Support for GCSE history revision this year

Sally Burnham (@salwilson11) of Carre’s Grammar School, shares plans for GCSE revision plans. Sally is determined to keep her pupils learning more history and not just regurgitating practice questions. She wants them to feel confident and well-prepared for the exams by focusing on their historical knowledge.

I am going to start with a caveat… I usually write a blog for OBHD when I have tried something and have been happy with the results. Today I am writing this purely as an ‘ideas that have been swirling round in my head’ and what I am going to attempt to do. The first two lessons have gone really well but of course I have no idea if what I am planning will work, but wanted to share my thinking about how I am going to tackle revision with my Yr 11 class this year. 

Problems I want to tackle:

  1. I have finished teaching the GCSE course at February half term and can therefore start revising – but I want to keep student enthusiasm and focus.
  2. Some students have very weak understanding of the unit that was taught in lockdown last year – but some engaged fully and are confident with the material.
  3. Many students have gaps in their knowledge from isolation/absence due to covid.
  4. For the last two years my A level students have really struggled to make the transition from GCSE to A level (far greater than any students since the new GCSE was introduced)

So what is my thinking about revision for Yr 11?

One thing that I am determined to do is to keep student passion for history high as we come to the end of the course and begin to revise, and I am very conscious that the usual revision that I do with students between Easter and the exams will not do this. In ‘normal’ circumstances we go through each of the units, revising core material using summary tables, retrieval tasks, giving students checklists, planning answers using spider plans (thanks, Hugh Richards) and practising exam questions. But this year, with the time we have I want to be more creative, I want to help students look beyond the GCSE exam. But by looking beyond in such a way that the work we do will enhance their performance in their History exam and prepare them for studying A level History (or whatever other A Levels they go on to do).

To tackle the range in understanding of the unit taught during lockdown (Norman Conquest) I am going to start revision with this unit. Students will have homework set during the first week of next half term to create their self test questions and revision notes on the first unit (Anglo-Saxon England). For students who ‘missed’ this work the first time round, I have set up links to Rich Kennett’s Anglo-Saxon YouTube lessons. (These are fantastic and there is a set on Nazi Germany too) Whilst students are doing this at home, I am going to be teaching something else in class – I am going to be teaching part of the American West unit (that we are not sitting this year). I know this sounds totally crazy – why would I teach something that students are not being examined on? The reason I am doing this is that when we planned our GCSE course we planned it as a whole – based on the overarching theme of invasion and control. This means that by studying part of the American West course, students get to see the links between invasion and control of Anglo-Saxon England, Living under Nazi Rule and American West. This gives students the chance to make the links that normally would be being cemented through our teaching, allowing them to revise the Normans by comparing to a new topic. Later I plan to teach another section of the America course with the same rationale in mind. As well as cementing links for GCSE, we study Civil Rights in America from 1865 at A level, and so this will also be providing the background knowledge they need for this course. It will also ensure that we are learning new material and not facing ‘death by revision questions’ every lesson.

The following week we will do our traditional revision activities for Anglo-Saxon England but this time I am also going to ensure that we use more historical interpretations as we do this, culminating in a debate around Marc Morris’ portrayal of Anglo-Saxon England in his new book. This mixed diet of revision/teaching new material will continue through until Easter.

Another strategy that I am going to use is asking Year 11 students to read more. We have an ideal opportunity to build in far more reading with our extra revision time. To help build knowledge and cement understanding, reading will stretch my students who have studied throughout lockdowns and will introduce those who haven’t to key ideas. I have extracts lined up from Laurence Binet’s HHhH, Daniel Lee’s The SS Officer’s Armchair, Catrine Clay’s The Good Germans and Boschwitz’s The Passenger for reading and discussion so far. I am planning that this will help with worldbuilding, provide specific examples for exam answers and also help develop student confidence in reading before a lesson so that when they start A level History they will be in the habit of reading to discuss.

I am also going to incorporate a revision idea that I use at A level with my Year 11 students. At A Level we divide up the course and each student presents an ‘everything you need to know’ on one area of the course to the class as a revision activity. To help tackle the issue of mixed coverage due to Covid absences, students will get to choose a topic they feel confident in and present to the class. I will provide a framework but there will be flexibility in the way that it is delivered. Again, I am hoping that this will help in a range of ways – build student confidence in their own ability, help students explain key ideas to peers and therefore ensure they understand, help to cover the ‘gaps’ whilst not reteaching the course to the whole class (which although we have time, I don’t have that much time!) and develop their presentation skills in preparation for A level.

Will this work? In short I don’t know. But I wanted to share what I am planning to do in the hope that these ideas might add to your revision repertoire for Year 11 this year. If I can keep my students engaged and focused whilst also building their confidence between now and the exams then hopefully they will be able to show the examiners just what good historians they are.

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