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A Rationale Behind a History Scheme of Work

In: Historical Events

Submitted By jcurtis17
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Introduction

Creating an effective scheme of work, less than a term into a teaching career, was certainly daunting. Given the complexities of planning for a single lesson – taking into account a long and growing list of factors ‘from provision to pupils with SEN’ to the ‘literacy objective’ that considerably lengthen every written plan – the hurdles to overcome when planning for an 8-week scheme would surely but multiply. While the freedom at my fingertips was invigorating, there was the gnawing sense that failure to grasp the key issues involved would lead to the teacher’s greatest fear – wasted lessons; wasted lessons after which the class would struggle to maintain a respect for the teacher.

Furthermore, it would be the waste of an outstanding opportunity. As commentators to the publication Teaching History have repeatedly stressed, the new History National Curriculum for Key Stage 3 offers teachers a ‘glorious flexibility’ to throw out the straight-jacket of centralised requirements beholden to political overlords (Dawson 2008, 18). Instead, led by a relit passion for their discipline, teachers are able to respond to the very specific needs of their school and construct personalised routes towards a variety of objectives.

For some commentators, the National Curriculum Key Concepts and their accompanying levels represent the vestiges of an ancien regime of central control that prevent true pupil ownership developing (see Knight 2008). However, a determination to facilitate pupil progression in six concepts at the heart of our subject should be valued as a way to structure our planning, teaching and assessment. What is more, aspiring to teach such crucial concepts – in addition to the corresponding Key Processes – should complement rather than devalue what is, in my opinion, the history teacher’s unique advantage; insodoing, it would release our subject from the constant demands being placed on it to justify its place in the curriculum.

The history teacher’s ‘unique advantage’ is that she is teaching history. Taught well, the subject contributes to a learner’s development in a myriad of important ways.

Language, recently placed in the spotlight by the Framework for Teaching English at Key Stage 3 strategy document which notes that that ‘language enables thought’, is an essential part of good history, through which it must be enhanced both in terms of speaking and listening and the written word. Effective and persuasive communication, reflecting an artistic counterbalance to the rigorous science of source analysis, is central to the subject, and is to be found in every well-written essay or valuable verbal classroom contribution.

Links with the subject of Citizenship – the fashionable brainchild of recent politicians – once more reveal the necessity of good-quality history teaching. As Wrenn notes, ‘what appears to be an imposition is a valuable opportunity’ (Wrenn 1999). The positive potential impact that History could have on its neighbouring discipline is vast. However, none seems to me greater than that mooted by Lee and Shemilt, who argue that it is precisely through the acquisition of an acute historical consciousness that the present becomes ‘the cutting edge of a past that therefore renders future possibilities determinate though undetermined’ (Lee and Shemilt 2007, 18). By successfully charting the struggles and successes of the individuals of the past, disaffected youngsters are able to grasp their independent agency. Thus, taught properly, the subject may serve to inspire, effecting pupils to work to achieve their aims.

Finally, and to my mind most importantly, the subject represents that of the enquirer; the discoverer; the lover of wisdom denoted by the term, philosopher. Historians – for them to be called such – must demonstrate the thirst for knowledge and understanding that drives them to eek through countless dusty chronicles in search of a spark of enlightenment of a topic made dark through convention. This is also the essence of metalearning, which is, as Biggs would describe it, ‘being aware of and taking control of one’s own learning’ (Biggs, 1985). By striving to impart in our pupils the historian’s impulsive characteristics, the wish to constantly answer why, we will have granted our pupils not merely the ability to take control of their learning; rather more importantly, we will have further planted a love of learning too.

Yet with each of these elements, there rests the essential qualifier: such profound results can only arise if the subject is taught well. And thus with the freedom that comes with teaching History comes the responsibility to do the job properly. The following report charts my first effort at creating a medium-term plan to go some way to contributing in this way. Therefore, while every effort was made to construct a ‘route’ as effective as possible, it is also recognised that this represents an initial stage to an ongoing improvement in my performance as a reflective practitioner.

Consequently, the course of this report mirrors my work on the Scheme. The first section will detail the manner in which the plan was constructed, and will be structured thematically. This will allow me to offer a theoretical rationale for the Scheme, set in the context of the specific nature of the class and the topic. Subsequently, the second part will serve as an evaluation to the scheme. Quantitative and qualitative appraisal will be conducted, alongside further reading to shed light on shortcomings and potential improvements. The piece will conclude in detailing the key ways in which my future practice has been informed.

Written Assignment 2: The Scheme of Work

Part I: Key Elements to a Scheme of Work ~ My rationale for teaching Ancient Rome to Year 7s

The Guinea Pigs: 7K History

7K is the top group of Year 7s at the urban boys’ school in which I teach. Though numbers have fluctuated, the full register normally totals in the low thirties, and the range of abilities within the class is great.[1] At the higher end, there are a number of gifted and talented pupils whose language ability and higher level thinking compares starkly with both lesser attainers within their own class, and with boys higher up the school Alongside are boys demonstrating a variety of Special Educational Needs, including dyslexia, EAL and BESD.

The Year 7 Unit of Work begins with a short scheme examining the question, ‘What is History?’, which served as an excellent opportunity to introduce the six National Curriculum Key Concepts. For some pupils, grasping tough concepts was difficult, given the time pressure and the difficulty in finding effective content with which to exemplify and demonstrate them. This struck a chord when reading Christine Counsell’s work stressing the need to teach content and skills together in the appropriate manner. As she notes, ‘rather than avoiding the abstract, the abstract must somehow become interesting’ (Counsell 2000, 71).

Thanks to this need to ground the ‘abstract’ in an ‘interesting story’, it was felt that this group was aptly placed to tackle a bespoke scheme of work. The challenging nature of the mixed abilities within the classroom as well as the need to bridge the ‘Rubicon’ between KS2 and KS3 also appealed, and it was then decided – under the supervision of a supporting and trusting department – that the scheme of work could form the first element within a unit dedicated to ‘The Romans.’

a. What is a Scheme of Work and where does it fit?

