Retaining knowledge: I don’t do dates!

‘I don’t do dates’ is a frequent excuse used by my GCSE students and it shows in their written answers, which often lack specific subject knowledge. For the last two years’ our department has experimented with frequent, low stakes, testing of chronological knowledge. As suggested by Michael Fordham in his blogs on: Assessment Beyond Levels

A list of key dates and facts can be set as a quick homework and marked by the students themselves.  It is even better to get the students to devise their own questions. What about using pub quiz style rounds on different topics or differentiating for students by getting them to devise’ easy’ to ‘genius’ category questions?  More importantly, we don’t always set the test on the topic we are currently teaching. Instead we return to previous topics to keep previous learning fresh for students and to prevent last minute panic as the exams approach.

Of course, there is more to a deep rooted historical knowledge than just rote learning dates and facts.  However, this approach does make date learning more accessible, especially for weaker students. By encouraging students to devise their own quiz questions we see them beginning to classify information. It also helps them construct a wider picture of the past as they begin to construct a basic chronological framework. The department also makes use of wall displays to reinforce contextual knowledge by giving extra information on the key individuals and events they have studied.

It is important to think carefully about how you teach knowledge and you can read more about this at the ‘Making knowledge secure: Section Guide’ of the Historical Association website at Join up and have a look at the great article by Lee Donaghy titled Securing Contextual knowledge in Year 10.  Do follow the HA on Twitter @histassoc for more updates and to send comments.


Thanks to Ruth Lingard, Head of History at Millthorpe School, for this post. 

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