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#16 Tony Fox

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:36 AM

But the whole point is that you can't answer those sort of questions without specific coaching...


I feel that we should be preparing our students to answer these type of questions, and that there is nothing wrong with that, it is not as if we are doing it for them, as some subjects do (e.g. multiple choice in GCSE colouring in), students still need to demonstrate their contextual knowledge when saying how suprising.
I think that 'How typical . . ' would create more difficulty, as it would make it difficult to argue both sides, it would become more black and white; this is typical, this is not typical, whereas suprising is a little more wooly giving more scope for debate, and hence more opportunity to develop a unique argument?
I am not an official for OCR, thus I am just debating this to clarify it in my own head, therefore I may be talking rubbish.
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#17 Alex Ford

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 06:55 PM

I feel that we should be preparing our students to answer these type of questions


Isn't this more to do with your social conscience? We have a duty to help these students achieve, yes. Sadly at the moment that means getting them to second guess the outline of an exam mark scheme, or teaching them some arcane exam knowledge. Fundamentally those "Are you surprised" skills will be utterly useless in them actually becoming well rounded, independent and engaged historians. I can honestly say that students learnt more in terms of real historical understanding when we used to set and mark our own coursework. That way we were able to help them develop their historical knowledgeable as well as their ability to access core concepts of history, without the need to jump through hoops of ivory towers exam boards and over-worked-under-paid examiners working in teams which are far too large. Clearly we can help kids to play the system, but in doing that we disadvantage all those who don't, or can't or don't know they should. We also cheapen the validity of our own subject. Writing a stock "this was surprising...but it also didn't surprise me as from my knowledge I know..." type response is just a more verbose version of GCSE colouring in.


And when does teaching become coaching? Should we avoid helping our students understand the requirements of questions?


Teaching is encouraging thought - coaching is working to a specific goal. Clearly we need to help our students to do well in the examinations system, but when our sole purpose becomes helping them fit a particular mode of thinking, then we have essentially stopped teaching altogether. As soon as we accept that this is the way things are, nothing changes. I have seen alternatives and they work. At the moment, History stops in Year 9 and for many kids, doesn't start again until Year 12 (if they are lucky). It is being increasingly commented on by universities and it is fundamentally meaning that many of our supposedly brightest kids are being under-prepared for transition into higher education. Until we get a handle on the examinations system in this country, we are going to struggle to improve history teaching full stop.

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#18 Ed Podesta

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 08:52 PM

I think that the skill of spotting typicality and atypicality are essential skills for historians, and for citizens. Spotting the unusual attitude, the striking phrase or the wierdly timed is one of the great skills of an historian. Have you read 'The Cheese and the Worms?' It's an amazing study which attempts to place the attitudes of one heretical Italian peasant in the context of his time. Ginzburg couldn't have done it without explaining why he was surprised.

I can easily tell the difference between a student who's merely memorised the starter sentences 'it's surprising because... it's not unusual because', and the student who can take these scaffolds and use them to pick knowledge that shows their understanding of the thoughts and ideas of the person in context.

I must be a coach, rather than a teacher. The more precise the goals I present my students with, the more successful they are. Over time I challenge them with more and more difficult, but specific goals. Sometimes my goals are to challenge the thoughts that I'm presenting them with. Sometimes my goals are that they should take an enquiry in their own direction.

Middle class kids come to school knowing what the rules are, what makes a good answer. When they do their homework, their parents induct them into a club in which using evidence, weighing up both sides, checking that you've ATFQ'd is second nature.

I'm just doing that for the others.

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#19 Alex Ford

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Posted 21 June 2012 - 09:08 PM

I have no fundamental issue with clear goals at times, but if you want students who can really think then they need that structure to be taken away as well - the real freedom of education is precisely that...freedom. GCSE as it stands has admirable aims underneath but it ends up turning into overly structured spoon feeding without great care.

Middle class kids come to school knowing what the rules are, what makes a good answer. When they do their homework, their parents induct them into a club in which using evidence, weighing up both sides, checking that you've ATFQ'd is second nature. I'm just doing that for the others.


I agree that Middle Class kids have a lot of advantages here, but this should not be limited to being a class issue. If the examinations system allowed us to teach more freely and truly rewarded the thinking you are describing then there would be less of an issue. The fact that some groups NEED coaching through the structure is part of the unfairness

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#20 Ed Podesta

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 04:16 AM

The GCSE does reward thinking - there's lots of scope in 10 and 12 mark essays for arguing for causative links, or about interpretation. There's got to be an upper limit on the score that they can get...

I'm not sure that I understand what a post 14 exam would look like that offered the freedom that you speak of. Could you give me an example?