As the Hay McBer Report into quality teaching identifies, ‘in classes run by effective teachers… [pupils] can see links with their earlier learning and have some ideas about how it could be developed further. The pupils want to know more’ (Hay McBer 2000). With this in mind, it is crucial that we, as teachers, recognise the importance of successfully joined-up lessons. The theory behind this is well grounded in cognitivist and constructivist thought. Prior knowledge plays an important part in learning. Thus by successfully evaluating and assessing pupils’ prior awareness of a topic, then skilfully constructing a scheme of work based on the foundations of that schemata, the teacher is able to facilitate learning in Vygotsky’s ‘zones of proximal development’ – providing activities are suitable scaffolded and active, and formative assessment sufficiently rigorous. Consequently, it is unsurprising that second on the list of Davison’s and Leask’s advice to teachers when planning a scheme of work concerns a consideration of what has been taught before.

In terms of 7K, determining prior knowledge is made more difficult through the ‘great divide’ separating Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3, and the wide array of feeder schools from which the pupils have come. Yet this hindrance makes it of greater need to establish the foundations on which my scheme of work must build. As Doyle and Garrington note, ‘the issue of learning loss and lack of continuity, especially as pupils transfer from primary to secondary school, is a source of major concern’ (Doyle and Garrington 1998, 12). It is frequently noted that progress in Year 7 and Year 8 is often minimal at best; indeed, my school has recently insisted that progression at this stage becomes a priority which will reap rewards higher up the school. The problems are all too clear – despite the recent efforts to push teaching towards a greater emphasis on personalised learning, the monumental leap that occurs in a pupil’s education is identically imposed irrespective of any concern for the learner’s individual needs. If we accept a social constructivist viewpoint that sees a pupil’s environment as being crucial to rapid progression, it is unsurprising that many fail to make sense of the new learning world around them and are consequently held back. If we add the behaviourist concern that the positive, caring and very strong bonds built between a single primary school teacher and her class are very difficult to establish with only 2 hours of contact time a week, it is unsurprising that the DCSF has labelled this ‘transition…a weak feature of our education system’ (DCSF 2008, 16).

To counter these issues, the first priority was to establish a positive learning environment, in which pupils feel safe to voice their tentative efforts fully acknowledging that progression is not a linear process, but one in which individuals must find their own route towards goals; a route that goes ‘backwards’ as well ‘as forwards’ (see Knight 2008). This would transpire in classroom demeanour[2], as well as in assessment[3]. In historical terms, it was vital for me to ascertain prior skill levels as well as content knowledge. Fortunately, preceding my scheme with the ‘What is History?’ unit, specifically concerned with concepts and processes, proved very helpful toward this end. In terms of content knowledge, I determined to give the pupils a starter activity brainstorming everything they knew about the Romans. This would hopefully allow me to gain the building blocks to construct a new ‘thematic story’ (see Dawson 2008).

b. National Curriculum – Key Concepts

The freedom that the new National Curriculum of 2008 has granted History teachers has not extended to the Key Concepts and Processes against which pupils must be assessed. As it notes, ‘there are a number of key concepts that underpin the study of history. Pupils need to understand these concepts in order to deepen and broaden their knowledge, skills and understanding’ (NC 2008, 1). Planning to tackle these Key Concepts is an essential part of every scheme of work.

This is, however, easier said than done. Is it possible to teach all complex concepts at one time? When ‘doing history’, surely we utilise each concept in our enquiried. How then can we separate each from the other sufficiently to focus attention and allow for deep implantation of one concept at a time? If we do, which order should we systematically go through each concept in order for one to build on the last?

To resolve this I settled on a policy that attempted to square the circle and do both. For the overall enquiry, I decided to concentrate on the Key Concept of Causation. One aim of the National Curriculum was to direct teaching towards helping pupils become ‘confident and questioning individuals’ (NC 2008, 2). At the outset of their career as young historians, it was felt that attempting to tackle causation – which has at its root the question of why – was the most powerful way forward. While there is some credence in the view put forward by Lee that ‘causal thinking is a skill that is counter-intuitive to many adolescents’ (Clark 2002), nevertheless it is crucial to the investigative art that is central to the discipline. Furthermore, a certain cognition of the other concepts is also necessary to access the crux of causal thinking. For instance, it is very difficult to adequately understand why something happened without grasping a sense of period (chronology), or the way in which different groups had different views (diversity). It also aids in developing pupils’ understanding of the two highest order concepts, significance and interpretation. By coming up with their own explanations for why something happened, pupils are inspired by the sense that it is their own interpretation and it is for them to judge the relative significance of a variety of causes. Thus, in each constituent lesson of my scheme, I was able to examine other concepts alongside that of causation – a very useful aspect for the opening scheme in Year 7.

c. Cross-Curricular Links

Just as joined-up learning has come into vogue in the sense of a medium-term plan, so it has with respect to forging links between subjects across the curriculum. For History, an open and wide-ranging subject, formally denoting how our study can lead to progression in other fields should be one of the more simple elements of good practice. As noted in the introduction, History is beautifully situated to develop learners’ skills, awareness and confidence in ways that should impact many other areas, of which basic literacy, numeracy and citizenship are simply the most latent. However, while we should be proud of a subject that has this potential, it would be a missed opportunity – and contrary to our instincts as historians – if we did not seek to discover positive strategies employed by other subjects and incorporate them within our own.

