SHP2014: Richard McFahn and Alec Fisher

Sadly, without Alec Fisher. Richard is going to be talking about teaching outstanding history.

Make your lessons a flipping PEACH: feedback, prior knowledge, engagement, access, challenge, higher order thinking. We look at the advice for Ofsted inspectors when they are considering learning over time and it is littered with references to these things; they do look at quality over time so it is important to keep these things in mind consistently.

Michael Maddison, the history HMI, promotes historical enquiry among other things as key for outstanding history teaching. Richard models the enquiry process for us, beginning with a fake archaeological dig (blindfolded kid kneeling down with a trowel), then moving on to a picture of a skeleton that has been dug out of the ground and asking us to write down questions we might want to ask about it. After these have been, in our imaginations, written onto the whiteboard (to allow for clear progress as we tick them off as they are answered), we get a written source to add some more flesh to our skeleton (ha ha) and then started to hypothesise about why the skeletons might be there. Richard suggests providing hedge words to help students with this: a certainty washing line hanging from the ceiling; laminates of words like possibly, probably, fairly, maybe, not sure, perhaps, sure for students to choose when they indicate where they are on the continuum. More evidence is then added and we’re invited to come up with a second answer, this time supported with evidence. Now even more evidence: why did so many people die from the Black Death? And then finally, writing an answer to a bigger question, about why so many people were buried in that place.

We identify aspects of feedback, challenge, access and engagement in that process and then Richard moves on to talk about sustained progress over time vs accelerated progress in 20 mins – of course everyone wants to first one. How do you ensure students make progress over time? You need to plan for it! Start by thinking about second order concepts. Cause, consequence, change, continuity, significance, interpretations. Richard and his colleagues thought hard about what the epitome of success in each of these skills would look like at the end of KS3, KS4 and KS5. Identifying where each of the skills are going to be taught across key stage three helps to ensure progression. He also shows us how he broke up the idea of interpretations into components to ensure progression over time. This is a valuable thinking exercise on which to spend time.

Richard suggests a way in to interpretations: show an artist’s impression of an event and ask students, “Did the artist do their homework?” He gives us a picture of the Battle of Hastings and we check the facts against the Bayeux Tapestry and some other sources. Then there is a discussion about artistic licence and whether historians should be allowed to use their imagination when they’re telling a history, such as Schama describing the sounds and feelings of the men at the battle in his History of Britain.

Then we move on to think about causation: Richard uses an example from his teaching of the French Revolution. We look at pictures of Louis and identify the change between the two, and then the cartoon of the guillotine and his execution; the question to go with this is “Was it inevitable that the French would kill their king?” This is followed up with a card sort to consider the changing popularity of Louis over time. Richard suggests providing some cards without dates when doing a chronological sort to encourage better engagement; then we make a popularity graph on the desk. Then, students can identify one point in the timeline – not the day of execution, because that would be too dangerous – to send Dr Who back to intervene: when could a change have made a difference? When did it become inevitable?

Richard finishes by impressing upon us the importance of teaching a chronological framework and overview; and encouraging us to go to his website for today’s resources:

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