results (but not have more people passing).
You may remember that between 2010 and 2014 there was an enourmous fuss made as Michael Gove and the education people (or otherise - you decide) in Whitehall attempted to re-work and re-write the various statutory frameworks for study. History of course was famously controversial, with a list of content which initial looked like it had been dreamed up by a drunken Nigel Farage on a bender at the Premier Inn with David Starkey and Nial Ferguson. Yet the thing which was always striking about these reforms, was that the academies Gove created did not have to follow this curriculum at all. Why then go to all that trouble if some schools could just ignore the results? Indeed, some schools who became academies were also some of the worst for teaching a narrow, C20th heavy history curriculum. With academy status they had no need to change. Indeed, they were even permitted to continue using National Curriculum Levels if they so chose (and many did!). But at the moment, this is intertia, already there are some major and worrying changes to the curriculua of academies which are setting a potential future trend for English education. The National Curriculum was far from perfect, but it did (and currently does) enshrines a number of principles which may risk being lost if academies continue to be allowed to plough their own curricular furrows. For the purposes of brevity I just want to deal with two of these.
By now many of you will be considering what you will be teaching for the new GCSE units, which are launching in September 2016. The less fortunate of you may even be teaching them already, despite the fact the specification documents are still in draft; but that is an issue for another day. One thing you will certainly have noticed if you have begun the process of choosing already, is that there are now an extra two units for students to cover in their two (or three!!) years. To recap, students now have to study:
One of the most important tasks for history departments over the next few months will be narrowing down and choosing which specification best fits your students, expertise, interests and (sadly) resources (again, I might make this a future blog). Once you have decided on a suitable route, you can then think about mapping out how you will cover each of the units in the 10-12 weeks allocated by the new specification materials. This is also a good way to test specifications as some certainly have an awful lot of content to cover! I have already written about the process of unit planning for the new A Level HERE and HERE, highlighting the importance of excellent subject knowledge in planning meaningful units. I will not repeat that, but if you are considering issues of planning for GCSE then these posts would be a good starting point.
The one worry I hear a lot with the revised GCSE, is that it demands a lot of content knowledge and may be inaccessible for weaker students. I therefore want to spend the rest of this post exploring these claims and considering how we might respond as history teachers who want every child to be able to access and enjoy really great history.
Well that all sounds very meta!! Today's post is really a bit of a follow up to my post from the other day about how knowledge can help you structure a good A Level course. I had quite a long email discussion on the back of that post, in which it was suggested that some people might read "knowledge" as "events". Today I want therefore to outline what I mean when I am talking about using knowledge and how reading historians might help.
What do we Mean by Knowledge?
This is actually a very contentious issue, so I am going to rephrase it... "What do I mean by knowledge". This is my brief definition of what I am talking about:
My main focus when planning is to lay the foundations of the first two conceptions of knowledge so that the events make sense. This is based on an understanding of how to teach kids effectively, but also on having a really solid grasp of those concepts and that context myself. I will go into the issue of planning for progression within units in a later post.
So the real question is, how do I know what concepts and which aspects of the context to teach? This is where I come back to reading good historical overviews and depth studies. Any historian worth their salt will try to explain the important context and concepts to the reader as part of the unfolding narrative of events. As such it is the best place, in my opinion, for a history teacher to start. Robert Service for example begins his work on Russia with an exploration of the concept of autocracy and the concept of serfdom as well as an exploration of the context 1855-1881 before launching into the events of the reign of Alexander III. In essence it is this which allows the reader to make sense of events.
In terms of pupil understanding, the process is no different, however exam boards (and too often textbooks) make little allowance for how the context and concepts might be developed. Below I have tried to outline my own thinking on the concepts and context necessary for students to understand the Russia 1855-1964 course. This in effect was the invisible step which I did before beginning to plan the sequence of content to teach as outlined in my last blog. I hope by making this visible, it shows even more how the core concepts and context are the groundwork which inform how the content and events might be covered.
So today's post is not really a focus on awesome 90s dance music, but it is a follow-up to Rich Kennett's excellent blog on preparing a scheme of work for the new A Levels using enquiry questions. This is a process which I have been engaged in now for a few months. What strikes me is how much I have had to think about how I want to structure the course, even though it is largely (but not entirely) similar to our current A Level. What I have decided is that planning for developing knowledge is, as the Urban Cookie Collective would (probably) say, both the key and the secret to planning a great A Level course.
To give you some context. We currently teach AQA's AS unit on Russia 1855-1917. This feeds into an A2 on the USSR 1941-1991. Under the A Level changes we have opted to go for the new unit which covers 1855-1964 (splitting at 1917 for the purposes of AS examination). On the surface this seemed like the obvious choice and the specification document seemed to bear this out - covering areas we were already comfortable with teaching. However it didn't take too long before we started encountering issues in planning the AS portion of the unit.
This is just a very short post. I am uploading (bottom of the post) an updated version of my thoughts on assessing historical thinking. This is more of an update to previous posts than anything radically new, and I am painfully aware that I need to incorporate something of Kate Hammond's latest research on substantive knowledge. However, it does expand upon some of the ideas I have put forward in the "Setting us free?" article in this month's Teaching History. As such I thought it was worth putting on.
All comments appreciated. For context read "Setting us free?" HERE. To be frank - read the whole issue - especially Hammond!