In this light, when devising the scheme of work, I sought to harness the concurrent teaching of both the English and Citizenship Departments. By observing lessons and examining the respective units of work, I gained a much fuller idea, not only of the content being taught, but the skills that the teachers were seeking to develop. Consequently, not only was I able to dovetail the what that was being taught with that of other subjects, but I was able to improve the manner of how I taught it. The group’s English teacher, for instance, was at the time teaching PEE (Point, Evidence, Explain), in which only one point is made per paragraph in order to give pupils the chance to adequately explain each in a well-ordered structure. Of course, this formula is of benefit as much to History as English. When I took up the theme, the pupils’ understanding enabled rapid progression and produced excellent results. What is more, through this concerted approach, the English teacher noticed the dividends as well. My final assessment task also owed to this English teacher’s determination to promote formal debating amongst the class as a way to verbally explain their views, a technique seen to be immensely successful at promoting enthusiasm for the Key Process of ‘Communicating about the Past’. With this set of rules and procedures in place, I felt much more comfortable granting the pupils the space to role-play the assessment.

d. A Key Question

Recently, it has been noted that the best way to teach the Key Process of Historical Enquiry is to conduct a lesson sequence as just such an enquiry. As Riley indicates, ‘over the last few years rigorous, challenging and intriguing historical questions have become a sound basis for planning quality learning in history’ (Riley 2000, 23). Devising these questions is not an easy process. As he continues, they must be ‘historically rigorous and pupil-friendly at the same time’, challenging pupils to ‘to think for themselves and to make judgements about the past, but in questions that offer, or will require, clear historical criteria’ (Riley 2000, 25). Particularly by involving a ‘shock’ element, or a controversial topic, pupils can be drawn in to the heart of a complex historical problem. This is especially true for a class of 12 year old boys, ravenous for the bloody, violent and heroic side to history to shine through.

Yet in choosing an enquiry suitable for the class, the instincts of the teacher, and her personal inquisitiveness, should not be ignored. The passion of a teacher is her greatest asset. As Phillips write, ‘research suggests that one of the main influences on pupils’ attitudes to the subject is the attitude of their teacher’ (Phillips 2003, 91). By selling the ‘thematic story’ thanks to a personal enjoyment of the enquiry, that passion can serve to inspire.

While Roman History could offer a few narratives that would engage Year 7 boys, I settled on the assassination of Julius Caesar as the crux of my tale. The personal story is gripping. Here was a man who conquered Western Europe, crushed seemingly dominant rivals and married the most beautiful woman in the world. Yet here was a man who in the same year he was voted dictator for life suffered the grisly fate of being hacked to death by those very electors. The context of his time is no less stimulating. The Army that had granted Caesar his omnipotent position advanced unerringly through Europe and beyond; as the Roman Empire grew, the political institutions that worked effectively in the city broke down under the strain of rapid social and economic changes; great lawyers such as Cicero practised the art of rhetoric in a legal system that still dominates our own.

In order to bring out the mystery and shock element of the subject – while keeping causation at the heart of the story – I decided the Key Question would read:~ Why was the most powerful man in the world gutted on the steps of the Roman Senate?

e. Learning Outcomes

The use of Learning Outcomes as opposed to Objectives has recently become widespread and was adopted by my school at the beginning of this academic year. The benefits are clear. By noting at the outset the expectations for the lesson, a teacher is able to focus minds and frame the course of the hour – of particular benefit with SEN pupils. More importantly, it concentrates teachers’ attentions on providing well differentiated tasks that fully stretch pupils up through the higher level thinking levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. As the DCSF Strategy for Assessment for Learning writes, while learning objectives are crucial to secure progress in the medium term, ‘it is the clarity of learning outcomes that most helps children make good progress over a sequence of work’ (DCSF 2009, 1).

In my scheme, every effort was made to provide pupils with the opportunities to demonstrate higher order thinking, not only through differentiation by outcome, but by planning analytical and evaluative extension activities. These learning outcomes were to be presented at the outset of the lesson, and referred back to in the course of the lesson. This concerns some commentators, criticising ‘a reductive, teacher-led approach’ that focuses on the ‘critical steps’ that a pupil might need to make to ‘reach’ the next level descriptor instead of developing pupil autonomy or ‘deep’ learning about the structure of a subject’ (Knight 2008, 17). However, in my context, it was this ‘teacher-led’ approach that seemed the best option to providing my pupils with the foundations to allow them to grasp critical concepts. Particularly amongst young, competitive boys, seeing higher levels ‘up for grabs’ would drive them to work harder.

f. Initial Stimulus Materials

Michael Riley, famous for coining the term ‘hook’, was equally adamant of the need for an effective stimulus to open a lesson sequence. Phillips, concurring, refers to the ‘classic’ Initial Stimulus Material as being the beginning of Terry Jones’ BBC series on The Crusades: a “short vivid scene of a Crusader massacre, which immediately arouses curiosity amongst the viewers, centring upon the question: ‘why did this event take place?’ ”(Phillips 2002, 20) While always a believer in the power of an ‘ISM’ to open a lesson effectively, focusing pupils’ attentions to such a degree as to maintain engagement throughout, this made me equally enthusiastic to utilise a similar style as an opening to my sequence (See Clark 2002). After all, as Harris notes, ‘engaged pupils are ready to deal with the complexity of the past’ (Harris 2003, 5).

I followed Phillips’ recommendation. Given the Key Question asked, in effect, the same question – why did this event take place? – I employed the HBO dramatisation series Rome to reconstruct Caesar’s killing in the most brutal and visually stunning way I could find. Striking a chord with Piagetian theory by offering pupils the ‘concrete’ example from which the conceptual could be grasped, this attempt sought to ‘establish the right learning environment’ for subsequent lessons, including – crucially – a lesson based on an extended writing piece that would normally seem dry without the image of a bloodied Caesar dropping to his knees, and asking himself the same question as the pupils: why?[4]

g. Activities

As Gardner’s ‘Theory of Multiple Intelligences’ would hold, pupils are no longer to be considered homogenous units that must mould themselves to a teacher’s style in order to do us the pleasure of learning something. As the mantra goes, ‘if they can’t learn the way we’re teaching them, why don’t we teach them the way they can learn.’ Since this varies from pupil to pupil and in line with the DCSF’s commitment to ‘personalised learning’, the teacher must not only seek to teach with the class as an entity in mind, but rather each individual within it. As Price notes, this is the true heart of differentiation: ‘access to the curriculum and learning for all’ (Price, G. 2002). This requires an effort to incorporate activities suitable for kinaesthetic (40%), auditory (25%) and visual (30%) learners.

