Whether you like it not (I don’t) students will be marked on their spelling, grammar and punctuation (SPAG) at KS4 from now on. In history the number of points available is actually quite significant so its something that we need to directly address.
As KS3 Coordinator I am hugely interested in the KS3 to KS4 transition and as SPAG is going to be important at KS4 we need to start the marking and development of this at KS3 so the students are ready and not just stumped with it when they enter Year 10.
However I don’t think its appropriate for it to become a limiting factor on getting a certain level or not. Nor do I want SPAG to become some beast of burden for my colleagues and my students.
Therefore I have come up with a simple three-star system. Each KS3 assessment from now on will have three SPAG stars available on top of the official level given. One star means you’ve made quite a few mistakes, two stars means only a handful and three stars means nearly perfect.
When the teacher marks the assessment the banner above will be on the official mark scheme that we staple to their work. All they do is highlight the appropriate number of stars. It’s a star SPAGgled banner!
This way we’ve introduced SPAG in a very simple way, we’ve sowed the seeds but not made it onerous.
I’d noticed a lot of people on twitter using the hashtag #poundlandpegagogy recently and enjoyed reading their tweets about using pound shop items creatively in class to improve learning outcomes.
I wanted to give it a go myself, so armed with a few quid I headed to Wilko (it’s next door to my flat and the pound shop is a long way off!) and bought a lot of play paper. Play paper is that incredibly thin, cheap paper that comes on a massive roll that you give toddlers to scribble all over. You can get about 20 foot of the stuff for a pound in Wilko – bargain.
Obviously as its Term 5 we are revising heavily and the play paper has come in a treat to produce timelines either as a starter or as a way of consolidating knowledge.
For Year 12 I stretched out about 15 foot of the stuff on one wall and told them to shout out events of 1917. After 5 minutes with some fat felt tips (also from Wilko – I promise they don’t sponsor me) we produced this:
It was a neat way of revising the content and this then was used as the foundation for the rest of the lesson where I could refer to the narrative and talk about turning points and the relative significance of the events. Brill.
This has now been fixed to the wall and Year 13 came in for their lesson and complained that “we never get to do anything like that!” So out came the paper again. I stretched out another 10 foot and together we did a timeline for the USSR in the 1980s:
Pleased with these results I’ve also given over the paper to the students as well. Revising Elizabeth with my other Year 13 group I gave out 4 foot segments and each group had to make a cartoon representing Elizabeth in 1571 covering political, religious and foreign policy aspects. Again this worked a treat.
In Year 10 we are studying Bristol Docks for our controlled assessment. I’d done all the content and wanted to consolidate the narrative so out came the play paper again. At the end of the lesson we put all the tables together and stretched out an entire 20 foot roll. All the students were given a felt tip and stood along the roll. I then told them they had 6 minutes to work as an entire class team to produce an annotated timeline. The result was chaos with shouting, gesticulating and insults but the end product was ace and is now proudly on the wall of my classroom. It’s been fascinating in future lessons to see the number of students who have been referring to it.
I guess students like the nostalgia of big paper as it reminds them of being in primary school or being a kid. They also like it as it seems silly to them and is fun. But silliness does not equate to poor learning and with some forethought I hope you’ve seen above that some neat and very easy learning sequences can be planned.
At the moment Year 8 are studying “How great was Great Britain in the nineteenth century?” I needed a simple Home Learning to go with the scheme of work and over the last few years had seen a lot of people who’d set their students the task of picking a history hero. I’ve always liked this idea and decided I would make it 19th century heroes to go with the scheme but wanted to make it a bit more interesting.
Now I have no clue where exactly my inspiration came from, but I swear I’d seen an advert on the telly with people holding pictures of their mums or something naff like that. Anyway I thought it would be quite cool if the students made posters of them holding a photo or painting of their hero, along with an explanation of why they are their hero. One I thought the kids would like this a bit more as it made it a lot more fun as they could pull funny faces and poses (which they did) and two it would make an ace display (which it did).
