Steve Mastin, how do I avoid teaching to the test?
Steve says that when he started teaching he went to a meeting about GCSE specs and it seemed to be one moan after another about how boring it was, and how students are almost being hoodwinked into taking it. The mark scheme. The syllabus. The miserable grope for one more mark. He and his fellow PGCE graduates started to be concerned that they had been hoodwinked and not teaching GCSE properly. And as it turned out, most teachers taught this way. Why?
Pressure from SLT.
Loss of confidence among students when it doesn’t look as they expect.
The requirement to report working at grades.
Ofsted – or perceptions of Ofsted.
Steve says he’s not anti-mark scheme, but they’re designed for us. The culture has shifted and now it’s not just endemic among teachers, but among pupils as well, who want to see the mark scheme and the success criteria. The mark scheme is useful, but for us, to inform our teaching.
We teach them very well at key stage three – perhaps even more critical thinking than is required at GCSE, and the best of that, if we’re really confident that it is rigorous and worthwhile, should be promoted at key stage four as well.
He suggests five principals.
1. Enquiry questions
This works very well at key stage three and there is a lot of research and advice about it. So why not at key stage four? Steve shares some enquiry questions he has taught for Modern World over the past few years and we discuss the benefits of them. The questions go generally way beyond what they would ask in the exam – who was satisfied by the Treaty of Versailles, for example, would become was Clemenceau satisfied by the Treaty of Versailles. When students ask how many paragraphs they need to write for this example, ask them what they would need to include, and whether they would put each person in the same paragraph.
The questions are engaging, and promote discussion and debate, which will challenge pupils in a more engaging way that learning the mark scheme.
2. Second order concepts and processes.
Change and continuity; causation; evidence; historical interpretations; diversity; significance. The first three are very explicit in the NC. The last three tend to drop off at key stage four.
3. KS3 success leads to KS4 success
Steve shares an example of a big success/failure graph, which they create on the ceiling, and explain that it helps students to think at a deeper level about whether the factors can be judged against each other fairly and what criteria should be used to judge success. This isn’t something they need to do in the exam, but it helps them to think more critically and deeply about the topic. He also shows a graph to consider how effective opposition to the Nazis was – active/passive crosses effective/ineffective.
The key with both these is to ask students to do MORE than the exam requires, so the exam will then seem easy by comparison, I extrapolate.
Role play – whole class is really good, though it takes a whole to set up. Students get a character that they are not allowed to share, and then over a series of lessons the characters are revealed – when would these people have started voting Nazi? NOT empathy.
He asks how it could be adapted for our depth studies?
I think in American West, you could look at when particular characters started to turn against the Indian population through the 19th century, though perhaps it works over a shorter space of time.
We look at a snakes and ladders version of the Cuban Missile Crisis. What are the high points and lows points? Write a justification on the snake or the ladder.
Design a League of Nations. This is given as an exercise before they know anything about it. Location? Aims? Membership? Leadership? Decisions? This makes them think about how the league was formed and flawed from the start, so better than what students are expected to do in the exam.
Interrogate statistics with no contextual knowledge (or at the end, with all the contextual knowledge). What questions do you need to ask? What stands out? We look at German election results between 1919 and 1933.
Use a picture as a lesson stimulus – not a starter, but just something on the board to look at when you get started.
Causation target – factor in the centre with relevant factors written in the rings, getting less relevant as they work out from the centre.
Myths. Provide pub quiz facts that are generalisations and reword, combine, go beyond, knock down..
Teach a lesson in character. Steve teaches Nazi lessons; he doesn’t tell the students he’s going to do this, but instead gets them to do these in a carousel so that they can understand what students were taught in the nazi regime, and extrapolate from this the aims of the system and what was important to the nazis (half the lessons are sport, for example).
Chalk on the carpet to show the post-war German divide. Allows for a visual representation of how people could and couldn’t move around.
Start or end a lesson with what three people have in common, or who is the odd one out, with no clear answer, to help them to develop their skill in describing.
Start a topic without telling them what it is about. Give them some cards about women’s actions, for example, when doing the suffragettes/ists, and ask them to identify the suffragette references in the Mary Poppins clip.
Look at real historians writing real history, rather than the gobbets we usually deal with. This is excellent advice because for me, one of the biggest leaps between key stages four and five is being able to identify the voices of different historians in the topics they are studying. Giving them a variety of opinions, summarised, allows them to access the debate – give them the original source too if you like, underlined for assistance. Makes me think of the Churchill speech about Gandhi I shared with my year 8 class this year.
5. Handling historical sources
Another thing they don’t need to do for the exam but will help them to answer the exam questions. Give them the sources and ask them questions – very natural questions, nothing lifted from the exam board. Interrogate the sources to consider what they say. The exam doesn’t encourage students to ask interesting questions, but we can do this.
A final tip!
Weekly Revision session from January onwards with a different focus. At parents evening you look at the mock and identify which sessions students should come to.