In a Boys School, I am minded to think that the ratio would be even further weighted in favour of kinaesthetic learning style. In Bleach’s opinion, ‘boys did not dislike learning per se. What affected their enjoyment of lessons was how far they were offered opportunities for active involvement.’ (Bleach 2000, 39). This ‘active involvement’ – spelt out by the constructivists as a way for children to make sense and understand content and concepts based on schemata already held – can be achieved through a variety of tasks. While creating a PowerPoint presentation, or ‘movie maker’ clips, or an online blog are fashionable and have their part to play, active participation applies just as much to a well-conducted and well-directed class discussion.

As Luff notes, ‘language is a tool. It is a beautiful tool, the tool which created the ideas of history and made study of the subject possible’ (Luff 2001, 11). In Year 7, particularly amongst those pupils who do not hold English as a first language, effective communication seems more accessible in speaking and listening than reading and writing. Clark writes, ‘many Year 7s will demonstrate a far greater ability to explain in a verbal form than in a written form’ (Clark 2002, 29). When this is added to the confidence that a well received verbal idea can bring, ‘[making] your pupils anxious to claim public ownership of their own historical ideas’ (Luff 2001, 11), it seems clear that speaking and listening activities must be incorporated effectively within the medium-term plan.

Yet speaking and listening should not be incorporated at the expense of the reading and writing processes that remain crucial not only to the discipline, but more importantly, to the child’s general development. As Rudham notes with reference to her own time as Head of Department, ‘short-term and medium term plans must offer variety, historical value and a clear pattern of interplay between speaking and listening and reading and writing’ (Rudham 2001, 36). A balance must be maintained. Phillips aptly writes that ‘overdoing role plays can be as boring for some pupils as too much source or written work’ (Phillips 2003, 99). While Year 7 pupils seem to find extended writing more of a challenge, the outset of Key Stage 3 History also offers the opportunity to remove some of the demons associated with the ‘essay’ complex.

Further, essays offer the chance for a recorded sense of achievement with which a verbal response, even if Churchillian in its rhetoric and effusively praised, cannot compete without the aid of a video recorder. By stretching the pupils, we would be countering that well-worn path of Year 7 pupils falling victim to teachers underestimating ‘the capacity [they] have for sophisticated conceptual understanding’(Scot 1990, 6). As Galton notes, ‘at transfer, schools are paying increased attention to curriculum and pedagogic issues but both pupil attitudes and progress… suggest pupils are still insufficiently challenged in Y7.’ (Galton 2003, 1) Producing a well-structured, well-written essay that compares favourably with something to be produced at GCSE will thrill. Worked in to a lesson sequence effectively, it will contribute to what Lomas has emphasised as being ‘a supportive environment with high challenge and low threat’ (Phillips 2003, 91).

With this theory in mind, I settled on a course of lessons that sought to make use of a variety of activities, each chosen when most apt to satisfy learning objectives with well targeted learning outcomes.

Starters were chosen primarily for the lesson to be grounded in prior knowledge, either gained from KS2 or in the course of lesson sequence. This enable me to ‘start with the known and familiar and then take the pupils on their learning journey’ (Fisher, P. 1999), and was evident as much in Lesson One – where pupils were expected to tackle the concept of power and politics through initially listing any powerful individuals they could think of – as Lesson 4, when pupils were asked to list all the successful teams they could think of before thinking about anything the teams shared that made them achieve. Where this strategy wasn’t employed, I felt there was a more pressing need to develop a consciousness of the Key Words that would come up in the lesson. This was particularly apparent in the third lesson, which concentrated on the Political Institutions of the Roman Republic.

Main activities varied considerably. After all, as Blech notes, ‘a balanced and differentiated repertoire of styles…would hold greater appeal for boys’ interest and imagination and serve to harness their risk-taking skills’ (Bleach 2000, 39). During the first lesson, in order to encourage the collaborative working environment that social constructivists identify as being crucial to collaboration and effective learning, pupils were asked to work in groups of 4/5 to come up with how they would organise themselves if they were creating their own community (see Corden 2001, Bleach 2000 and Reznitskaya et al. 2008). This was further informed by the work of Farmer and Knight, who suggest that five is the optimum number for such group work (see Farmer, A. and Knight, P. 1995). Paired work was employed in Lesson 5 on a card sort activity that encouraged the pupils to digest a challenging biography of Caesar (with the aid of marker pens – see Phillips 2003, 95), enabling them to place the date with the respective event and assemble them on the timeline. This sought to grant pupils the chance to ‘learn by doing’ – so advocated by the theories of Bruner – in a chronological setting that can sometimes fall prey to dry copying. Lesson 2 was designed to enable the pupils to demonstrate a more creative side, and once more to emphasise the ‘story’ element to good history, while Level 7 was planned to promote the beneficial aspects of speaking and listening as detailed above. Having drawn a picture of themselves, imagined what they would do if they had absolute power, and then categorised their actions according to whether they were for selfish or selfless motives, the pupils were to critically analyse Caesar’s actions. The class discussion – an excellent forum to put forward ideas and assimilate understanding – would be the battleground for a variety of judgements on Caesar as a leader. The teacher is then able to explain that such disagreements formed the lifeblood of the discipline. Truly, a ‘noisy classroom would be a thinking classroom’ (see Rudham 2001).