I think it’s extremely important that students see that teachers are still learners too and are engaged and interesting in their subject. So I decided that all the history teachers in the department would complete the Home Learning too and that we’d do it before the kids to model what it should like. This was an (extremely) rare stroke of genius as its really inspired the kids who think it’s hilarious we’ve done it too and are also pulling funny faces.
As a result the kids’ Home Learning is probably some of the best of the year. We obviously had a lot of Lincoln and Nightingale but many picked the most random people ever from a whole host of important women to the man who created the Football League, to one of the first black actors in Britain to Pedro II of Brazil (because his name is ace). The display is great and stretches around three of the four walls of my class and truly shows the vast nature of the 19th century and how this was truly a great period of change.
Even better it inspired other non history teachers around the school who saw the display and wanted to take part, so now I’ve also got MFL and RE teachers involved too which is great as its showing that as a community we are all interested in history.
It’s funny how sometimes the silliest simple idea leads to such a good outcome.
If you want to see me (Marx, who else comrades!) and some of my colleagues’ work they are below (hope they don’t mind me shoving their pictures on the internet!):
I’m in the throws of A-level revision at the moment and as ever struggling to teach exam technique so my students get it and more importantly remember it.
I see things in pictures so in the last week I’ve tried to visualise essays and create memorable images that will help my students. It’s had two reactions
1. They’ve liked it and can see its benefit
2. They think I am stupid but at least they remember it so fingers crossed it’ll have a positive impact at some point anyway
Here’s a few I made. Feel free to steal, criticise…
The picture above is aiming to make it clear to students that main paragraphs are the bread and butter of a history essay, the sustinence, the bit that keeps you going.
This is the structure of a main paragraph. Good history essays have argument running through, represented here by a red thread. Decent paragraphs open with a signpost sentence, something that tells the reader what the paragraph is about, e.g. “There are a lot of political reasons that the Soviets won the war…”. Then at the heart of any history essay is evidence, in this case gold bullion. But I’ve been trying to emphasise that bullion alone will only get you a D/C, you need the links, the bits after the evidence where you link it to the question explaining its relevance or significance.
Finally I’ve been going on for ages about the fact that you need to end an essay with a ‘kick ‘em in the balls’ statement. There is no point leaving an essay on a damp squib “In conclusion, there were many factors…” Urgh. Punch ‘em. Kick ‘em. Make them remember you.
I really want a visual for introductions something which visualises both giving context and being really judgemental. Any ideas please comment below or tweet me!
There is not a single course for A-level history. In fact there are numerous paths with different exam boards. This is great. Variety is indeed the spice of life.
BUT it does mean that when it comes to revision there is often not a revision book for the kids. Students love a revision book. A simple list of the facts they need to know in little bite sized boxes with pictures to keep them amused.
So here’s a quick solution, a flash of brilliance in a week of mediocrity, get the students to crowd source one.
Two weeks ago I made a list of everything my A2 students needed to know for their USSR – Triumph and Collapse 1941 to 1991 course. I divided the list, giving each student one section, e.g. the Soviet economy during WW2, and told them to make a single page revision poster with little boxes, a picture or two, that focused on the facts and preferably included a bit of historiography. Two weeks later, and with some arm wrestling for the lazy ones, I now have a solid revision book. I added in the list of what they needed to know, made a list of every exam question et voila!
Take a look below to see the results. They are pretty blooming good if I don’t say so myself!
I’m fed up.
Since the publication of Gove’s proposed new history curriculum the newspapers, radio and television haven’t stopped with debate and discussion. This is great. I am pleased that the subject I care about so much is this important to others.
But one thing that is getting me down is the amount of negativity in this recent coverage toward history teachers and the content (or perceived lack of content) we currently teach. If you listened to the Moral Maze on Radio 4 recently or read this current article by Chris Skidmore you’d probably think that most of us barely teach any historical knowledge whatsoever. In fact, according to these ‘experts’ all we do is teach ‘skills’ and hate history.
