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AS/A2 History Teaching


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#1 Guest_Nick Dennis_*

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 12:18 PM

I have been thinking about this seminar for a long time and promised Carole F on many occasions that I would start it. Recent events have made me think about it more and more. A recent conversation with a colleague led to his statement that my ‘style’ of teaching was not really appropriate to my school i.e. getting the students to think/do some work rather than telling them all the information in a lecture format.

I can understand the basis of his comments. The students have generally been taught in a particular way through the school and are afraid of doing something different. I saw this in my first lesson. I asked the students to get into groups where they would summarise a point about women in Britain during the World War Two and present it to the other groups. Not a radical idea, but the response it brought was surprising. The students wanted me to tell them the ‘correct’ information and they wanted to write it down. Many of them were unhappy about this and I subsequently changed my teaching to suit their need for security.

The problem I face is that I know it is boring. I can happily talk about the subjects and bore the students with PowerPoints but I also want the students to critically engage the material personally. Of course I realise that they need to do this with a degree of knowledge but I feel that I’m not really helping the students understand the important points. In one sense, I know the ‘learning’ doesn’t really happen until they start revising but there must be a better way where the learning takes place alongside the teaching.

For example, the students have studied the rise and decline of the Great Powers. They have lots of notes but no real understanding of the topic. It was taught before I arrived and in revision classes it was the one topic that came up again and again as a major sticking point. My initial solution for next year is to give a mini-lecture followed up by an Ian Dawson type of activity showing the relative decline of the Great Powers. This way, I can combine the security the students crave with a substantive attempt at cementing their knowledge so they can answer the exam question set as homework.

I’m not suggesting that ‘lecture’ format is outdated. In some cases, it is the best method of teaching. However, teaching using this method over a whole year would bore me and I know it would bore the students.

The point of posting these comments is that I would like to get a conversation going about the kinds of activities/teaching methods people use at AS/A2 and the problems that they face. Normally, topics on AS/A2 teaching end up with comments like ‘use methods that are successful at KS3 and KS4’. When I started teaching at my present school, these comments were not as helpful as they appeared! I know that a fair few members of the forum teach AS/A2 but there is little discussion in comparison to KS3 and KS4. Hopefully this thread will allow us to pool our collective knowledge and experience in one place.

#2 Ed Waller

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 12:55 PM

I know exactly what Nick refers to here, with students feeling they need to have the 'right' answer, and practically demanding some kind of 'spoon-feeding' of content.

I've tried to move away from that approach (which was prevalent in my school before I arrived, and which led to some excellent results in most subjects).

I've begun (actually with Yr 10, for reasons too tiresome to go into) a different model of lesson, a development of the three parter. It adds, as Nick alludes to above, a consolidation exerecise - sort of a "here's the information, now play with it" structure.

There's a number of activities that are possible and worthwhile. Perhaps the most diffcult for students is to be presented with a relevant cartoon and be invited to (a ) describe content, (b ) say what it is saying about the event (c ) suggest a caption and (d ) discuss accuracy or utility or both.

It is possible to achieve similar using sources and card sorts before moving up to Dawsonian activities.

Again, thinking of Richard J-N dv work, getting the students to devise a 'trailer of the film' should, as a longer term project, enable 'engagement' with the materials.
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#3 Guest_Nick Dennis_*

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 03:05 PM

Yes, they want to be spoon-fed! I'm not against this in some circumstances but I think it causes a problem when they are faced with a hard question that can be answered in a number of ways. The RJN dv work is something I will try when I have taught the causes of the Cold War to Year 12. I think it will help with revision at the end of the year.

The students are well drilled on how to use sources although I worry that they follow the formula too closely. The other part of the History course I teach is Britain 1926 onwards. One of the things I will get my students to read is an extract from Orwell's 'Road to Wigan Pier'. Hopefully reading his descriptions will make the 'Devil's Decade' seem more real.

The ID type exercise on the rise and decline of the Great Powers is still being thought out. Once I have a more definite structure, I'll post it here.

Edited by Nick Dennis, 28 May 2006 - 03:13 PM.


#4 Nichola Boughey

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 08:13 PM

I do feel that many of the problems of stimulating independant thinking at KS4 and KS5 stems from KS3 teachings.

Too often teachers show videos or provide non stimulating tasks so that when teachers later attempt to stimulate minds with innovative tasks the students just want to be spoon fed.

Often I am asked by students if they can just copy out notes rather than complete varied tasks and some of them would love wholly dictated lessons.

