Martin Hunt was our PGCE tutor when we trained to teach. One year, he found out (around Easter time) that quite a few of his students were struggling with planning, so he put together one of his very helpful booklets to help them through this. This is a filleted version of that booklet. It was written a long time ago, so some curriculum references are out of date, but the key thing, ‘Thinking it through’ remains relevant. By this, Martin meant that if you put down something as a learning objective, anyone reading the lesson plan ought to be able to see where in the lesson that objective is addressed, and ideally, in the evaluation, there should be some comment on the extent to which the objective was achieved. This is so that lesson or learning objectives do not become airy-fairly vague intentions that don’t really mean anything.
This section of the site looks at some of the particular difficulties which trainees sometimes encounter in their planning and evaluation of lessons.
1. Thinking it through
This section focuses on the problems which trainees sometimes encounter in making sure that the stated objectives for the lesson actually feature in the lesson itself in a meaningful and focused way, and that the evaluation of the lesson also ‘follows through’ on the initial objectives, and relates back to them. In the last round of HMI inspection of initial training, one criticism was that sometimes trainees’ objectives were very vague and general, and that they were lost sight of in the lesson itself and the evaluation of the lesson.
The pages that follow are taken from a booklet by Martin Hunt, ‘Thinking it Through’, which was designed to help trainees who were having problems with following objectives through the teaching and learning process in a meaningful way. Whereas Chapter 3 of the book focuses on the whole breadth of things to think about when putting together a lesson, Martin’s booklet concentrated on history specific objectives, and the importance of ‘tracking them through’ so that the planning-teaching-evaluation-revised planning and teaching ‘loop’ is a coherent and purposeful one, and that the time consuming business of formulating learning objectives does not become a vague and not very useful web of good intentions.
This is another area which some trainees find problematic and exasperating. Given that you need to evaluate all your lessons, how do you avoid repetition, and formulaic responses? What can be a crucially valuable part of getting better as a history teacher, and learning from your own practice, can sometimes seem like a tedious and pointless chore, with trainees writing things just to show they have done an evaluation, rather than doing something which they feel is worth the time and thought involved. The section attempts to give some guidance on how to avoid formulaic, insincere and repetitive evaluations.
3. Planning through enquiry questions
Planning topics by the use of ‘Enquiry questions’ has become the dominant paradigm or ‘new orthodoxy’ for the planning process in school history in the UK. As Richards (2019 -see below for web reference) points out, ‘There is a good deal of curriculum theorising about the use of enquiry questions in the pages of Teaching History (virtually every edition has articles that explore learning within the context of an enquiry.’ But does EVERY topic have to done through an enquiry question or questions, and what does an ‘enquiry’ structure mean in practice, and what’s the difference between a good enquiry question and a bad one?
In 2018, The Historical Association attempted to clarify what enquiry based teaching was in school history, in response to DfE statements about teaching methods, and to try to ensure that enquiry based learning was not construed or misunderstood as ‘discovery learning’, where pupils were given a question and then asked to find out the answer for themselves (with or without some ‘scaffolding’).
The role of ‘enquiry questions’ in history teaching (H/A, 2018)
‘The principle of a structured historical enquiry – often referred to as an ‘Enquiry Question’ – has been developed and refined by history teachers over the past 20 years or more and was, in part, developed in direct opposition to the principles of ‘discovery learning’ and to the assumption that pupils would become effective independent thinkers simply by being given more independence. It was also part of a reaction against de-contextualised, skill-based exercises that failed to take into account the role of knowledge in making sense of the past. An ‘enquiry’ in the history education community is shorthand for a sequence of lessons integrated by a direct focus on a single ‘enquiry question’ and within which pupils build knowledge systematically and cumulatively in order to be able to answer that question by the end of it. A well-crafted enquiry explicitly facilitates a knowledge-rich approach to history and allows the teacher to guide the pupil through complex and contrary histories rather than leaving them to reach ill-informed judgements without adequate knowledge.’ (The full response can be accessed at DfE clarifies reference to enquiry-based learning / News / Historical Association (history.org.uk).
