SHP25: Stretching A level students

Diana Laffin presenting on A level teaching, using a study of Lloyd George. Diana sets us a starter task of look at a statue of him being unveiled by Prince Charles in Parliament Square and asking us to guess when it was unveiled. Turns out it was in 2007 and it’s an interesting interpretations exercise to consider what other statues there are in Parliament Square and when they were put there.

Is Lloyd George Britain’s best PM? He had a lot of impact on normal people. He made a great speech when he said that the cost of running a duke is equivalent to two dreadnoughts. He had a film made about him during his lifetime – the first one.
Why did it take so long for him to get a statue, then?

We begin with an art exhibition of images of Lloyd George, from which we must make inferences about him. This helps students to pose questions about him – we generate some of these and share them. Diana uses the questions to help plan the enquiry, using some of them as research homeworks.

Now, onto pants! You can choose the big safety pants: cover everything in extreme detail, fill in the blanks study packs full of exam criteria. They keep management happy and make you feel safe but will they encourage and enthuse your students? Sometimes the sexy pants have to come out to solve this problem: student-led learning, lots of random sources etc.

Most able students. Diana shares her definition of a gifted historian – this would go nicely in the front of the assessment booklet we are planning to make up for our sixth form students.

Should we bombard with past questions in case they come up? Diana says that the problem of doing this is that students might go into the exam and see a question they think they’ve done before, and regurgitate the answer, only there is a subtle difference in date or focus and they won’t do very well. So, it’s important to teach them the skills of applying the knowledge to different questions.

Diana shares some readings she gives out for homework. She differentiates readings among her students and in the next lesson the form seminar groups to discuss the learning from the articles and then come to a developed judgement at the end – not a conclusion, because there are always variations, qualifications, developments on those judgements. We discuss the different readings and come up with an answer to the question, “Why does he have a statue there and why did it take so long?”

Diana recommends moving as much knowledge acquisition as possible outside of lessons. She suggests calling it “prep” and shows us a log sheet for students to complete about their readings, which she backs up with positive reinforcement by lavishing time and interest on students who do the reading. One in three lessons is a seminar style lesson such as the one we modelled in today’s session. Think this would work especially well with the year 13 students.

We return to the question. Diana enthuses about the History of Stamps book she receives recently, which she says she did not expect to find so interesting. We look at a stamp of Lloyd George, depicting him as a young man. We return to the film, which was a huge and expensive project, directed by Maurice Elvey. Unfortunately it was rubbished by a commentator who wrote that it was made by nasty immigrants (children of Jewish refugees) so Lloyd George bought everything to do with it, at a cost of £20,000, and it wasn’t released until 1996 when a descendant came across the materials. It is very useful to watch as an interpretations exercise, although it can be a challenging process.

Supporting the rest. Encourage self review and make it clear that everyone benefits from identifying and acknowledging things they can improve. Make literacy big – key terms and vocabulary at the heart of your study. Here have been some lunchtime support sessions but they are not always popular and can put students off continuing with their study of the subject. The results of Diana’s study of what works with support showed that students like to feel supported – worksheets and readings and all that can only go so far, but it is the fluffy, supportive environment that they appreciate the most.

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