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Teaching Issues

7 steps to raising and sustaining attainment through curriculum planning

History
Are interventions worth it?

How much time do you spend on ‘interventions’?  How busy are you 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? Do you  evaluate 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?

Time for a different approach

HistoryPerhaps 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.

Let’s move away from intervention and, instead spend valuable time thinking hard about how to improve our Key Stage 3 curriculum. If we get this right then we lay firm foundations for success at GCSE. If not, all of those interventions in year 11 might just be built on sand.

Seven things to consider when planning a Key Stage 3 Curriculum

1. Plan for the substantive knowledge you want them know and have across the course

 Christine Counsell has previously talked of’ finger-tip’ and ‘residue 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 keep re-meeting different first order concepts in a variety of contexts, the more they will be able to make sense of them and 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. Enquiry helps fuse the substantive and disciplinary together to help students get better at history. And, it helps with assessment too – we agree with Ian Luff on this

3. Mix up the types of disciplinary thinking throughout the course

Too often, in the past, KS3 history curricula have been a study in causation and very little else.  Substantive knowledge needs to be fused with disciplinary knowledge to help ensure that our students know more and get better at history.  I really worry that in some schools / academy chains  the history Key Stage 3 curriculum is being constructed solely around substantive knowledge retention and knowledge tests. This isn’t the type of history I want to teach.

We need to use the knowledge gained across the curriculum and  keep re-visiting the teaching of the different second order concepts. We should be looking at a variety of different interpretations in a variety of historical contexts. Experience tells us that year 7 can engage with this type of thinking.

We should be forcing our students to think about change over and over in different contexts across Key Stage 3. They should consider why things happen and consequences of different events too. Not only is all of this what makes history a discipline, it will be the bedrock of success at GCSE.  After all this is exactly the type of thinking required at GCSE.

4. Make it memorable through the use of personal stories and particular places.

Try and include as many real people in your curriculum as you can. Experience tells me that basing enquiries around real people and real places have made my students care more about the past. I am convinced that the use of individuals makes the learning stick too. We are interested in people and we are interested in stories. This is what history (and herstory) is. At History Resource Cupboard, our enquiries are very often centred around the ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives. The use of the particular can act as a window onto the general.

5. Vary the end product to make assessment manageable and workable.

I have ranted before about not using GCSE style questions with year 7. Key Stage 3 is a great opportunity to get your classes to show their understanding in different ways. Here are a number of engaging end products that you could use. It is important to remember that your end product needs to give you good assessment yield. It needs to be able to show you whether or not your classes have mastered what you want them to have mastered.  They don’t all have to be extended written outcomes. Debates, annotated diagrams, wall displays, recorded radio discussion shows, mini movies all have their place.

6. Overview and Depth.

I am not sure who came up with the phrase, ‘parachutists and truffle hunters’, but it is a cracking expression which sums up what KS3 should be about. Sometimes we want our students to see a thousand years in one lesson. Sometimes we want them to get up close to one tiny aspect of the past, like what really happened at the Storming of the Winter Palace. Sometimes we want to see the story of one time period, for example, the French Revolution in overview. This helps students spot patterns, continuities and changes and gives them a different perspective of time. Also, the depth study shows them the detail of the period.

7. Consider how you might get them to remember the knowledge that have gained so far, so you can build on it.

It is worth considering how you are going to get your students to remember the key knowledge they need after it has long been taught. There is talk of ‘interleaving’ knowledge and re-visiting over time, but what might this look like in the classroom. Well, there are many ideas that you can take away and try out. One is to use the first 5 minutes of the lesson, the ‘settler’ to focus on something that you have looked at before – quite a while ago, and test their knowledge (quiz, test, learning grid, odd one out, tarsia…). By regularly doing this you should increase their ability to recall the knowledge that they will need for success.

So, next time you are intervening with year 11, phoning home to the parents of the students who didn’t attend, filling in the tracking data-base to show that you had high levels of engagement with your intervention, – consider how much impact it is really having? If only you could  spend this amount of time planning a decent Key Stage 3 curriculum?

Perhaps achievement would accelerate?

We will never know unless we try.

The summer term is a great time to do this – what with exam classes having left. You should, in theory have more time.

Note:  this article first appeared on the OCR blog page.

 

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About the author
Richard McFahn
Founder of History Resource Cupboard, Richard has worked for 20 years as a history teacher, subject and senior leader, Advanced Skills Teacher, local authority adviser and history ITE tutor.

1 comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this Richard. Rightly said that we need to have a good curriculum planning. According to me, our curriculum needs a revamp.

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