Plenaries were planned to offer pupils to demonstrate understanding gained during the lesson, tied back to the Lesson Outcomes. The levelled outcomes would also serve as the basis for self and peer assessment where pupils were to be asked to level their standard for the lesson. Frequently, open questioning was to be employed in a whole class setting, specifically to target pupils whose progression was not assured. Set plenary activities were less common in the lesson sequence.

h. Homework

As part of my Scheme of Work, an important consideration was the role that homework would play in the learning process. Straddling two lessons, it offers an excellent chance for the teacher to link two discrete sessions, frequently separated by a week. The best homework grants pupils the ability to demonstrate their understanding, while previewing the learning for the subsequent lesson.

My lesson sequence took on this challenge in a variety of ways. At the end of Lesson One, which was dedicated to ensuring pupils had a grasp of the challenging concept of politics and consequently was dominated by present day examples, the homework offered an opportunity to focus pupils’ attentions on the politics of Rome, spanning the Monarchy, the Republic and the Empire. Lesson Two sought to encourage pupils’ creativity in the form of a storyboard of an origin myth for Birmingham, which would demonstrate a strong understanding for the idea of a legend. Using evidence in the form of sources also had a part to play, with a contemporary extract from Polybius utilised to distil the institutions of the Roman Republic in Lesson 4, and speeches from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Lesson 7 – after two dramatic readings from the pupils’ English teacher (Brutus) and History teacher (Marc Antony)! Additionally, there were occasions where homework time was set aside for the completion of activities that were unlikely to be finished adequately in class time. This was particularly true for the extended pieces of writing, in Lesson 5 and 6.

i. Assessment

The focus of much recent research into progression across the curriculum has stressed the crucial role of Assessment in ensuring every pupil is able to develop. The work of Black and Wiliam has been central in this effort, and the very term – Assessment for Learning – has been coined to emphasise the link. Assessment should never exist just for the sake of it (see Black and Wiliam 1998). As the DCSF’s recent strategy document has highlighted, it ‘must contribute powerfully to children’s unhindered progress throughout their education’ (DCSF 2008, 9). It must be strategically employed; it must be consistent, recorded and positive; and above all else, it must not leave anyone behind. As the document goes on to note, ‘a great deal of evidence indicates that this is best achieved through a combination of summative and formative assessment’ (DCSF 2008, 10).

i. Formative

While summative assessment has long been a part of the curriculum, particularly at the end of every Key Stage, the real advance in assessment strategy over the last few years has come in the shape of formative assessment – defined by the Assessment Reform Group in 2002 as being ‘the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there’ (DCSF 2002). The continual assessment of pupils’ progress is now considered ‘a fundamental part of good teaching’ (DCSF 2008, 12).

History Teachers have taken on the new responsibility in different ways. After all, as Knight notes, ‘assessment is an ideological battleground, fought over by educational theorists, government advisers and classroom practitioners’ (Knight 2008, 17). Yet the subject is so controversial specifically due to its centrality to the learning process. Simply by the way one chooses to assess, pupils can learn to become either Knight’s ‘Homo Sovieticus’ – fact driven and accepting of conventional argument – or ‘Homo Novi’ – creative and willing to forge an autonomous line. In a call to arms for History Teachers to embrace the new initiative, but only at a superficial level, Knight posits that ‘AfL… ought to become a powerful means of developing real learner autonomy’ specifically in order to ‘[transcend] the ever shifting requirements of the education system’ (Knight 2008, 18).

While I would agree that there can be no higher objective than true learner autonomy, for Year 7’s this should be seen in the long-term. Indeed, though Cottingham would suggest that ‘chasing non-existent sub-levels can, at best, be a mere proxy for pupil thinking and for growing confidence with subject complexity and, at worst, a grave distortion of it’, this advice went directly against that of my departmental and professional mentors (See Cottingham 2004 and Torrance 2007). Given clearly explained learning outcomes, the competitiveness of young adolescent boys spurs them on to tackle activities requiring higher level thinking. After every verbal response or written answer, I would seek to frame assessment in terms of the criteria of each level. Furthermore, particularly when the triumvirate of self, peer and teacher led assessment was co-ordinated, pupils would be able to take ownership of their learning having understood where they succeeded and where they needed to improve in their own terms. While Knight’s relativism would suggest that pupils should be able to set their own assessment criteria, it was felt during planning that – particularly at this juncture on the initial rung of the KS3 ladder – new concepts required pupils to reconstruct their ideas of what progression meant. In this, some lead from the teacher is highly desirable.

Consequently, during the first stage of assessment – the speaking and listening activity where groups presented their creations for the community’s constitution – explanations that lacked depth were to be levelled by the teacher, and the pupils informed of the way to have reached a higher level. By the stage of Lesson 5, when pupils were putting forward their explanations for the Roman Army’s success, it was hoped that students had taken on some of the requirements to develop a higher level of answer, and were aware enough to engage in rounds of self and peer assessment. By utilising levelling in whole class speaking and listening and assessing transparently, it was hoped that pupils would be able to translate this awareness into their extended pieces of writing. As Rudham writes, ‘when positioned carefully in the learning sequence, speaking and listening tasks could positively shape and develop reading and writing skills already being taught’ (Rudham 2001, 36).

In entirety, ten stages of assessment would be recorded ahead of the summative assessment.[5] These would be the full range of speaking and listening tasks to extended essays, to classwork in books. Half of them would be levelled, across all the Key Concepts. This would be only one part of the full picture, however, with constant observation to be crucial to highlight pupils seemingly struggling.

ii. Summative

Summative assessment, particularly attached to accountability, has placed teachers under pressure to perform. The attainment of Core Subjects at the end of Key Stages is graded on a national scale and while subjects such as History are not leveled in such a way, managers still expect results to show tangible progress. Yet we as classroom practitioners should expect progression also. As the DCSF report of Testing and Assessment concludes, ‘appropriate testing can help to ensure that teachers focus on achievement and often that has meant excellent teaching, which is very sound’ (DCSF 2008, 10). Concluding a scheme of work with a final assessment that demonstrates levels of progression should be as satisfying and significant for the teacher as well as the pupil. As Lee notes, ‘we must defend our professional expertise in terms of measurable outcomes. Did we add value?’ (Lee 2003) This is particularly the case in a sequence of lessons focused on one enquiry question. As Riley notes, ‘at the end of a carefully structured enquiry, pupils will gain much satisfaction from tackling a difficult question head on’ (Riley 2008: 28).

