Reflecting on a History Curriculum
As many of you will know, I’m about to start a new job as Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning. As a result, it may be that my History-specific blogging becomes less of a thing. But I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the Key Stage 3 curriculum that I had been working on in my previous school, inspired by Hugh Richards’ tweet about what he and his department have been working on at his school.
Before I start, let me be clear about this. The curriculum we had wasn’t perfect. Loads of room to argue and quibble with topic choices. Some of the questions below probably aren’t the best enquiry questions you could ask. I think it was a perfectly acceptable curriculum, but like anything with more time it could be loads better too.
This is the overall sequence of topics on ours, below:
Please note — we have a two year Key Stage 3 to play with.
As you can perhaps tell, one member of staff was assigned to each topic to put together the resources, which would then be shared with the team. As Head of Department I had the most topics, our other solo History specialist had the next highest number, and then my colleague who had other whole school responsibilities had the fewest, which seemed the fairest way to distribute that.
Each topic has five or six ‘learning episodes’ within them (that could take maybe anywhere between 1 and 3 lessons to work through). In addition, each topic contains a common ‘mid-point’ task, plus an end of topic task. There would be a total of two summative assessments per year, which would, in an ideal world, be cumulative at least across the year, if not (due to time constraints) across the entire Key Stage.
One of the things that was very important to me was to get the sequencing of the topics in a logical order, so that the student knowledge would build over time, and they would see how the bigger story all fit together, not just across the Key Stage, but also moving ahead into Key Stage 4 and 5. For example, I felt it was important to have a unit on the causes of the First World War, as it would link back to previous knowledge students developed about Empire in the Seventeenth Century and TAST units, while feeding forward into the Western Front Medicine and Weimar and Nazi Germany topics at Key Stage 4.
Another example of the thinking behind how we’d try to build links across topics is articulated here within our Y7 Islamic World PoS.
[PLEASE NOTE: My expertise on this topic is a bit sketchy compared to others, so I’m sure there are perhaps more academically ‘up-to-date’ ways in to this topic that I don’t know about — I do not profess that this or any other unit of mine or indeed the curriculum is perfect or a model in any way — merely an example. Apologies also for the typos above!]
In terms of lesson resources, all lessons were in the format of a ‘four page lesson’. We’d initially experimented with booklets, but due to a variety of factors felt we wanted to return to exercise books. But I felt it was important to have these core central resources for a number of reasons:
- It ensured a ‘floor’ of curriculum delivery that students would receive in the event of prolonged staff absence or someone leaving mid-year (err, fiddles with collar nervously having just done that!)
- It ensured that the whole department knew what knowledge needed to be taught as clearly as possible.
- It made devising common assessments a lot easier as a result of Point 2.
- We felt that having lessons in this format would ensure students did more reading (especially when allied to whole class reading strategies) and that in general this would be a more central part of the lesson. If Powerpoint is the main resource, it is much harder to ensure that in my opinion.
An example of a lesson can be seen below, from the Causes of WW1 unit.
What we were in the process of building was more supporting materials to sit around these documents, including Powerpoints with prompts and hints and sentence starters for some of the tasks as appropriate. Now, in light of having encountered the ideas of Oliver Caviglioli and David Goodwin in Organise Ideas (that my last blog was about), I think I’d probably have a look again at whether the layout of these materials needed changing to be a bit more user friendly. I did start making some graphic organisers to go at the start of some of the lessons, such as this one on the Russian Revolution from our Year 8 Age of Revolutions unit.
It’s also important to note that teachers did have the ability to, if they wished, break away or adapt the central resources as they saw fit, for their own classes or to suit their own preferred teaching style. The set tasks on the central documents could certainly be changed or tweaked — as long as the mid-point and end-point tasks were common across the department.
Hopefully that all gives you a brief insight into some of the thinking that sat behind this work. So, lets turn to some evaluation. What criticisms would I make of the curriculum that my replacement might want to think about as she takes it forward from September?
- Local History is still quite limited in the curriculum — there are some individual bits within the larger units (e.g. in the migration or Industrial Revolution schemes of work) but it doesn’t have a specific study in it’s own right. Departmental subject knowledge probably an issue there, as well as curriculum time.
- The building in of the disciplinary knowledge needs looking at. I was really concerned that students were arriving at GCSE with really weak chronological understanding and a lack of period knowledge. So I really wanted to focus on that. But I think ‘Phase 2’ of this work would have been to really ensure the sources and interpretations aspect was more developed — I don’t think there’s enough of that in there at the moment at all.
- I think improving subject knowledge to continue to enhance the representative-ness of the curriculum also needs to continue. LGBTQIA+ History is not really represented at all, and while a lot more work was done to raise the profile of black history in the curriculum (e.g in the migration unit, by making sure we discussed slave rebellions within the TAST unit, or by including the Haitian Revolution within the Age of Revolutions unit), I think there’s scope to take those stories much further.
- Continued work to really specify the development of historical literacy and vocabulary is required. I think with more time I would have liked to really pull out the over-arching themes of the curriculum, and the key words that sit alongside that and make sure those were much more front and centre across the different units.
- Ensuring that the text in all the lessons was as lively and interesting as it is in the best lessons. For the Islam unit, I relied heavily on the works of Peter Frankopan and EH Gombrich to give students the opportunity to read age-appropriate but well-written historical narrative, which helped to tell the story better than I could. I think more of that, across all the topics, would be good.
- Developing common homeworks is another unfinished job. Within each PoS, a common extension homework, such as a Meanwhile, Elsewhere task was identified (also as a bit of a cheat to try and broaden out the curriculum within the two-year constraint). I really wanted to do more to develop common Google Forms quizzes to go along with each of the topics. The goal being to ensure that homeworks across the department were common, and weren’t going to cause much workload for staff once they were set up. But that job never got finished unfortunately.
These are a few quick reflections in a blog that’s taken me about 45 minutes to write. I’m really proud of the work that the History team at my school did, and am sure that my successor will build on that work and develop it even more.
I could go on for a lot longer, but for your sanity and mine, I probably shouldn’t. Feel free to drop any questions on twitter!