"In the past, philosophers have sought only to understand the world. The point is also to change it." - K. Marx
"Classification is exceedingly tedious" - I. Berlin

 

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#21 Alex Ford

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 07:09 AM

I don't have a major issue with the essay type questions as I feel that the skills here are more generic ones about argument and evidence. I think revising the examinations system is not an easy task at all, however it is bad enough that content is prescribed so rigidly, without setting a range of pseudo techniques to teach as well. If the question is asking about typically then it should ask that...if it wants the evaluation of an interrelation then it should ask that too. However, the mark scheme must be robust enough to reward multiple types of answer in a variety of formats. There is too closed a view of what makes a food answer, and not everyone would agree that the mark scheme gives the best approach. Yes, examiners should reward a range of answers, but we all know that a worrying minority have little knowledge of the topics they are marking and little time to do their work.

I have taught the gcse history pilot for 4 years now and can honestly say that the devolved coursework element is producing far better historians as I am able to focus on my historical pedagogy as well as the content, rather than spending my time second guessing a chief examiner. Rigidly structured mark schemes end up rewarding those who can follow rules.

Of course this is all based on the assumption that exams are the best way to summarise 2 years of work.

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#22 Ed Podesta

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 08:55 AM

I guess we're going to have to agree to disagree :)

I would _totally_ agree with you if we were talking about A level - but at GCSE I've been really happy with the quality of marking. There needs to be a markscheme, otherwise we're in the realm of subjective judgement. The markschemes don't specify order of comment, but seem to judge quality of comment.

I don't get the impression that our 'high flyers' have been penalised for being too creative or for writing 'out of the box', in fact the opposite - I'm constantly trying to think of ways in which they can be encouraged to use their ideas in writing, whilst being disciplined enough to ATFQ.

"In the past, philosophers have sought only to understand the world. The point is also to change it." - K. Marx
"Classification is exceedingly tedious" - I. Berlin

 

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#23 JohnDClare

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 09:55 AM

I have been following the discussion between Ed and Alex with interest, because it goes to the heart of what we are trying to do as History teachers.
Both are right.

Alex is absolutely spot on. Coaching to the test has reduced GCSE History to mechincal answers which meet an ofte forced markscheme - I was just writing to one yesterday where the question asked what the purpose of a source was, but telling them that they must first write about the message of the source because the first FVE marks are awarded for 'statements which identify the message of the source and give details in support from the content or context of the source', and only the top three marks are awarded for 'explained purpose'. One of the effects of the excessive hand-holding which teachers (are forced by the League tables to) do is that, when the pupils then go on to A-level, they get the most excessive shock when the teacher asks them to tackle a question as an historian.
So Alex is correct - we need to educate historians.

On the other hand, Ed is 100% correct. Any teacher who sends their pupils into the exam under-coached, unaware of HOW to earn the marks for every single kind of question they will meet, when every other person sitting that exam has been so coached, is failing their students spectacularly. there is no point in being a free-thinking, independently-motivated historian at 16, if your GCSE grade is not good enough to get you onto the A-level course.
So Ed is correct - we need to train exam-passers.

One thing that I DO not think is that the way to achieve both is to free the exam boards to randomise the question-types and take liberties with the content. We forget that we are talking about 16-year-olds here.
Pupils could pass the old GCE, which we are currently so desperate to emulate, simply by remembering large chunks of 'facts' to respond to a fixed set of questions which rolled round predictably from year to year.
At age 16, there MUST be a sense in which we say to the children (for that is what they are) that, if they do this, this and this, they WILL pass. It needs the security of predictability, both of skill and of content. Anything else is simply a plot to 'catch out' the less able, the unwary and the easily-distracted, and I do not believe that is an acceptable way to treat a 16-year old.

There are adjustments I could accept. By all means introduce a random, analytical question to allow the high-flyers to demonstrate their skill. I would have been quite happy to say to my pupils: 'you must do a, b and c ... and then this one, just read the question and try and answer it as best you can'. To tell you the truth, in the early days of SHP that was what you had to say for the entire second paper. But we cannot try to make our GCSE pupils do an A-level paper; it is just not fair. We need to understand that most 16-year-olds have cognitive limitations.

What is an exam for? There is nothing wrong with having a GCSE which demonstrates that pupils know how to structure answers to a set corpus of question-types and possess a defined body of knowledge. There is nothing wrong with children passing their exams. The clever kids will always do better than the less able anyway (that is what GRADES are for), and a top proportion can then go on the next level (A-level) where - apparently amazingly - they can learn new skills and content. Surely that is simply progression in education?

As for teachers, they need to realise that education is the tension it always was - teaching the subject whilst securing the passes.
Alex and Ed are both right ... in every lesson and in every sentence the teacher utters.

#24 Ed Podesta

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Posted 22 June 2012 - 03:02 PM

:)

"In the past, philosophers have sought only to understand the world. The point is also to change it." - K. Marx
"Classification is exceedingly tedious" - I. Berlin

 

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