But how should the assessment look? Again, Riley offers the best advice. Medium term plans should ‘result in a tangible, lively, substantial, enjoyable ‘outcome activity’ through which pupils can genuinely answer the enquiry question?’ (Riley 2000, 24) To fully demonstrate the complexities of historical argument, pupils should be able to debate the subtleties of the question and offer personal responses. Where better, then, for pupils to be assessed than in a historical simulation where they can demonstrate the full extent of their understanding of issues and empathy with the time? As Harris writes, thanks to a ‘new need for our pupils to articulate clearly to each other’, it ‘bred a new sense of rivalry and competitiveness which became a powerful engine for historical argument’ (Harris 2005, 6). In a class of 30 boys with energy galore, harnessing this competitive spirit towards historical aims was crucial.

Consequently, I settled on the notion of a trial: ‘Julius Caesar: To execute, or not to execute.’ While this does not quite tackle the enquiry question head on, the context and key arguments were very similar. Given that I had incorporated two pieces of extended writing to my scheme already, this decision was consistent with my aim for balance and variety. Furthermore, the process of a courtroom – in which lawyers must persuasively argue differing opinions using evidence – struck a chord with the exciting elements of Historical study; the exciting elements we want and need our pupils to grasp. ‘Simulation can’ in the words of Fines and Verrier, contribute to ‘the drama of history’ (Fines and Verrier, 1974). Given that their English lessons had worked effectively through the medium of a formal debate, the pupils would be at ease with formal procedure that is necessary to maintain the necessary degree of order. Furthermore, a courtroom setting – with the many different individuals involved in the process (and a full jury of 12) would allow a whole class simulation. While there was a concern that levelling the pupils based on very different roles would be unfair, I became satisfied that in each persona, pupils could contribute a high enough level of understanding and historical skill to gain their true level. Above all else, the role play – videoed and costumed with certain key props – would be an exciting lesson, and one, if executed well, that would contribute to a sense of achievement for the efforts throughout the whole sequence. After all, as Dawson writes, ‘that sense of achievement can not be realised if a) pupils do not see from the beginning what their objective is and b) they do not have a product that they can be proud of’ (Dawson 2008, 17).

j. Evaluation

As important as planning for the lesson itself, I made sure to work into my timetable enough space for adequate reflection as the lesson sequence progressed. The need to be a reflective practitioner is emphasised in all recent literature coming from the DCSF, and is particularly crucial in this year as a Teach First Teacher constantly seeking areas to develop. Thus I filled out a proforma at the end of the day of every lesson of the sequence. This enabled me to modify my plan as we went through, flexibly amending ideas depending on the successes and areas for development, while mindful of the fact that while a certain strategy may be very effective on a certain day with a certain topic, repetition of the strategy may not lead to repetition of its success.[6]

Thus it is to my evaluation that we now turn.

I. An Evaluative Commentary on the Scheme of Work

In the course of every lesson, let alone course of eight lessons, things do not go according to plan. Working in a dynamic environment – particularly one as a ‘travelling teacher’ without my own classroom – leads to problems unaccounted for that must be resolved on the spot. I am learning rapidly that a teacher must have a range of strategies in her armoury to work when resources fail. Such problems encountered during my lesson sequence could not be predicted, and changes occurring as a result of them would not shed light on how my future planning could improve. Thus, in this evaluation, I will concentrate on bigger themes that were observed and which will become the source for improvement in my next planning exercise.

a. Key modifications in the course of the lesson sequence

i. Behaviour Management

As stressed in a lesson observation by both my professional tutor and my subject tutor, low level disruption in the class had reached the point where learning was, while not prevented, certainly being slowed down.[7] Given the ability of the pupils, and the interest the majority were showing up to that point, my frustration at the disruptive elements had reached the point where my regular classroom strategies were proving ineffective. A line had to be drawn in the sand, and the students alerted to the need for improvement.

Consequently, I interrupted my sequence between Lessons 6 and 7 in order to reemphasise my classroom expectations. Involving the Year 7 Learning Development Manager, I imposed a new seating plan and alerted the pupils to a new set of rules that would be stringently enforced. After a stringent discussion where pupils took ownership for their actions, the rest of the lesson was dedicated to rewriting their extended essays from the previous week, which were generally presented poorly. This aimed to impart a sense of pride in their work. In subsequent lessons, the improvement was stark, and a learning environment was established where the simulation assessment could be conducted in well-ordered conditions.

ii. Group Work

The new seating plan enabled me to consider remedying another issue – group work. While the opening session in groups of 4/5 worked very well, more problems arose in the sixth lesson of the series. A paired card sort based on an extensive written source was meant to contribute to pupils’ learning in a kinaesthetic style based on effective collaboration. Unfortunately, due to the way the groups were split up, some pairs – particularly those where both individuals were EAL students – struggled with the language of the text and were unable to make much progress, even with the aid of highlighters to identify specifically problematic words.