The H/A’s ‘One Big History Department Website provides a useful history of the moves towards enquiry based planning (”Enquiry questions: the back story’) at Enquiry questions – the back story! – OBHD (onebighistorydepartment.com). This includes a link to Michael Riley’s influential 2000 article in Teaching History – into_the_history_garden.pdf (wordpress.com), and links to other Teaching History articles exploring the issue of ‘What makes a good enquiry question’.
Ian Dawson’s thinking about why historical enquiry is important can be accessed at Why is Historical Enquiry important? (thinkinghistory.co.uk).
Hugh Richards (2019) provides some some suggestions for what constitute ‘good’ enquiry questions, and less propitious examples – Ringing the changes: the power of enquiry questions that both chime and resonate – OBHD (onebighistorydepartment.com).
Does every topic have to be approached through ‘Enquiry’?
Enquiry approaches to planning are particularly appropriate when there is historiographical controversy involved. Given the nature of history, there are a lot of topics that fall into this category – there aren’t that many topics where historians agree absolutely about every facet of the topic – causes, consequences, significance etc. – see for example, the reasons for the outbreak of World War One, the consequences of the peace treaties ending World War One, the explanation for the decline in Britain’s status as a great power. But there are some topics where there is at least some degree of consensus amongst historians. For example, I am not aware of any (respectable) academic historian who believes that the ‘Stab in the back’ legend which contributed to the demise of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler, was an accurate and valid explanation for the German army’s defeat in World War One. I think that pupils can be told, ‘as fact’, that the Stab in the back legend was a politically motivated conspiracy theory, and an attempt to distort the past for political reasons, rather than being explored as an enquiry exploring whether the Stab in the back ‘idea’ was true or not. In such instances, the way to approach the topic can shift slightly to the approach of ‘What questions are worth asking about this bit of history?’ ( I quite like this approach generally, as explained in Chapter 4 of the book). One question might be ‘Why did the Stab in the back legend gain such a hold in post-war Germany, in spite of the absence of any valid historical evidence to support it?’
‘Opening it up’ – It is useful to make the point to pupils that conspiracy theories did not just flourish in Weimar Germany – they are alive and well today, arguably more so with the ‘amplification’ and ‘monetising’ effects of social media. The British historian Richard Evans has a 10 minute British Academy sponsored talk about ‘The Hitler Conspiracies’, in which he explains how conspiracy theories are constructed, amplified and justified, and how even the most implausible theories find adherents, It could be argued that this ‘opening it up’ approach makes an invaluable contribution to pupils’ ‘civic literacy’ (Wineburg, 2018). The YouTube clip is available at The Hitler Conspiracies | 10-Minute Talks | The British Academy – Bing video.
At the 2007 SHP Conference, Simon Harrison laid out some principles for effective enquiry work, arguing that most of these characteristics should be present in enquiry activities:
- There is at least some element of pupils investigating for themselves.
- Pupils are given some opportunities to raise their own questions.
- There is some use of authentic historical sources, even if modified.
- There is an element of the enquiry being contentious or contested.
- There is coherence in the way that the enquiry progresses over a series of lessons.
- The guiding problematic enquiry question is referred to frequently in each lesson.
- There is a balance between structures support and open ended research. Ideally, there should always be an element of students working on their own ideas.
- Developing pupil understanding of key concepts should be an important part of the planning.
- There should be some injection of new evidence as the enquiry proceeds, to simulate the reality of historical research and to encourage students to react to it. How does it fit with their emerging views? How should they respond to the new information?
- Pupils should be encouraged to arrive at some sort of considered response to the question posed.
A good example of such an enquiry can be found at ‘Battalion 101. Why did they shoot? A history mystery’.
Thinking about the ‘takeaway’ from a series of lessons on a topic. Ian Dawson. There is a section in the chapter on planning about Ian Dawson’s idea about thinking about what you want the ‘takeaway’ knowledge to be for a topic. This is a link to a recap/summary by Ian about what he means by ‘takeaway’ knolwedge.