I had a Yr. 7 class this week who had a mixture of activities to complete on Native Americans and all they wanted was for me to give them the answers to cloze activities and match up heads and tails before they answered higher level questions. I pointed out to them that would be like me doing the work for them when all they had to do was read through the fact sheet that had the information on it... quite sad really especially as I have done VAK, role plays, higher level thinking with them etc.

I believe in doing lots of types of activities and gradually get my students around to my way of thinking/teaching. Lots of my KS4 and KS5 students have just written me thank you cards expressing a respect for my unique teaching styles.

I guess we all need to keep fighting the good fight and keep providing 6th formers with challenging activities.

#5 alison denton

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 08:16 PM

Don't neglect the advice to use methods that work well at KS3 and KS4 - it is right!! Remember that the level of what you are hoping they will achieve is higher, but the route to getting there .....

I recommend the Teachers Toolkit by Paul Ginnis - it is fantastic when you run out of inspiration to do something different.

My best piece of advice would be to pursue the learning (rather than the teaching) but always always pay particular attention to allowing the pupils to feed back. One of the most effectrive things I've done regularly at As and A2 is to teach a part of a topic (using whatever method) then ask pupils a summary question which they answer on their own, say in about 20 minutes, then everyone reads their answer out, and together we pick up the different points raised so that by the end of it everyone has a really comprehensive but also individual answer.
I make a heck of a lot of use of the pupils' answers - I photocopy them and we analyse them, highlight etc

Not rocket science I know.

#6 Guest_Nick Dennis_*

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 08:40 PM

Your point about focusing on the learning has been my goal but the students expect it to be given to them without much work themselves. I'm not asking them to learn new content, but to consolidate their knowledge. Somehow, I'm expected to do this for them.

Ginnis is always great to use. What I will be doing is very much like Ed's idea of giving them the content and then trying something different.

Your summary activity sounds like something I have been doing for revision. I'll use it in class more often!

Alison, your suggestions don't have to be a panacea - the fact that we are discussing them in one place will be a great help. Would Gidz and Ed P like to contribute?

#7 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 10:32 PM

As Nicky identifies, the long term answer to the problem of getting AS and A2 students to engage actively with their learning is to focus on this from the minute they arrive at school in Y7. Built up gradually lesson by lesson over the course of KS 3 and 4 students will learn that they are not going to be given everything on a plate/spoon fed. By Y12, the sort of activity Nick mentioned in his first post would have been second nature to his students and there would not have been the resistance he faced. Of course, that does not answer his immediate problem - just as the recommendations to do what you do at KS3 and 4 did not when he first started his new post. (I plead guilty on that one. :blush:)

If a new teacher to a school is faced with students in the Upper School who have always been taught didactically then there is no way that s/he can change things over night. Furthermore, it's a Departmental issue too since it is the whole culture of how a subject is taught that is involved here; therein lie the problems, particularly if you are not HOD.

I think the endless emphasis on exam results, league tables etc does nothing either to encourage a move away from the 'Gradgrind approach' even though we all know that students understand better if they engage actively with what they are learning.

So .... what is to be done? The short term solution is to try to provide the security blanket the students demand whilst at the same time attempting to wean them gently from it. I think if I were in Nick's position (and I have 'been there' myself) I would strike a bargain with the class and explain carefully why I was doing so. The bargain might be: "I will give detailed notes as handouts for your files - and possibly model answers to some questions too(?), but in return you will be expected to eg prepare a presentation on 'x', participate in role plays once per sub topic, discuss material in small groups and feedback to the whole class once a week ..... or whatever seems a reasonable compromise. If you can do this in Y12 and gradually increase the learning activities as opposed to the teaching-from-the-front then in Y13 you might have won the battle.

I agree with Alison's strategy too. I am a firm believer in using the students' work as a teaching tool and I found that if I also did this alongside them it helped a lot too. Done in short bursts, for example just the introduction to a question, or allocating one main point for a para to be written on also made the transition easier. It seems less scary if they only have a bit to do... and that's the bottom line I suspect. It's not just laziness, it's a lack of confidence in their own ability so if this can be built up in short steps it helps.

These students are going to be totally lost at Uni. if they have been spoonfed throughout their whole school careers.

The long term solution is to start as you mean to go on in Y7, but it is an uphill battle I know.

#8 Guest_Nick Dennis_*

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 11:22 PM

Really useful advice Carole and I like the idea of the bargain - the model answers I have done for this year group will come in very handy next year.

I agree that they will be lost when they get to uni so I would like to use more uni type activities (read something, answer some questions around it and then be prepared to discuss) but I'm not sure how they will go for it. Maybe with the bargain strategy...

