Thanks to Liz Stevenson, ECT at St Mary’s Catholic High School in Croydon, for this blogpost in which she shares how she is applying her learning from the HA’s Early Career Development Programme.
What did you enjoy most about your PGCE? What do you miss from that time? Perhaps as we start our first ECT year, we focus on building our confidence in the classroom, fostering relationships and figuring out what makes the kids tick. But what about our skills as history teachers? How do we know for sure we are meeting the ambitions we had when we trained?
As a History Early Career Teacher (ECT) myself, the History Association Early Career Development Programme (ECDP) has offered a practical way to sense check my practice. It could not have come at a better time! As I started my second ECT year, I felt the moment was right to re-engage with the expert history teaching community to see what I was doing well and where my blind spots were.
It turns out that I don’t really have blind spots – I am very aware of what is not going well – but I do have some big knowledge gaps. I had some concerns with the way my teaching was ‘landing’ with students. These were all addressed by the ECDP material – offering multiple eureka moments. In practical terms I am going to take the following steps as I move forward.
- Focus on world building and storytelling
Before I started the ECDP I had been struggling to unpick why students often did not really understand some concepts. For example, my Year 10s could not ‘get’ why being either Protestant or Catholic was such a big deal during the medieval period in Europe, particularly during the Reformation. I was shocked that even though I thought I had ‘taught’ this over and over again, students where not clear. This was really perplexing to me.
There are six parts of the ECDP and one focuses on the issue – knowledge building. I learnt that this is a deliberate process that takes time. Through enjoying carefully selected Teaching History articles and pre-recorded videos from experts such as Christine Counsell, Mike Hill, Rich Kennett and Josh Vallance I was able to understand that this type of issue in teaching history can only really be solved through long term, sequential curriculum planning that focuses on building sufficient knowledge and a sense of period.
This process of ‘world building’ helps students create, through their own imaginations, a sense of empathy and understanding for people from another time. Only through this can we expect our students to ‘get’ why a key concept was important to people in the past, even if it does not matter to our students in the present. The power of storytelling is fundamental here and the ECDP offers a masterclass in how to adopt this within the classroom.
- Be clear about what ‘getting better at history’ means for students
What is your school policy on assessment? Does it make sense to you as a history teacher? Could you articulate what it means for your students to be getting better at history? The ECDP offers real clarity of thinking here and offers you ways that you might choose to adopt to measure how your students are getting better at history.
In one laser sharp session you listen to a GCSE Chief Examiner explain why you cannot really use GCSE grades as a progression indicator over time for history. They are key, and schools use them, but the grade allocations change every year, depending on that cohort. My takeaway here is to focus on defining what disciplinary and substantive knowledge application needs to improve over time, using the curriculum map and schemes of work to assess this.
Are students interacting with a more complicated web of causation across Key Stage 3? Are they defining their criteria for historical significance with greater confidence over time? The ECDP offers expert advice for ECTs on assessment and progression and I for one have a much clearer understanding of what success for students in history looks like.
- Ensuring a global curriculum that helps students to build empathy with people in the past
The ECDP has two case study modules, focusing on teaching the medieval world and teaching Empire. The practical exercises encourage you to really analyse how you teach these enormous topics and offer superb insight in to how you can fix what I found to be glaring holes in my curriculum planning.
Ian Dawson holds us all to account: are we building empathy in our students for medieval people? Or contempt? I realised that at no point did I seek to teach a true understanding of what mattered to medieval people. Eureka! Perhaps that is one of the reasons why students reach Year 10 and struggle to engage with the Reformation, because they cannot answer, for example, questions such as ‘what mattered to medieval people?’ and ‘what was a good death in medieval England?’. I am now planning a scheme of work on the Black Death for Year 7, drawing on Professor John Hatcher’s book using the experiences of the actual people of the village of Walsham. Using much of the material highlighted in the ECDP, I will seek to build empathy for medieval people via a knowledge of their loves, losses and everyday lives.
A home for history ECTs!
One of the things I miss about my PGCE is that cosy feeling of ‘home’ when you returned to your group after a placement to share your experiences, thoughts, feelings, hopes and confusions. That is, a safe space of like minded history lovers who offered you the encouragement and validation to push yourself to the next stage.
For ECTs the ECDP offers such a space, post PGCE and with the added benefit that you now have that extra classroom experience. It is refreshing and provides a confidence boost to push you to the next level in your career.
To book your place on the next ECDP programme click HERE!