UKEdMag: Questioning History by @LesleyMunro4

Engaging students with questioning is crucial in any subjects, but the level of questions have to be well considered, correctly pitched, and challenge the pupils to help their understanding develop further. This is very relevant in History, as Lesley Munro explains, in this article extract from the August 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine.


What to do with year 9 when KS3 was compressed into two years? We tried teaching GCSE for examination in year 10 for a few years and, whilst our results were good and the C/D borderline gap did close, we felt the most able were not achieving their full potential by a grade. We could have chosen to go back and continue to teach the KS3 programme of study but four years ago I decided to introduce the project qualification. This would give the students an opportunity to build on their historical skills and for their only time in their historical learning choose what history they wanted to study. At the end of year 9 they would have a qualification. As GCSE history is open to all students that are interested in history, whatever their ability, we offer Level 1 (G-D) and Level 2 (C-A*).

Students must choose an area to study and create an enquiry question and complete a project proposal form outlining their objectives, give a timeline of activities and resources they will need. Then they research their enquiry question; write up their findings giving supporting arguments and alternative viewpoints or interpretations. They also must use a range of different sources and at Level 2 evaluate the reliability of their sources and draw their own conclusions based on their research. Throughout the project they have to keep an activity log recording what they have been doing, including problems encountered and how they have overcome them. Finally, they must share their work with an outside audience and then write an evaluation of their own learning and how they have tackled it. Really, it’s like a mini dissertation and we try to ensure the academic rigour for history is driving their project forward.

 We start by showing students Ron Berger’s ‘the story of Austin’s butterfly’ and we discuss that is okay to get things wrong and the importance and value of hard work and redrafting in order to produce a piece of work that they can be genuinely proud of. Getting them to create a really good historical enquiry question is the next step. Riley  has discussed the importance of history teachers creating enquiry questions that will provide “purposeful learning” and “rigorous historical thinking”.  This can be problematic for teachers, so getting students to do it would be a challenge.   We list some possible topics they might be interested in researching.  Most chose topics that they knew something about and had studied at primary school or at KS3.  We provided stacks of history magazines to get them to find topics they knew nothing about and to pique their interest in something new.  Their first attempts at enquiry questions were pretty dreadful e.g. what was fashion like in 1900? Or was Henry a good king?  As they need to give alternative viewpoints or interpretations we gave them some sentence starters to get them thinking e.g. How significant was …, how important were the consequences of …, how have interpretations of ….changed?

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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