It is now a few weeks since this year's Historical Association Conference. As ever, the whole thing was a challenging, thought provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable experience. Although I didn't get to go to quite as many sessions this year, due to presenting, those I did attend were excellent. I would just like to thank the HA for all their hard work in putting this together.
I have linked a whole range of notes from the conference here - please excuse my spelling though, I haven't actually checked these through fully yet!!
NB. A full set of all my past conference and session notes is available HERE or by clicking the folder icon below.
Please bear in mind that these are very much work in progress, but I am attaching my outline plans for two more 2014 KS3 units: the Reformation and the French Revolution. Any comments would be appreciated. I have also added a new 2014 KS3 files section to the top bar so you can get resources easily.
OK, so I am not even going to make the pretense of being brief here! The attached document (below) outlines my current thinking about how we might make assessment work in a whole school context. As suggested by the title, this has been something of an epic struggle and I am pretty sure I haven't got it right, however I hope that it might at least spark some discussion.
I would like to make mention again however of the excellent work being done by Michael Fordham at http://clioetcetera.wordpress.com/ on this issue which has been crucial in forming many of my ideas.
As ever, all thoughts and comments are appreciated!
So yesterday I delivered a session about progression in History in a post-levels world at the Leeds Learning Network History Conference. The most valuable part of the day for me, other than the excellent sessions, was the chance to speak to other heads of department about how their schools were approaching the issue of assessment and reporting in Key Stage 3. The major worry across the board was that we end up replacing the Levels system with something essentially identical. In the worst cases, schools seemed set on keeping Levels and not updating assessment and reporting arrangements at all. The main reason for this seems to come down to the age old issue (or is that actually a recent issue) of accountability.
This got me to thinking. Is there any point in replacing our progression systems if we end up keeping a debunked system of assessment and reporting? Now I completely accept that schools are (in our current culture) going to have to show evidence of pupil progress, as it forms a major part of the Ofsted framework. However, I think there may be some ways we can make something which both satisfies the need for data reporting and allows us to develop and use our meaningful models of progression which we have been crafting over the last few months. Once again, I would like to thank Helen Snelson at the Mount and Michael Fordham at Cambridge for their inspiration on these issues! What is crucial for me, as for many others, is that we don't let our progression revolution die a death at the hands of data systems wedded to an outmoded way of thinking.
So we have spent quite a long time over the last nine months considering how we might develop a system of progression and assessment suitable for a post levels world. We have made many revisions along the way, however I think we now have something which we are reasonably happy with. To give a brief outline we:
So we have begun planning our next steps for the new Key Stage 3 curriculum. For the most part, the last few weeks have been spent hammering out what exactly we want to cover in Year 7-9 and fleshing out how Year 7 might be assessed in particular.
I have had a number of interesting discussions about assessment with people on the back of the last blog, and have continued to refine ideas about how we assess in history. For some more thoughts on this issue from a much more reputable source, you might like to read Michael Fordham's excellent blog posts on
The document attached here just gives a brief outline of the assessment scheme we are putting in place and a little more detail on the units and assessment were are planning on introducing in the first wave. Some more adventurous units may come later. Importantly, we are basing each unit around a number of key enquiry questions and planning the assessments from the outset. I should note that the BWEA idea may later change to something akin to Michael's Pass, Merit, Distinction model.
I have also attached another sample unit for the Reformation which I would love to hear feedback on!
So I have spent quite a lot of time over the last 6 months planning for the new curriculum. As a department we have begun to suggest the key units we might like to cover and have begun debating which key questions we want to answer (see attachment below). This process is far from complete, but at least we have a rough outline to begin with.
Now the outlines are almost complete, the next big issue will be creating the schemes of work and assessments which form the core of our new curriculum. This is the bit where I tend to feel a bit unwell. Images of thick, inpenetrable schemes of work starting running through my head and I get tired thinking about churning out lessons after lesson for a plan that no-one will end up using.
So here is the big issue. We have very limited time to write our new schemes of work and we want to make this the best curriculum we have ever taught. So how do we best use our time? Building on Michael Fordham and Jamie Byrom's recent articles in Teaching History (Curriculum Evolution Supplement, 2013), I think there are 3 areas which will need the most attention:
1) Agreeing on a "gold standard" for History - this has largely been done through previous work here
2) Setting meaningful enquiries - a work in process but nearly there
3) Creating meaningful assessments which enable students to address the enquiry and demosntrate the gold standards of History. I am particularly keen on divorcing such assessments from any generic mark schemes - making the marking specific to each assessment.
With this in mind, I am trying to devise an appropriate planning format, which prioritises the above. I have attached a sample SoW for the Norman Conquest Y7 unit and would be interested to know what people think. The main differences between this and previous SoW I have written are:
* I have been much more rigid in defining substantive concepts to cover - I am hoping to incorporate a mixed approach to assessment which also includes regular checks of knowledge and chronology
* I have spent the majority of the time planning the assessment and mark scheme so that it is specific to the task.
* I have not stipulated indiviudal lessons, leaving this down to teachers.
I would be very interested to get any feedback on this approach. Do you think it works? Is there enough detail? Is it too open/restrictive? Are you doing something similar or do you have a different approach? Again I think this is a great time for debate and discussion. I look forward to any responses.