Having read the work of Powell and Todd, I became convinced by the idea of mentoring, where pupils of lesser ability were purposely paired with Gifted and Talented pupils, in order to gain benefits right up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see Powell and Todd 2004, Maslow 1954). I was satisfied that, having established a much more purposeful learning environment, progress for all would be quickened, rather than merely retarded for those who would have worked quickly anyway. Furthermore, the new seating plan contributed to the improved working conditions alongside the new rules and routines.

iii. Scaffolding

As the Progress Spreadsheet demonstrates, the range of standard produced for the initial extended writing varied markedly, from a 3c to a 6a. Indeed, for the lower achievers and those who struggle with complex language, the concept of writing an essay was so alien it became difficult to access the activity at all. By pitching an activity at a level that enabled some pupils to flourish but left others languishing, I prevented many from accessing the activity. Thanks to this, instead of feeling a sense of achievement, they felt a sense of disillusionment. With this in mind, I turned again to learning theory and examined the work of Vygotsky on Zones of Proximal Development. He describes it as the ‘distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers’ (Vygotsky 1978, 84). It is the teacher’s responsibility to work in this space as frequently as possible – evidently an immensely difficult (some would say impractical) task with a class of such spread abilities. While I would maintain that those pupils who struggled with the task were engaged and found the visual and video resources stimulating and accessible, nevertheless they needed greater support.

Consequently I decided to disregard the emphasis placed on differentiation by outcome as opposed to task (see Harris 2005). Looking again at my resources, I realised that there was a definite lack of visible and clear scaffolding. By the time of the next lesson, fortunately concluding with another extended piece of writing, I was able to produce worksheets clarifying the structure demanded by the task. This was particularly successful within a lesson plan that already aimed to connect with students’ schemata thanks to an essay activity on Sir Alex Ferguson’s popularity. While both scaffolds curtailed the levels possible for those of highest ability by denying them the freedom to structure their work originally, the positive effect it had on those of weaker ability was clear. Not only could they contribute their own sentences to an overall essay and gain a real sense of satisfaction from the achievement, but they learned what was expected of them for next time.

b. Impact on Future Performance

With the benefit of hindsight and in light of further reading, there were some aspects to my scheme that would have provided pupils with a better framework for progression. Not only should they have been in the original plan, but they deserved to be incorporated as the scheme developed. These will be noted as lessons learned, and remembered when next I write such a scheme.

i. Repetition and pace of the scheme

In the midst of the lesson sequence, determining whether a teacher has found the optimum speed must be considered one of the hardest aspects of reflection. While I feel some success was gained from strategically employing differentiation by task as well as outcome (see above), an alternative solution – or something that would have mitigated the original problem – would be to maintain a slower pace within the sequence, ensuring each pupil has adequately completed the key learning outcome to a certain level before proceeding. In a drive to keep bright pupils stimulated, other students lagged behind and deserved greater support. This was particularly evident when task were to be completed for homework. Certain pupils’ learning environments at home are not conducive to a good standard of work, and they would frequently omit to attempt it.[8]

Furthermore, in an effort to maintain variety, I feel I missed a crucial aspect of a teacher’s armoury. As Clark says, ‘progression is often made through patterning exercises that allow for some flexibility but essentially act as drills to be practised… Many pupils only begin to see the meaning behind the tasks once they have done them several times’ (Clark 2002). While I attempted to cater for those who enjoy jazzy lessons that incorporate Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic tasks, I omitted to provide for the pupil who learns best through practice. By allowing breathing space within a lesson sequence, periods without planning where pupils can catch up on uncompleted work, correct previous attempts or practice techniques, progression will be promoted for all.[9]

Actions: • To incorporate ‘free lessons’ into a lesson sequence, probably ever 3-4 lessons, to allow for all pupils to progress and be able to access the later elements of the course • To develop stretching tasks that do not need a continuation of the content of the scheme allowing the teacher to slow pace and provide for repeat activities for lower achievers

ii. Plenaries

As noted in my rationale, much emphasis was placed on the role of homework in a lesson sequence to bridge the gap between sessions, allowing pupils a chance to demonstrate learning while looking forward to the next topic. However, given that at one stage as many as ten pupils failed to tackle the homework task, this crucial bridging operation was left undone. Instead, a future plan would place much greater stress on the plenary section of a lesson plan. By ending the lessons with a bang, offering pupils an interesting, short and sharp way to demonstrate their knowledge and perhaps granting them an exciting vision of what next week’s lesson may entail, pupils will take more from the one lesson while looking forward to the next. On the one occasion this was carried out, in Lesson 5, pupils played a version of Who Wants a Millionaire with relish, and were desperate for the random name generator to pick them to get the chance to assess their understanding.

Actions: • To devise more interesting strategies for pupils to demonstrate their understanding • To incorporate visual aids to give pupils a brief, but exciting image of what next lesson may entail • To work out more effective ways to ensure pupils complete homework

iii. EAL pupils

As noted above, pupils with language difficulties were the dominating feature amongst those whose progression was less than I would have expected. While a slower pace is understandable while getting to grips with a key component of historical study – and success was achieved in speaking and listening tasks with which they are more comfortable – I feel in retrospect more could have been done in way of support. For instance, Lesson 4’s source could have included a glossary of key terms. Furthermore, while utilising a contemporary source and a Shakespearian speech were justified, more needed to be done for all pupils to access the tough language. Perhaps there was scope for the source to be given to the pupils before the lesson, to enable them to grasp the language before entering the classroom. More liaison should be made with the school’s EAL department is needed to this end.

Action: • To liaise with EAL co-ordinator on specific strategies for individual pupils • To incorporate strategies into medium-term planning including sessions before scheduled lessons in order to allow for the greatest access during

iv. Long term plan

‘How do your enquiry questions look collectively’, Riley asks. ‘What part do they play in ensuring that different types of progression will happen across the Key Stage?’ (Riley 2000, 27) One of the key weaknesses of this scheme of work, which inhibited long-term progress, is the stand-alone nature of the medium-term plan. By incorporating it within a greater ‘thematic story’ – a Big Picture outlook leading to the present – key concepts will be developed in a consistent and thorough manner. For instance, how much more successful in the longer term would this scheme be if incorporated in a thematic story of ‘Power: Democracy and Autocracy’; preceded by a ‘Comparative study of Athens and Sparta’, and followed by an enquiry into ‘Charlemagne: the Father of Europe’. This could lead right up to a study of our modern day political system, enquiring whether the PM has now become a de facto autocrat governing neutered MPs and running the country from a sofa in Downing Street.

