History Resource Cupboard – lessons and resources for schools

History Resource Cupboard - lessons and resources for schools

Teaching Issues

Using enquiry to succeed at 9-1 GCSE history


I think I might be out offashion fashion.  Come to think of it, on a sartorial level I have never been in fashion. But that is a digression.

You see I have always been an advocate of enquiry based history.

I gardened in Michael Riley’s enquiry garden way back in 2000 (and before). And, for a sustained period of time I have adapted and adopted enquiry based history at GCSE.  The flowers have bloomed.

The use of the well framed enquiry question at GCSE made sense to me. But, it feels that this kind of thinking, in some quarters at least is no longer in vogue. If you thumb through the latest 9-1 GCSE history textbooks contents pages, the enquiry question is gone (apart from OCR B SHP – thankyou SHP).

If you read the specifications for 9-1  GCSE history, no longer do we see big questions to organise content (unlike the old OCR specs).

If you read blogs from history teachers, or go to conferences, it appears that substantive knowledge is all the rage?

Remind me of the subject I teach again? Oh, yes: History. Who ever said that substantive knowledge wasn’t important?

Having spent far too much time trying to work out the most effective way to teach history for the 9-1 GCSEs, I am, and have always been convinced that enquiry questions are the only way to go.

A decent enquiry question which organises learning which lasts for say 1- 3 hours is the perfect fit. After all, style never goes out of fashion.

Why is enquiry important for 9-1 GCSE history?

As Christine Counsell once said,

“Enquiry is more than pupils finding out- they do something with what they discover. It is a coherent learning sequence (single lesson or unit of work) exploring a historical problem or question drawing upon at least one distinctive area of disciplinary thinking. It is our way of shaping the historical thinking we want pupils to do”

Ian Luff recently wrote a fantastic article in Teaching History 164 explaining that enquiry is the way to go in this level free world:

“In answering an enquiry question pupils necessarily demonstrate their understanding of substantive concepts as they construct increasingly sophisticated arguments to justify their claims.”

I firmly believe that history teachers should use enquiry questions to structure their GCSE history courses.

The enquiry approach for GCSE history

Enquiry approach in summary:  – hook, enquiry question, teaching sequence which leads to a substantial end product.

Not only do enquiry questions structure learning, but it helps teach the second order concepts that students are being assessed against. By tweaking the enquiry question, just like we do at KS3 the clever history teacher can major in a different historical concept and use the enquiry to teach the substantive knowledge.

By taking this approach in our planning, we can ensure that we get good coverage across the course.

Enquiry to teach Assessment Objectives for 9-1 GCSE history

When we break the assessment objectives down it makes complete sense to do this. AO2 – second order concepts: 35%, and if you include A03 – evidence: 15% and AO4 – interpretations: 15% that is 65% of the total! Throw in AO1 – knowledge: 35% and that is all the marks!

The well framed enquiry question, as Ian Luff points out, can  give us the assessment yield we require. Also, it’s more fun and meaningful to answer a pithy yet rigorous enquiry question.  Much better than practicing yet another GCSE style question. Of course we need to practice them, but not at the end of every single lesson.

If you think enquiry questions are the way to go to help support planning, teaching, engagement, learning and assessment for 9-1 GCSE history, Resource Cupboard Members might like to download the thirty nine enquiry questions below (begged, borrowed and stolen). Many try to use the personal or particular story to make the learning more memorable. All are crafted to help shape stylish learning.

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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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