SHP: third workshop

Christopher Edwards on planning for higher order historical thinking at ks3.

We start by discussing what makes a good or outstanding history lesson as a group and then feeding back to everyone. Chris suggests that Ofsted has a view on this, but it might not be the definitive view. Perhaps I misunderstand this, but don’t these labels belong to them?

Anyway. Some suggestions of engagement and higher order thinking and how these contribute to an excellent lesson.

Begin by thinking about how you see history, how you see learning and what it means to be better at history. Chris shares some examples of facts that were taught in the 19th century and asks what’s wrong with them. I think that it makes you ask more questions than you can answer, and that some of these facts are supremely dodgy in that they stand alone, uncontested, and are in part extremely one sided. Someone suggests that learning it does not offer any understanding of it. It only gives them half the tools they need: only knowledge. It’s just a memory exercise: it’s not really history because it could be anything. What is the purpose of the text, asks Chris? There’s a political agenda within. It is written to promote a particular point of view. It does give an overview of the key events and ideas of the time, which is useful.

You can look a history as a fixed narrative or as a foreign country: challenge, puzzle, engage. The known versus the unknown. It’s difficult to do HOT with the former because it reduces history to a memory, when it is strange and mysterious and it’s impossible to know what it was really like.

We look at a photo from 1914 of a large family group and talk about how you might use it to promote higher order thinking in the classroom. Lots of ideas about making inferences and considering how this picture might be different in 1918, or doing a more in depth enquiry by assigning characters to pupils to research.

Donovan and Bransford, How Students Learn, is recommended as “one of the best books available to the history teacher”. Chris talks about the fable of the fish as a metaphor for children in school. Children don’t bring empty minds and are constantly interpreting what you’re saying into their own realities, and it’s important to engage with that. He also recommends Steve Weinberg on historical thinking, telling the story of Primo Levy. Students translate experiences – hence, “why don’t you just escape?” Or “why don’t we just blow them all up?” Which seems to pop up quite often.

We look at some enquiry questions and discuss their relative merits. I’m feeling quite confident about this now. Someone suggests that all the questions lack a certain amount of quirkiness and that this is key when setting up the enquiry. We talk about involving students in the process of forming enquiry questions. Someone says no, because they don’t have the prior knowledge they need to come up with a good question. Good point. Chris suggests asking them how they would extend their learning at the end of the unit. Someone else suggests that there is no such thing as a bad enquiry question if the students have come up with it, because it’s what they want to know. Hmm. I might be misunderstanding something here, too.

We consider some questions on the Treaty of Versailles and which promote rigorous historical thinking. Chris references Dylan Wiliams – the quality of the questions you ask pupils is key. We look at the question that promotes historiography. It’s important to remember that history is an account, written by a person.

We move on to measuring student progress in lessons and what it means to get better at history. To me, they become more subtle and vague in their language and talk less in absolutes: things are no longer black and white, nor do they change completely and instantly. Chris talks about the core knowledge curriculum at the Pimlico Academy. The y7 assessment is 50% multiple choice and 50% mini essays – no levels, but measured on the quality of knowledge within. The view is that the understanding cannot come until later. Chris does not seem to subscribe to this methodology.

Suggestion that progress can be assessed through the learning objectives. Thinking about my gold/silver/bronze success criteria and how I could better use these in my lessons, perhaps with the pegs I use instead of lolly sticks – where do you think you have reached? Place your peg on the line on your way out and I’ll confirm when I mark your book.

Chris shows how the levels can be used to map put student understanding of the key concepts, eg cause and consequence. It’s a useful map of how children learn to use as a starting point. Chris suggests that Gove wants to dump the levels because he likes knowledge and doesn’t think students are capable of doing the analysis promoted within the levels, and that what they needs is a steady diet of facts. He recommends Googling for Lee and Shemilt (sp?) “A scaffold not a cage” to help when considering how student learning progresses in history. It is more sophisticated than the levels and will help you to map out progression. Also consider the students in your classroom and what their prior knowledge is and challenge their misconceptions.

Final thoughts. Chris wonders, what is Gove’s intention for how history will be assessed? War will he do with the second level concepts? Make sure you explain to students the importance of what you are teaching them (we are learning…so that…). Make sure your units fit into a bigger picture.

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