This is far from the truth. Most history teachers I know have a passion for their subject that exceeds most of our colleagues in other departments. We care deeply about the content we teach and carefully choose narratives that we think will be engaging and relevant to our students. We believe strongly in knowledge as ultimately this is why most of us love the subject. Many of us constantly strive to improve our own knowledge by reading books, visiting museums or attending lectures so that we might be able to share this with our students.
This isn’t to say we are perfect. I know personally I’m not and am happy to admit my weaknesses. In the time I have it is very difficult to teach chronological overviews or to impart detailed historical knowledge to teenagers who study a wealth of topics and may see me for less than three hours a fortnight. But I try my damn hardest to tackle this!
Additionally most of us are not resistant to change and would happily admit that we wouldn’t mind a new curriculum, especially if one provided a historical framework that enabled students to progress.
However, the picture I have painted above has not been shared in the media and as a history teacher I am frankly bored of being undermined, humiliated and bullied by ‘experts’ who have little knowledge of how we work. Much of the debate recently has been dominated by experts (the majority of whom are university academics) who clearly have limited or no experience of being in a school classroom or the pressures or difficulties of teaching teenage children. It’s obvious in their arguments or responses that few have even read the curriculum proposal.
This isn’t to say that I don’t think these people should have a say. They should. Everyone should be entitled to their share their opinions. All I am asking is that these people base their opinions on experience and fact, not hearsay.
History teachers work hard, love their subject and try their bloody hardest to make their students think the same. It’s just a shame most people don’t see this.
Only a few gifted teachers can plan an outstanding lesson in isolation. For the rest of us mere mortals I strongly believe the only way to plan an outstanding lesson is to do so in collaboration, sharing ideas and discussing the merits and faults in your ideas.
I’m a historian. So let’s explain this using a historical analogy.
Churchill could never have won the Second World War on his own.
Without doubt he had amazing ideas and could deliver a speech like no other (have you heard the ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech!) but he needed help. No matter how good you are or think you are, you like Churchill will need help. You can probably come up with some good ideas on your own but you need to run those ideas by someone else, you will need criticism, you will need inspiration. Churchill had a cabinet of men he could rely on, men like Beaverbrook, who Churchill knew would inspire the drive to increase aircraft production. Like Churchill you need your right-hand man like Beaverbrook. The one person in your department who you can rely on to give you the key drive and inspiration or point out your faults. This is fundamental. Find that one person who you know will be honest and get talking about learning.
But this alone won’t be enough. Churchill also needed a solid force behind him with the British Army, the RAF and the Navy. Sure he had good ideas but if he had no force he would have been lost. This force these days is the internet. It’s the reliable brute force that you can count on to supply you time and time again. Whether it’s tapping in on ideas from Twitter (this is like the boys at Bletchley spying on the others and sneaking their ideas to you) or solid advice from message boards (schoolhistory.co.uk) or simply the good old TES Resources. You know that this is the place you can fall back on.
However, even this alone would not have given Churchill the key to success. The reason that Churchill was able to win the war was that he also listened to the advice of those he didn’t necessarily agree with. Both Eisenhower and Stalin gave him advice that he didn’t initially like. Both Eisenhower and Stalin did things he didn’t like. But ultimately both had ideas that would work. Therefore seek out that colleague who does things very differently to you, seek out the really experienced teacher, the new wacky teacher and listen. You probably won’t want to do everything they do, but somewhere in all that advice there will be some gold.
But, what really wins a war is a singular vision and planning an outstanding lesson requires the same. With help I could plan an outstanding lesson. Does this mean if you picked up my lesson plan you’d deliver an outstanding lesson? Probably not. This isn’t a reflection on you but ultimately in the classroom you need to be yourself. You need to teach how you teach, not how someone else does. So yes listen to all the advice you can, you need to, BUT ultimately a truly outstanding lesson must be yours.