Dan Lyndon Subject: History

‘From the Elephant Gun to the Sniper’ Improving pupils’ writing skills in History

AIM: to develop KS4 teaching strategies that will improve pupils’ extended writing with use of well selected, accurately deployed key language and well selected evidence.

OUTCOME: Pupil answers that demonstrated precise and concise writing, with a high level of analysis and linkage of key themes.

Rationale – What pupil needs were you addressing with the project ?

The main concern was a lack of clarity in pupil understanding / thinking and a lack of clarity in pupil planning about their first South Africa coursework essay. I was also very conscious that some of the more able pupils were tending to write a significant amount of material that was not always relevant or direct enough. Ultimately I wanted them to be able to produce a precise and concise answer – the ‘sniper’ as opposed to the ‘elephant gun’.

Teaching Plan – How did you carry out the project -

I planned a series of lessons with the aim of:

a) providing the students with the appropriate content for the essay (this remained the same as in previous years)
b) introducing a variety of different learning styles / activities. These included structured role play, living timelines and using planning grids to narrow the content to the key elements and themes
c) providing an overview of the content by using a kinaesthetic living timeline activity and consolidating this knowledge with a small scale version that was used to fill in the planning grids
d) giving the pupils ‘write up’ time during the lessons to allow them to discuss any problems / issues that arose

I was hoping that the essays would be more effectively planned and written, in particular that the key themes of the essay would be linked together. The result was a significant improvement across the whole class – much greater understanding, much less dependence on plagiarising from worksheets and much more linkage of themes. The number of pupils that achieved Level 3 (Developed Analysis) was greater than in the baseline test. A survey showed by the class showed much greater metacognition and awareness of what helped them to plan their essay more effectively.

The benefit of this project was that I had the opportunity to reflect on a crucial area of my teaching and use the new techniques that I have been developing over the last few years to update an older piece of work. The opportunity to break down the teaching elements into small chunks and put them together into the bigger scheme was really helpful.

Outcomes - Pupil Learning
The pupils were able to demonstrate a significant level of improvement compared to previous cohorts in a number of ways; a deeper understanding of the content and in particular the key themes that needed to be interwoven throughout their answer; an improved structure for planning the essay really helped the pupils to structure their answers; the more able pupils were able to produce concise and precise answers; there was less reliance on plagiarism from the preparatory material

Outcomes - Adult Learning
I was very pleased to have the opportunity to deconstruct the coursework unit and make significant improvements. This project allowed me to bring some of the strategies that I had been developing at KS3 into KS4, in particular the use of engaging active learning techniques. I really enjoyed the project and was very satisfied with the outcomes for both myself and my pupils. It also means that future GCSE pupils will have benefited from the project as it was part of the GCSE coursework.

Next Steps

I have informally discussed with my department the changes that I implemented to the GCSE coursework as a result of this project, but will formalise this before next year’s cohort studies the unit. I also believe that the strategies that I developed are transferable across the curriculum and would particularly like to share this with the English department. I have already published part of this project on the thinking history website (www.thinkinghistory.co.uk) run by Ian Dawson, deputy director of the Schools History Project so it can be used by the rest of the History teaching community and it could form part of the workshop that I intend to give at the 2006 SHP conference.

In Conclusion – a personal response to the whole project -

This has been an extremely stimulating project both personally and professionally. It has been fantastic to work with Stefani both in her capacity as a teacher historian and as a professional mentor. I hope that I have been able to set a good example for the rest of the team with the project that I have produced and intend to use my experience in my career as an Advanced Skills Teacher.

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