History Resource Cupboard – lessons and resources for schools

History Resource Cupboard - lessons and resources for schools

Teaching Issues

How to plan a broad and balanced history curriculum – sequencing learning (part 3)


So, how do you go about planning a broad and balanced history curriculum? Or to put it another way, how do you create a coherent curriculum plan? Well this has been on our agenda for years now. We have blogged about it before.

Curriculum planning is going to be of critical importance in the coming months and years. Depressingly in England schools are mainly driven by what they think Ofsted want to see. Arm’s length accountability has a lot to answer for, including an obsession with examination results and teaching to the test.

Rightly,  Ofsted is becoming increasingly interested not just in the results schools and departmental subjects gain in external exams but in the quality of the curriculum provided. Recently, Amanda Speilman, Head of Ofsted stated,

‘there is a dearth of understanding about the curriculum in some schools. Too many teachers and leaders have not been trained to think deeply about what they want their pupils to learn and how they are going to teach it.’

So, how should we think deeply about curriculum planning?

As stated in an earlier blog post, the first thing you could do is to think hard about what history is to you and the teachers in your department.

Next, you may want to consider this question: What do I want my students to be able to know and do by the end of course that they couldn’t do at the beginning?  If you need to see some ideas and thoughts on this you may want to read the second blog in this series.

Then you could (should?)  ask yourself:

How are we going to get them to know and do what we want them to?

Cog scienceOver the last few years, there has been much talk of learning the lessons from cognitive science. About how memory works. Many have been influenced by E D Hirsch Jr (1988) who centres on reading theory and the power of prior knowledge to help unlock meaning.

Others have been influenced by the power of multiple testing, distributed practice and interleaving to aid the retention of substantive knowledge (Dunlosky 2013).  Clearly, there is much to benefit from such strategies in helping students build up their substantive knowledge. This can only be a good thing. The development of substantive knowledge is crucial to the student of history. That is why we have developed www.historyhomework.com

But, if this is all you focus on with your classes, then what type of history are you teaching?  Collective memory? Heritage? A single narrative approach to be learned and regurgitated?

If you know your history of history education then you will know that the ‘great tradition’ of single narrative history teaching was heavily criticised in the late 1960s. Students were bored and lacked disciplinary knowledge. Martin Booth interviewed history teachers and pupils and noted,

‘that change is badly needed…The lecturing, note taking and note making rarely challenge the pupils or illuminate their understanding.’ He went on to say, ‘The lack (of involvement) may be caused partly by the demands of the exam in which most teachers and  pupils put a premium on the retention of information and have almost no regard for historical understanding.’ Booth, M (1969) p73, ‘History Betrayed’, London, Longman.

Schools History is more than just ‘the retention of information’. History teachers have been grappling with the issues of developing all aspects of historical thinking for years including the disciplinary side of things. Just glance back through editions of Teaching History will let you into this secret.

For me, the development of substantive knowledge is just one out of eleven of my curriculum goals. Of course, its power can help unlock the conceptual. But just knowing more stuff won’t help.  How am I going to achieve the other 10? If we look first to America we can see that learning substantive knowledge is important if learned around the key concepts (first and second order) of the discipline. Both Lee and Willingham make this crucial point.

The importance of enquiry questions

So, how do I go about ensuring that good learning takes place in history? The answer to me is simple: centering the curriculum around well-structured enquiry questions. Don’t listen to those who think enquiry questions are old hat or won’t work anymore. They are simply wrong.

Some, including the DFE, don’t understand what enquiry in history education means – The Historical Association had to explain this to them in August 2018.

If we take Micheal Riley’s definition of enquiry, we clearly have to re-visit the knowledge learned in enquiry at the end of the process in the end product. This revisiting of the substantive, through the disciplinary fits in exactly with the points Lee and Willingham make above.

I sometimes wonder when I read certain bloggers road to Damascus moment and changes to ‘knowledge rich teaching’ and ‘teacher instruction’ style lessons what they were actually doing before this? The critique of the use of activities in the classroom suggests that some may not have grasped that the activities were meant to be used to promote learning and linked back to an enquiry question at different crucial points of the process.

Akin to wearing  different pairs of glasses we can teach the different second-order concepts by the subtle wording of the enquiry question. At the bottom of the page, basic members can download a variety of enquiry question stems that do this.  

Equally if not, more importantly, you need to know exactly what types of thinking you want your students to do when it comes to each second order concept. You could just rely on exam mark-schemes, but they get things wrong. We would recommend you look to scholarship. 

What we have done here is summarised the theory of what types of thinking you could focus on in each historical concept. Simply download the disciplinary take-away document here: Disciplinary TakewaysDownload

Curriculum sequencing – lose the GCSE questions at KS3

Of course, the crucial thing to bear in mind here is to really develop conceptual thinking in history you also need to have a view of exactly what it is you are trying to achieve when it comes the different second-order concepts. If you just base your entire 5-year curriculum around GCSE exam-style questions, you won’t develop your students’ disciplinary thinking enough. If you look to the subject-specific musings about change and continuity or interpretations, for example, you will see that there are many aspects of thinking here that we should aim to develop. Much of it is not covered by exam questions.

Instead, we should think hard about exactly what type of thinking you want your students to master in terms of change and continuity, interpretations, similarity and difference etc. This is difficult but ultimately will give you targets to aim for in your planning. Reading of Teaching History is vital here, re-visiting certain chapters of  Terry Hayden’s excellent Learning to Teach History… will give you the starting point you need in terms of conceptual thinking. Terry and friends have done lots of the reading for you.

InterpretationsA great curriculum will ensure that there is a fair balance of the different concepts across three (or two) years. And different elements of analysis are covered within each concept so by the end you will have good conceptual coverage. Here you can see an example of this for interpretations. The interpretations enquiries have been taken out of the main curriculum to show you the coverage. Three of the enquiries mentioned here,  Hastings, Robespierre and The Winter Palace can be found on the lessons pages

Final questions for curriculum planning

We then need to consider:

  • What take-away knowledge do we want our students to have at different points of the curriculum?
  • What key historical terms we want to develop over time?
  • What language and literacy skills we want to develop to allow our classes to unlock their thinking?

These questions will be answered in the next blog post.

To download the enquiry question stems sheet you need to be a basic member of History Resource Cupboard.

The rest of this content is for members only. Please Register or login.

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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.

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