Planning substantive concepts over time

It’s Department Improvement Planning time in many schools. At Millthorpe School the History department have chosen to focus upon mapping where students at Key Stage 3 encounter specific substantive concepts, such as monarchy, parliament and church. They are focusing their planning on what the students are thinking rather than what they are doing.

They started by highlighting where each concept appears on their current Key Stage 3 Scheme of Work. The exercise was very revealing.  For example, the Witan in the Anglo-Saxon period currently leaps to the parliaments of the civil war and the industrial age. These are both similar and different. The department realised they needed to work on two key problems.

  • Problem 1: students forgetting about previous learning and not making connections
  • Problem 2: gaps in the narrative which assumed students would somehow catch up with a key change in how a concept it understood

Problem 1 they are solving by planning their teacher talk and some simple starters. This could be as straightforward as ‘Remember the witan…’ when teaching Parliament in the Middle Ages. It has also involved talking as colleagues about precise and shared understanding of the terminology so that students are not confused with sloppy use of terms. This is an interesting line of departmental discussion. ‘What do we mean when we say parliament?’ ‘How do we explain monarchy?’ They are explicitly planning to make conceptual connections across time with precise language and the use of wall displays.

Problem 2 is leading to planning of new parts of lessons, whole lessons and sequences. The department has not been teaching the Simon de Montfort parliament. Yet, how can students leap from the Witan to the Civil War without it? It has been a really useful exercise to examine the Scheme of Work for substantive conceptual coherence.

This is a huge job and no department wants to tackle it from the beginning with no support. Making contact with other departments is a really good idea. You can do this via the Historical Association. You can contact the team in London for advice about departments who you could connect with. The Cottenham Village College team wrote a really useful guidance to thinking about curriculum planning questions in TH168.  There is a whole section of the HA website dedicated to Teaching and Learning Substantive Knowledge

There is plenty of @twitter chat about these sorts of issues and @histassoc links into many.


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





One thought on “Planning substantive concepts over time

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s