20 successful GCSE history teaching strategies.
The thing that all of us involved in GCSE history teaching are under pressure to achieve is to make sure that each and every one of our students gets a good grade.
We are teaching in a data driven world – the so-called “standards agenda”. Our leaders used to be obsessed with the headline A*-C figure. It is now also all about how much progress our students make: 3 levels, 4 levels, 5 levels…
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need to ensure that all of the kids we teach do the best they can. But somewhere many school leaders have forgotten the most important thing.
For this to happen we need to teach them well. And for this to happen (sorry for the repetition) we the time to think and plan for this. Looking at data only tells us what the issues are!
To make matters worse, heads of department/subject leaders have to regularly run the gauntlet of a data review where line managers look at lists of letters and numbers that represent real people and ask difficult questions about them. Behind each number is a person, we forget this at our peril.
The big question is: how on earth do we help our students do well at GCSE?
The first thing to remember is that history is a harder GCSE than many others – and with the recent changes and more changes to come, it is only going to get harder. If you don’t believe me, researchers at Durham University a few years ago ranked subjects in order of difficulty at GCSE level. Here is how they were ranked, most difficult at the top:
- Double Science
- Single Science
- Business Studies
- English literature
As you can see, true Sciences (which are rarely taught in secondary schools individually) were the most difficult. Then languages, then history! If you notice English and Maths are much further down the list. It must be noted that this research was from 2006 and things have changed since then. However, few would agree that history has got any easier in that period!
In our opinion GCSE history teaching is harder for a number of reasons:
- Pupils have to remember much more information without prompts.
- They have to do more with the information, including more analysis, evaluation and explanation.
- There has never been a tiered paper.
- There is more extended writing than nearly any other subject.
So, to succeed at GCSE your kids have to think at a higher level, write analytically and with developed explanation, recall more information and do more with this information than a number of so called other subjects (English and RE).
But fear not, we should not put down the chalk and go and work in a coffee shop / book shop just yet. Here at History Resource Cupboard we believe there are many things that you can do to ensure maximum progress from your students year on year.
In simple terms we think you should follow our advice on what makes a great history teacher.
We have developed a list of 20 strategies, below, that we have used to raise standards over the years in our classrooms.
It is worth you reading through them. If you want to use them in a departmental meeting you could grade them how effective you think they will on a 1-3 scale. Then, Red, Amber, Greening them to see if you actually do them (green = often, amber = sometimes / occasionally, red = never. If your greens match your 1s (for being the most effective), great. If not, maybe it is time to start thinking harder about how you approach GCSE.
20 potential strategies for GCSE history teaching:
- Having consistently high expectations of behaviour.
- Know the need to motivate boys / using boy friendly activities (see 8 below).
- Focusing each series of lessons around an enquiry or big question.
- Ending each series of lessons by insisting that there is a meaningful output or product e.g. an essay.Varying the final task: essays speeches debates role-plays voiceovers, so the pupils don’t get bored.
- Using living graphs to show change over time. We use this in this Germany lesson to great effect.
- Promoting thinking skills by getting the pupils to sort cards in a meaningful way.
- Encouraging fun activities: picture relays, back to back drawing, post it challenges etc and making them fit into a rigorous learning experience.
- Explicitly modelling to show pupils how to write well: showing them what explanation is, what making links look like…
- Regular summative knowledge tests.
- Using praise.
- Seeing the unique history skills being taught as a 5 year progress model. It all starts in year 7.
- Targeted marking which highlights the positive and sets meaningful achievable targets in clear written pupil friendly language.
- Sharing success criteria with the pupils in a variety of ways:
- You as a teacher reading over past papers to spot the question types / popular areas of content that reappears regularly.
- Showing the pupils secrets of success by giving them a formula to answer ‘describe’,’ why’, ‘judgement’ and source based questions – they should walk into the exam knowing how to answer all of the different style questions.
- Getting pupils to review their own work. Getting them to underline ‘evidence’ in green and ‘explanation in red.
- Collaboratively planning lessons.
- Starting enquiries / each series of lessons with a hook to grab the attention.
- Basing some enquiry questions around real GCSE style questions.
- Revise as you go along – why not use www.historyhomework.com to set tests and quizzes for homework
As well as the top 20 strategies, if we could give advice (and lets face it, that was my job for 5 years: LA Adviser for History and Geography) here are our top ten tips for success
- Good GCSE teaching shouldn’t really differ greatly from good KS3 enquiry lessons.
- Pupils need to learn the information first in a variety of interesting and engaging activities.
- They need to know how to do well (how to answer certain types of questions, how to explain etc).
- Meta cognition, knowing how to approach different types of questions independently is crucial.
- The lessons need to be intrinsically interesting – real interesting historical enquiry should be used, not just naff exam type questions.
- Teachers need to build in REMEMBERING / RECALL activities at certain points throughout the course because they have an awful lot if information to remember.
- Source skills should be taught as part of bigger enquiries throughout the course.
- Teachers should try to plan their courses with care, so there is enough time to revise as you go along, and at the end to spend 6-8 weeks in class revising in interesting ways. (Did you do any revision at GCSE?)
- You do have to model how to answer GCSE style questions and question spot – but if you do model answers every week it gets really boring!
- It is all about teaching good thoughtful history beyond the exam.
If you want to take the pressure off, have lots of the planning done for you, you could download our lesson packages. Unlike textbooks where you then have to turn them into lessons after purchase, we have already done the extra thinking for you.
Our lessons are enquiry driven and have all of the resources made for you. You just need to spend your time adapting our resources so the fit the unique needs of your students.