New year narrative of ‘strengthening’ not ‘catching up’ and ‘building back better’ not ‘lockdown gaps’!

Thanks to Alex Fairlamb @lamb_heart_tea for this new academic year OBHD blogpost. Alex is an Assistant Headteacher (T&L), Historical Association Secondary Committee Member and National Coordinator of TMHistoryIcons.

As schools start to go back this week and next, I think it’s perhaps useful to write again about reframing the narrative of ‘catch up’ and ‘lockdown gaps’.  Nationally, teachers have worked hard to ensure that students continue to study a rigorous History curriculum which is rich in knowledge, and has breadth and depth, but inevitable some planned learning has been missed. Yet history is not a subject like maths, where missing out a chunk of learning about X will delay/prevent the learning of y in quite such an immediately obvious and direct way. In history it’s better to reframe lost learning as ‘areas that need strengthening’, and as architects of the curriculum, we are able to shape and mould the study of history.

Areas that are likely to need strengthening include historical literacy. We are, of course, ALL teachers of literacy, irrespective of our subject discipline, and need to teach students how language works in our subject. Another area is conceptual understanding. We need to identify the concepts that were going to be taught through our lesson sequences that might have been missed and which are foundational for later learning.

We might need to factor in some direct instruction in places. We might need to model extended writing, using disciplinary and substantive concepts and conceptual understanding to construct well-written sentences and paragraphs. For example, using teacher talk to explain causation and modelling using phrases how historians write about causation with substantive knowledge from a topic learnt in lockdown.

We are likely to need to focus on the explicit teaching of tier 2 vocabulary in context of the subject (revolution, source, agriculture) and tier 3 subject specific vocabulary (Anschluss, coerl, Danelaw) and guided reading including reading aloud. Again, we need to think which conceptual language is needed for future learning and be very focused in how we teach it, for example by selecting specific sources and interpretations from which children can infer meaning as we teach.

There have been less opportunities for pupils to become skilled at the evaluation of interpretations and the analysis of sources. During remote learning, content retrieval (to ensure knowledge was embedded and not lost) and new content was often the predominant practice of teachers.  Whilst it was possible to model how historians work with source material remotely using tools such as Jamboard and visualisers, it was more difficult to give pupils the chance to work with this disciplinary knowledge to become skilled themselves. Moreover, with some practitioners (including myself) grappling with this new mode of teaching, the focus predominantly became substantive content in the virtual classroom, both ensuring that this was secure through schema development and that prior knowledge was strongly connected to any new content taught to make knowledge meaningful and powerful.  Therefore, in September, many will need to build in greater opportunities for students to develop knowledge of how history is made, constructed and how arguments evolve and can change over time (historiography).

As we build back, let’s also build back better, and support each other to teach a more diverse curriculum by finding and sharing the resources to do it, including local history opportunities.  The history teaching community has been working hard to ensure that their curriculums are broad and balanced, and that they represent the communities that we serve.  Counsell phrased this well as ‘Britain as part of the world, and not the centre of it.’ A greater focus has been placed on using texts such as Silk Roads, A Fistful of Shells and other such texts.  We are seeing positive, progressive change with inclusive history teaching to the fore: race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality.  However, there is always more work to be done and a greater pool of resources needs to be developed. Let’s make sure everything we develop as we (hopefully) emerge from the lockdowns period has diversity and inclusion at its heart. Additionally, let’s support examination boards so that they can work to amend their specifications to also ensure they are diverse and that there are identified resources to support with this.  How knowledgeable are you too about histories for example of Gypsy Romany Traveller communities and areas such as African, Chinese, South East Asian, Middle Eastern and South American histories? 

A key idea would be for each history teacher to undertake a subject knowledge audit, whereby they look over the curriculum for the year and identify where their subject knowledge and skill development needs to take place. An example of how to carry this out can be found during session 1 of: Webinar: TMIcons Humanities Event – 19th June by Teachmeeticons (bigmarker.com)  This will help practitioners to develop their own action plan for developing in those areas and provide Heads of Department with ideas of where best to support their teams. Added to this, time spent in departments sharing good practice of how to teach disciplinary knowledge would be of benefit. This might include building into your departmental time the use of external resources  and training such as those of the Historical Association, TMHistoryIcons, vSHP and by watching Oak Academy online lessons: Oak National Academy Teachers Hub | Teacher Hub | Oak National Academy (thenational.academy)

The key places to find such support can be found at:

Opportunities for teacher enrichment are also wide and far reaching.  This might include:

  • Podcasts: As well as the HA, HistoryHit, The History Hour, Witness History, A History of the World in 100 Objects, Driving the Green Book
  • Documentaries and films: Black and British, How to be a Tyrant, Amend, 1917, They Shall Not Grow Old
  • Joining the History Teacher Book club @historybookgrp or reading such texts as: The Five (Hallie Rubenhold), A Fistfull of Shells (Toby Green), Black and British (David Olusoga), Empireland (Sathnam Sanghera)
  • Undertaking local history tours of your area.  You could create these and also share them with your students to get them interested in their locality
  • Visiting museums, National Trust or Historic England sites, especially small museums who have experienced difficulty during lockdown.

As a new year starts, think not of ‘catch up’ and ‘loss’ but ‘strengthening’ and ‘building back better’ – together! Let’s make this another really enriching year in history teaching whatever else happens!

The HA can help to put you in touch with other history teachers in your area, you local HA branch and support the development of local history teacher networks!

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