Furthermore, this consistent approach would enable progression in the most critical area. As noted in the levels attained in the final assessment, six boys gained Level 6’s. This demonstrated an excellent standard of work for Year 7. Yet while progression from this point will be a challenge for the pupils, it will be an even greater challenge for the teacher. For it is from this point that these Gifted and Talented students must be given the greater freedom to ask their own questions and determine what success for them means. As Knight notes, ‘for pupils to develop their grasp of difficult matters such as causal reasoning or evidential thinking, they need to experiment with new concepts and take risks with new understandings’ (Knight 2008). Alongside a commitment to Woodcock’s ‘formulations for expressing causal thinking’, Knight posits the notion of a ‘paradigm shift’ where pupils are not only involved in the assessment process, but the enquiry process too (see Woodcock 2006, Knight 2008). When they demonstrate autonomy in this sense, they are able to act in complete control of the concepts, processes and content of a historian. They are able –not only to understand the links – but to create the links between different contexts. Clark notes that ‘the National Curriculum does not expect teachers to be able to construct Level 8 achievers without pupils learning to help themselves!’ (Clark 2002). Yet it is up to us, as Knight’s ‘learning facilitators’, to lay the long term path towards this end. How? By devising Enquiry Questions that act as drinking stations for pupils thirsty for greater understanding.

Actions: • To seek to put in place a ‘thematic story’ across the Key Stage to develop historical skills and concepts in a thorough and consistent manner.

c. A Quantitative Assessment

• Utilising the final trial as the assessment, we can say that out of 28 pupils involved, 7 pupils (25%) did not reach the level expected of them by the end of Year 7 according to targets set by the Fisher Family Group. 17 pupils (61%) outperformed this expectation, with 8 pupils (29%) attaining a standard one whole level above their target level. 4 pupils (14%) hit exactly their target level; • Comparing this speaking and listening summative assessment in Lesson 8 with the assessment taken at the outset of the scheme in Lesson 1, we can observe that all but two boys demonstrated improvement in their levels – a 93% rate of progression; • Comparing progression in writing tasks is also valid, by utilising the different attainments of Lesson 4 and Lesson 6. Here we can note that while eight pupils did not demonstrate progression in their work, these were confined to those whose efforts were limited to a Level 5 by the nature of the task. Other than that, each pupil demonstrated improvement, with five improving by a whole level.

d. A Qualitative Assessment

• In the majority of cases, pupils progression was tangible and produced enthusiastic, active learners whose excitement was palpable in a closing assessment that brought to life the Enquiry and resulted in excellent use of historical language and argument; • For many engaged pupils, not only those designated G+T[10], opportunities to tackle a variety of challenging activities, both written and verbal, drove them on to excellent standards. Their willingness to address the question away from the classroom and utilise content in their responses that had been found through independent research rather than taken from the lesson demonstrated a drive to learn that went to the heart of what I was trying to achieve. This was immensely satisfying; • However, thanks to high rates of absence but also a tendency for activities to be aimed too high without adequate scaffolding, some pupils found it hard to maintain pace with the lesson sequence[11]. Particularly when they struggled to such an extent that nothing was produced of which they could be proud, disenchantment with the enquiry limited progression. While this improved with greater efforts made to support learners, more must be done in future medium term planning to ensure pupils are able to work through the scheme as lesson progress; • By comparing this scheme with others I teach is to observe how important it is for teachers to have a personal stake in the medium term planning. While departments stress the need for consistency – particularly when pupils are moving up or down sets – the passion a teacher can bring to an Enquiry of her making demonstrably affects progression. This was certainly the case with this scheme, where my enjoyment teaching the module translated into enjoyment for the pupils learning the module. Having pupils so enthusiastic about their study in history that other teachers remark on their knowledge and understanding made me very proud.

e. Conclusion

With this evaluation in mind, I can conclude this report by stressing the benefits of both the initial planning stage informed by general and subject-specific learning theory, and the process of reflection that began as soon as it was drawn up. While this was, as Riley predicted, an ‘intellectually challenging process’, my evaluation indicates that real, tangible progression was made in a manner that brought the subject alive and created an enthusiasm for the discipline (Riley 2000, 31).

However, this can only be the start of the process. The challenge is now to maintain this reflective focus, action my points for improvement, and commit myself to developing enquiries throughout the Unit and on through the Key Stages. This progression must be built upon. As this report has shown, informed planning is crucial. No matter the environment, well-tailored lessons that work in a scheme greater than the sum of its parts can lead to genuine improvement in the skills that underpin our subject. Just as importantly, they can develop a sense of curiosity and enthusiasm to learn. In challenging schools, there can be no greater achievement.

Word Count: 6, 870 without quotes

-----------------------
[1] See Appendix for a full list of predicted levels in History for end of Year 7
[2] See appendix for lesson observations of this group
[3] See assessment section below and appendix for examples of positive marking in books
[4] For the placement of the video, please consult the Appendix – Lesson Plan 2. In order to incorporate a lesson grounding myself in pupils’ prior learning, this ISM was shifted to the second lesson instead of forming the opening to the scheme.
[5] Please consult the spreadsheet of assessment present in Appendix
[6] For an example proforma, please consult Appendix
[7] See Appendix for all four lesson observations during lesson sequence
[8] See Assessment Spreadsheet within the Appendix in order to observe the red boxes that represent incompleted, or unattempted, work
[9] Fortunately, this strategy would also be useful to incorporate pupils with poor attendance levels, indicated on the Assessment spreadsheet
[10] For just such an example, examine Appendix for a selection of pupils’ work. This includes one student whose level was average for the group; thanks to being engages, he was able to produce some excellent work that demonstrated not only historical skill, but historical curiosity
[11] For an example of such work, please consult the appendix

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