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There has been lots of change facing history teachers recently.
Far too much change to my liking.
What with new A level and GCSE courses all with very new content and assessment emphases there has been no time to breathe. History teachers are working their socks off trying to create new resources and engaging lessons KS4 and KS5. They are also trying to get their heads around new assessment materials. In this two part blog I’ll explain why improving your Key Stage 3 curriculum provides a firm foundation for success at GCSE and discuss seven things you might want to consider when planning it.
On top of this many of us are busy with year 11/12/13 weekly intervention, after school revision sessions, Easter catch up, lunch time drop ins, emails home for those who haven’t and probably won’t ever attend, logging this attendance on SIMs… all of these things take up so much time. Too much time. It might please your line manager in meetings when she looks on the tracking data base, but how effective is all of this really? I wonder if anyone has evaluated the impact of these ‘interventions’?
It could be argued that if the students that need this the most do not attend or engage and ultimately do not reach their ‘target’ grade, all of this time and effort is lost. Is the effort and time put in, worth the outcome?
Perhaps we should use our valuable time differently. Maybe we should spend more time on curriculum planning and less time on interventions.
If we take a step back and look at the big picture we might realise that success at Key Stage 4 must be built on a foundation laid down firmly at Key Stage 3. Sustained success at GCSE and beyond is not a quick fix that can be stuck together with endless intervention sessions for year 10 and 11. Sustained success will come by planning a cracking KS3 curriculum that puts history and historical thinking at its heart. And I don’t mean one in which year 7 are asked to answer GCSE style questions!
Improving your Key Stage 3 curriculum might be another job on the list. And it may well be the job you never get to because the others seem more important. After all we are more likely to be judged / scrutinised on GCSE and A level achievement than we are on our KS3 data. But if you really want your students to succeed you need to take a 5 / 7-year approach to curriculum planning.
1. Plan for the substantive knowledge you want them know and have across the course.
Christine Counsell has previously talked of’ finger-tip’ and ‘residual knowledge’. Finger-tip knowledge can be described as the knowledge classes need to be able access that particular lesson, residual knowledge is the knowledge that sticks over time. The knowledge that (we hope) our students are left with at the end of the course.
A few years ago, when myself, Alec Fisher and Neil Bates worked on the Making Sense of History books with Ian Dawson, Ian made us think about this too. He asked us to consider what residual knowledge we wanted students to have by the end of the Key Stage. He talked of knowledge ‘take-aways’. What did we want them to know by the end of the unit and the end of the course? And what was the best way of organising this to make it all make sense?
After some head scratching and a number of cups of tea we agreed: we wanted our classes to take away the big story of beliefs, power, empire and warfare and people’s lives in each time period. This would then help them to make sense of the past and spot change. So, we divided up the curriculum into the time periods prescribed (1066- 1509, 1509 -1745 etc) and within each we listed the knowledge we wanted our students to have about each of our big stories.
We all agreed that the curriculum should be taught in chronological order. And that we should visit and re-visit each theme in each time period. And we should build on this knowledge and remind our students of this prior knowledge as we progressed through the course. ‘Can Remember when we looked at the Church in the Middle Ages? What can you tell me about this…?’ ‘Well today we will be re-visiting religion to see what it looked like in the time of Henry VIII…’ The more our students bump into different first order concepts in a variety of contexts, the more they will be able to make sense of the past.
2. Ensure that the course is structured around enquiries.
I must admit that I am an enquiry junky. After teaching through enquiry for 18 years I really believe that short focused enquiries (2-5 lessons) are the way to go to plan and teach a KS3 curriculum. Getting the focus of the enquiry right is important. Teaching through enquiry is really important. That is why at History Resource Cupboard we have clear principles for enquiry which we keep in mind when we are planning.
Check out part 2 of my blog next week for the five other things I believe you need to consider for creating a great KS3 curriculum.
Richard McFahn is founder of www.historyresourcecupboard.com, part time history consultant and ITE lead for History at the University of Sussex. He has worked for twenty years as a history teacher, Subject and Senior Leader, Advanced Skills Teacher and LA Adviser. As an expert history teacher he was a founding member of the Hampshire History Steering Group and helped set up and develop a series of thriving and sustainable networks, which Ofsted have subsequently described as best practice.
He has regularly led hugely successful training in all aspects of history teaching, and has held regular workshops at the Schools History Project and the Historical Association Conferences. Richard has written a number of books including, Making Sense of History, OCR Crime and Punishment through Time and Cross-curricular Teaching and Learning in the Secondary School – Humanities. Richard now spends his time teaching at Sussex, working on www.historyresourcecupboard.com and as a freelance consultant.