#9 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 28 May 2006 - 11:56 PM

Another thought .... I'm pretty sure I have mentioned this on the Forum before, but don't recall where, and it may have been in a PM or in Live Chat with someone.

A strategy I used sometimes (as part of the bargain thing) was to give info. handouts ahead of a lesson. They were required to read these/part of it for homework. Interspersed within the notes were empty 'boxes' in which they were asked to pencil in notes, thoughts, ideas about xxxxxx. It might be that they were asked to make a simple deduction or to make some kind of overview statement, or to tease out a principle relating to what had preceeded it - since this is what they seem to find so difficult (the bigger picture, the point)

The whole point was that this was never marked as such (thus taking off the pressure to produce something 'good'), but after some preliminary going through stuff they may not have understood, clarifications etc then everyone was required to say something about what might go in the boxes. They could rub out what they had originally put if they wished and rewrite.

This seemd to build confidence gradually (as I mentioned in the previous post) and took off the pressure to say something intelligent on the spur of the moment. If they could mull things over on their own, then discuss under my 'guidance' and then write down a useful answer it looked as if I was giving them the answer (and teaching them 'properly' in their eyes) when all along they were learning - slowly - to be more independent. It's all in the mind! ;)

Something like that could be a stepping stone for the read/answer questions/discuss idea you mention ..... but you do need to reach that stage eventually or they'll be dropping out of Uni like flies! I think they need to understand that although the name of the game is to get a good grade, they'll be lost at Uni. if they can't do anything independently. That's the bargain you're striking really, isn't it?

#10 Russell Courts

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Posted 29 May 2006 - 07:24 AM

When I first took over the A level classes, I was given a lecture by the Headmaster (who was a history teacher) about how in his first year of A level teaching he would spend hours every night preparing his notes for the next days lesson and that he expected at least 80 percent of each lesson to be dictated notes and that he didn't hold much sway by these new fangled text books!

Fortunately for me and my students, I then had a chat with the incumbent A level teacher who told me that he had given her the same speech when she took the job in 1981 and that she had ignored him for 20 years.


Anyway, anecdotes aside, as with everything else in life, I have found that the key word as far as my 6th formers go is 'variety'. I agree with Nick that there is nothing wrong with a bit of 'old fashioned' lecturing, as long as it is part of a recipe that includes all the other stuff. I have found that yes, the kids do want to feel safe, but they also want to be stimulated and feel like they are stretching themselves. I tend to start a topic with a short introduction, either a lecture, or a piece of reading, or a clip from a movie etc. to stimulate interest and then I assign some reading which is always accompanied by some very straightforward comprehension questions which we then go over together (mostly to force them to do the reading, but also to give them a good background - I find the Access to History series excellent for this especially since they have key questions as headings already) I will then spend a lesson going over the material again in a way that would make the headmaster proud! I find that by this stage they are feeling pretty confident that they have 'covered' the material. At this point I find that I can ask them to do something that allows them to stretch themselves, be it a role play, a formal debate (always successful and fun), source work, peer marking etc.

The point is, I suppose, that at AS level, whenever I have gone straight to the 'interesting' stuff, or asked them to research things completely from scratch, the results have always been a disaster. By the time they are in the upper 6th, I am able to 'give' them less and simply guide them in their reading more and go straight to the debate or role play or even the good old fashioned essay. However, even then, most of them still need the crutch of hearing it from me as well.

I think the point about them being lost at university is a questionable one. Yes they will be asked to stand on their own two feet when they get there, but they are not there yet and that is why they still need so much guidance. I don't think we do them an injustice if we spoonfeed them a little, but it is a two year course, for the most part, and we need to slowly wean them off of 'dictation' rather than just deny them its comforts cold turkey. I think that sometimes we get tangled up in our need to be creative at all times and we feel that somehow we are failing our kids if every lesson doesn't have bells and whistles on. Of course, I still think that 80% dictation is utter nonsense, but I don't think we should be afraid of it now and again.
I think I'll have strawberry...

#11 Guest_Nick Dennis_*

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Posted 29 May 2006 - 09:01 AM

Good ideas Carole! :)

Russell touches upon something that I think needs to be clarified. The idea that the lesson should bells and whistles on is not something I'm aiming for. I think I would get bored because I can see the students getting bored and I remember what it was like during my 'A' level! I think that if I'm honest, my concern stems from the students that are not as focused as the majority.

I think my biggest mistake was expecting too much from my pupils. I knew they were very bright so I thought they could handle the work I gave them. Like Russell, it turned out to be something of a disaster (which I think led to the comments of my colleague in the first place).

