Some brief thoughts on preparing for teaching AS/A2 Level History
(I am grateful to Anne Roe, Head of History at Notre Dame High School, Norwich, for finding time to give the perspective of an experienced head of history on the issues involved in the changes to post 16 examinations in history. )
As schemes of work are only just being drafted for the new courses. being involved in the planning stage of the courses offers key insights into the ways that departments work. There have been and still are problems with textbooks- several being published much later than expected. In preparing for teaching the 6 units studied for AS/A2 there is a concern about the level and detail of the content of each of the units. One tip is to try to gain access to as many different textboods as possible- including GCSE texts (SHP are very good- I have found some very good source material and diagrams for the Weimar Germany AS level course in the GCSE book). How do the textbooks approach a topic and how do they break it down? Which practical activities do they suggest? Where can you fit in a variety of teaching/learning activities? Where are the troublesome learning spots? How can pages of information be condensed into sets of meaningful and memorable notes for students at this level? We use a lot of grids to focus on key issues etc. The regular student magazines, such as History Review are very useful- especially if you have access to back copies. The new BBC History Magazine has an interesting ‘pass notes’ section and details forthcoming programmes which may be useful to add to video resources. Teaching History and the ‘Cunning Plans’ contain many excellent ‘off the peg’ ideas which can be pinched and adapted. The History Manual is still a very informative and useful guide to teaching post-16 history. We dip into the notes/reading and essay writing sections- the cartoons grab attention and focus on real learning points.
Assessment: what is this animal called AS/ A2?
Our staff are still getting their heads around this one. The syllabus and exam guidelines together give an overall picture of content, emphasis and structure. EDEXCEL has an informative teaching guide which would be useful to all teaching AS level history courses- regardless of syllabus. The reading lists are informative and so is the list of web sites. I like the way that they look at grade boundaries/levels so that you can see exactly what the students have to do to gain ‘Level 4’, or whatever. Ask to see examples of marked work within the department to gauge these levels and shadow mark. Preparing some model answers (either as handouts or to annotate via OHP in front of the class) can help to promote greater understanding of markschemes and how students can move on to the higher levels. The new literacy programmes focus on exemplary materials as models, and I think this approach yields real dividends.
The Teaching Placement
Time is more of a constraint now, with departments under pressure to complete work for the 3 AS exam modules in roughly two half terms. There may be a reluctance to hand over classes for several weeks at a time. How can PGCE students add to the teaching of small sections of the course within a defined scheme of work? A short sequence of lessons following through a particular line of enquiry could be very useful here, i.e. an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Weimar Constitution. A planned team approach with the class teacher (involving classroom observation and interlinking lessons) will help to focus on sixth form teaching/learning issues, but in a positive way it can also help to reduce the workload involved in preparing for post 16 lessons.
The new AS/A2 levels will need to incorporate Key Skills- there seems to be no getting away from the carrot and stick approach which the government is taking here. The planning of schemes of work and lessons needs to facilitate opportunities for sixth formers ‘to generate and develop evidence for the assessment of key skills’- (e.g. communication, information technology, improving own learning and performance and working with others). Given the probability of smaller sections of time in solo teaching this again offers opportunities for PGCE students to look at these areas and to add to departmental skills and resources:
- Encouraging 6th formers to plan and organise presentations on a topic, using visual images (communication)
- Work with small groups on an ICT assignment (ICT)
- Offer to monitor and work with groups of sixth formers planning an individual assignment- noting original ideas and amendments (improving learning and performance)
- Setting up class debates, e.g. ‘Optimists and Pessimists and the standard of living debate’. Student and Mentor can take up opposing sides with questions from the audience (working with others)
Gaining and retaining ‘customers’ and Open Evenings
Schools will have Open Evenings in the Autumn Term in which departments will try to ‘sell their subject’ to new students. There is now greater competition to gain ‘customers’ for AS/A2 History. Ideas for possible exhibition lessons, display, activities, talking about taking history at university would be gratefully accepted by departments. There are real issues here about retaining students through from AS to A2. You want to make the AS level course as exciting and as accessible as possible to attract numbers, but there will be a ‘falling out’ rate by the time you get to A2, and the last 3 exams are more demanding. Use of outside speakers, trips, H/A conferences etc can all help to motivate students. The more analytical essay writing requirements of the A2 course can still be tackled as part of the AS level course if planning for this is well thought out. I think the new exams offer many opportunities.
Anne Roe, Head of History, Notre Dame High School Norwich, March 2001