Workshop B

Diana Laffin: Improving Writing at A-level.

We begin with choral music and a consideration of the fates of 3 prominent Catholics/Jesuit sympathisers in 1606. One of them composed the music – Ave Verum Corpus by William Byrd. Good story of Luisa de Carvajal, who was a Jesuit missionary who used to dig up martyred Catholic priests and sell their bones as relics. She wanted to be a martyr. Interested to read her letters, they sound gruesome! Arrested twice, the second time they did a dawn raid and was imprisoned and deported. She wasn’t martyred but was beatified and has an Airbus named after her.

This hook points out that sixth form still need the stories and the people, because often A-level courses have removed these. Reminds me of the Italian faux lesbian from the 1930s Diana talked about a few years ago – one of the few stories I have for the y12 course I teach.

Diana shares a letter from her dad, who wrote home concerned about the growing power of Russia to bring home the importance of the personal connection.

Is Andrew Marr an historian? We discuss what an historian is. Someone who does their own research? Who expresses an opinion? We read and compare extracts from Marr’s History of Modern Britain, and the relevant Kynaston text, and then critique some other books, judging whether we would recommend them to students. Historical  fiction – good for a sense of period but with the proviso that it needs to be unpicked. Diana suggests a moodle book forum with students reviewing books and explaining how they are useful for background/wider reading. Staff add theirs too. This would be a good cross-curricular literacy project.

Now we look at some extracts from Allison Weir and Panikos Panayi and unpick their historical writing habits. Panayi differentiates between different social groups in his conclusion – good modelling for students. Also quite cautious, where sixth formers are often naively decisive. Is the instruction “Write a conclusion” limiting? Should it be “Write a series of supported judgments”?

Students looked at the habits of historians and created a crib sheet which they then used to help them write their essays through the year. This would be a good study-skills exercise for the start of y12.

We looked at the topic review sheet Diana uses, and she says that she uses masses of positive reinforcement for students who fill it in. She says this has worked better than anything else she’s done as she gives students who have read 1-to-1 attention and this really encourages them to read more.


Diana ran a value added project where she worked with students who had achieved unusually highly at AS. She used questionnaires and mini interviews to identify their six main habits, which were then shared with other students. Strict routines and rituals were common. They regarded their success to be directly related to their hard work. Very similar to what Carol Dweck says in “Mindset”.


Behind the head are the words “what they” 🙂

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