One really useful point that seems to have come from the seminar so far is the gradual move to more independent work. Along with a healthy teaching/learning 'diet' the pupils should feel secure and be able to use their knowledge in a meaningful way.

As for the being lost at uni, I'm not asking them to become uni students (does that include the sleeping in/not turning up? :) ). What I would like is for them to be prepared for what awaits them and at the same time improve their skill set so it can be applied to what they are doing now. How many of us have heard from our sixth form when they come back that they have been shocked by the workload?

#12 Nichola Boughey

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Posted 29 May 2006 - 10:21 AM

A strategy I used sometimes (as part of the bargain thing) was to give info. handouts ahead of a lesson. They were required to read these/part of it for homework. Interspersed within the notes were empty 'boxes' in which they were asked to pencil in notes, thoughts, ideas about xxxxxx. It might be that they were asked to make a simple deduction or to make some kind of overview statement, or to tease out a principle relating to what had preceeded it - since this is what they seem to find so difficult.


This was an idea that Carole gave to me when I started teaching A-Level and it really worked. I was lucky enough that the bulk of girls I got at AS where used to my teaching style at GCSE but I had to step it up a notch.

I also used Media in my A-Level lessons and that helped get girls thinking... on a series of lessons about escape from Sobibor I divided the girls up into three groups (Nazis, Jews and the BBC) and had them research and write scripts about the escape from three different viewpoints. We ended up with a short radio news report containing two biased reports of the escape and a balanced one - the girls marked that down as an effective way to learn history.

I like thinking outside of the box... I also get the girls to prepare tests for each other.

#13 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 29 May 2006 - 03:34 PM

.........

As for the being lost at uni, I'm not asking them to become uni students (does that include the sleeping in/not turning up? :) ). What I would like is for them to be prepared for what awaits them and at the same time improve their skill set so it can be applied to what they are doing now. How many of us have heard from our sixth form when they come back that they have been shocked by the workload?


When I observed that spoonfed students might get good A Level results, but would be lost at Uni I certainly wasn't meaning that one should expect Y12 and 13 students to function as if they were totally independent learners, but we do have a responsibility to prepare them for what lies ahead. A point already made.

One of my own daughters was very well prepared for the demands of Uni since she had been taught by someone who over the two years of AS and A2 had gradually 'let go' and during the A2 year had used seminar methods etc. Researching and writing a well-chosen Individual Study helped a lot as well. However, she did say how many of her fellow students were lost at first. These were the ones who had been spoonfed.

My other daughter, who did a vocational degree, actually found that she was more spoonfed in the first year at Uni than she had been at school. The one thing she found particularly difficult at first was being required to prepare presentations in a team. She had had no experience of this in the 6th Form she attended.

Perhaps that's where strategies such as the one Nicky mentions above are not only good learning opportunities and a good way of gaining ownership of the material, but also good preparation for life after A Level. Don't employers often mention that they want good 'team players'?

Hope this isn't drifting away from the focus of the seminar too much. :unsure:

#14 DAJ Belshaw

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Posted 29 May 2006 - 04:42 PM

What one could do, of course, is tell students at the beginning of the course that an important part of the course is teacher assessment. This would get them motivated to start critically engaging with the work. Once they became used to doing this (and presumably start enjoying their learning more) then you can tell them the 'real deal'. ;)

I had some really snotty students from another school in the post-16 consortium tell me that my teaching style "wasn't what they were used to and they got A*'s at GCSE". As one knows everything at 16/17 years of age I didn't try to argue with them. As Carole says, you need to give them a security blanket whilst encouraging critical engagement.

One way of doing this is through a blog. The one I set up for my Russian AS-level students seems to still be there despite my having left the school. That might give some people some ideas. Once they realise that their opinion matters and that the destination (i.e. exams) are important, but not the be-all and end-all, the more they're likely to be forthcoming.

Doug :hehe:

#15 Guest_Nick Dennis_*

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Posted 29 May 2006 - 04:44 PM

Not at all Carole, as I think that we do have a responsibility to prepare them for the world outside our very peculiar institutions. In fact, that is one of the tensions that I wanted to discuss but most probably did not make very clear. If we can combine this with helping the students to progress in terms of the AS/A2, then we are doing a good job.

As an aside, what strategies would you use to motivate/cajole the bright student that has no confidence in their work?

Doug's idea of using a blog is very useful and I plan on using it in the next year. I think it can be used as an extension to the debate work mentioned above or it can be used instead of a 'formal' debate.

Edited by Nick Dennis, 29 May 2006 - 04:49 PM.





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