Designing a Year 7 history curriculum with memory rather than levels in mind

Admittedly, I am coming to this assessment issue late, but I think I was subconsciously hoping something would magically appear. However, it hasn’t, so I am need to put some serious thought into developing an assessment approach for the KS3 History next year. In some ways I am being unfair on myself because I have done quite a bit of reading on this subject and given it much thought, but now I know it is time to actually put something together.

As we are revising the Year 7 history scheme of work I decided to start there and adapt some of the ideas I was reading about to integrate with the lesson sequences/ units we were putting together. Since, we were changing what we taught in Year 7 I also wanted to change how it was delivered to ensure that there was more reviewing and retrieval of previously learned material so students would remember more of the whole course by the end of the year. It is still in its first draft form (and has been seen by only a few people at the moment) so any feedback from the blogosphere will be much appreciated.

The ideas below are adapted from the following people:

The Year 7 History curriculum

We have for a while taken a thematic approach to the Key Stage 3 History curriculum. In Year 9 we focus on ‘Colonisation & Conflict’, in Year 8 we look at ‘Power & Protest’ and in Year 7 we study ‘Societies and ordinary people’s lives’. The Year 7 course used to start with the Romans and then work through to the 20th Century, but now we have decided to go further back and start with Prehistoric Britain, and then move on to study societies in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. The second order concept that the year is mostly focused on is change and continuity. However, I wanted the assessment criteria to recognize that, as Michael Fordham points out, getting better at history is very much about  ‘developing a more extensive substantive knowledge of the past’. Indeed, you can’t effectively analyse change and continuity throughout the year if you do not hold onto the content of earlier units. I wanted to design the course to encourage the reviewing of earlier material and continually interrupt the ‘forgetting curve’ by, in particular, using spaced retrieval practice, something that is now widely viewed as vital in consolidating knowledge and enabling future learning. This would also tell me a lot about their understanding, which could help shape future planning and teaching.

How we will assess

  1. Low stakes quizzes testing factual knowledge, such as people, dates and events. Roediger, McMichael & Brown outline the huge benefits of doing this (and other similar retrieval practice activities) in ‘Make it Stick’
  2. Making timelines from memory: We are going to start the year by doing one of these to find out what they know at the beginning of the year, as well as giving us an idea of their chronological understanding. We will then do one of  these at 5-6 week intervals during the year. Not only is this useful retrieval practice, but it also lays out for the students very clearly the progress they are making in terms of their substantive knowledge as the timeline at the end of the year will look very different to the one they did at the beginning of the year.
  3. Recorded spoken explanations of change and continuity: this is an idea I think I got from Ian Dawson (thinking At the end of the unit the students record themselves (without notes) on one of the iPads explaining their thinking in relation to the the Big Question we have been focusing on in the unit. This has several benefits: it gives them a chance to articulate their thinking before they attempt a piece of writing; they can watch it later in year as a review of earlier learned material; it gives them chance to reflect on their own speaking abilities, and you get chance to offer feedback on their expression of the ideas; and, it again will show very clearly when played together their progression in understanding
  4. Multiple Choice Quizzes: these are a type of retrieval practice but they would be a bit more formal. They will also be a bit trickier than the questions that test propositional knowledge, designed to evaluate their level of understanding and whether they have misconceptions
  5. Milestone pieces of work at the end at the end of a sequence of lessons: In history these are typically essays but can involve a number of other pieces of work as well. These will be marked using task-specific mark schemes, in other words, the success criteria will include lots of detail related to what the students have been studying and the question you have been asked.
  6. Ongoing essay: this is just in the ‘idea’ stage at the moment, but we are considering giving the students a ‘BIG’ question to answer as they work through the year about change and contintuity. They would write a paragraph every 6-7 weeks after they have studied another society or time period.

What we will assess against

Rather than have just descriptors for the whole year, which can be too generic, I wanted to have specific ones for each unit. There would be some that be very similar in each unit but, importantly, they would be linked to the historical content each time. Burnham and Brown’s idea of task specific mark schemes was also appealing. In Teaching History 157 they set out what this might look like for a Year 7 enquiry related to change and continuity. I have borrowed from these to create some of these statements that would describe the features of excellence that students would aspire to. They would need to:

  • Produce analysis that categorises the types of change (in relation to beliefs about the cause and treatment of illness, work, comfort) that took place between the Stone Age and Roman times. as well as categorising the nature and extent of that change (whether things improved for some and not others)
  • Select, organise and deploy a wide range of knowledge effectively in order to support your analyses and arguments about change and continuity, perhaps contextualising it beyond the period studied using prior learning
  • Identify and explain the co-existence of change and continuity by examining how changes after the Stone Age were experienced by different groups in societies in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as identify when things changed, for whom and in what ways.
  • Use terms, such as ‘religion’, ‘society’ and ‘culture’, confidently and meaningfully to support explanations and analysis
  • Convey clear arguments that are well-organised.  The structure of these are purposely and deliberately constructed and the style shows a sense of audience and employee some carefully chosen language of ‘change and continuity’.
  • Demonstrate a secure chronological understanding of the period from the Stone Age to the era of the Roman Empire by independently recalling the time period for each society studied and the dates of the major events.
  • Confidently cross reference a range of source material (in particular, artefacts) and draw inferences about what they tell us about life in the prehistoric and ancient worlds, as well as explain the level of certainty we can have about our conclusions.

Next steps

I am not sure now on the next steps: do I develop statements for a ‘very good’, ‘good’, ‘fair’ etc response (like Burnham and Brown have done)? Do I use a 3-4 point scale to describe what state they are at, with terms such as beginning, developing, mastering? How do I make a summative decision at the end of the year? Do I need to? 

Perspectives of other history teachers grappling with this are most welcome!

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5 Responses to Designing a Year 7 history curriculum with memory rather than levels in mind

  1. heatherfblog says:

    It is impressive that you are biting the bullet. Teaching as I do from year 10 I don’t have the same flexibility but I will be fascinated to hear what works. This summer I am going to reflect more on how I can build memory in my GCSE course. It has taken some time but getting the students to put events on cards into order has gradually had an impact. I did that at least once a week. I could see a difference for it. I had been teaching Superpowers for a few months but every now and then I still gave out the Germany cards to do. Last week most are confidently sorting the Germany cards and all could do the Superpowers with only the odd mistake. What was best about it was the way it kept memory of those events alive to the students. Next year I do want to invest more time in recapping how one event leads to another. They don’t initially like these tasks but I think that is because they are hard and gradually confidence builds.
    From my experience I would do low stakes quizzes much more regularly. Regarding the assessment personally I think I would use those statements to devise specific tasks and then assess performance on the specific task because I’m not convinced dtudents are achieving anything more generic. However, those are just my my feelings. I’m not claiming any special insight though! Good luck with it all!

    • cnewman1974 says:

      Thanks Heather. I was thinking of a ‘Milepost’ task that most of the statements could be used to assess. I really like the idea getting the students to construct timelines from memory – I think it is one way to show progress throughout the year – additionally, with the GCSE students it will show whether the card matching is having an impact

  2. Rca says:

    To answer your next steps query, what might work well with your ongoing essay (great idea!) Is something a bit like what beyond the bubble have for sources except for essays.

    So if you have a simple 3 or 4 level of response grid but have examples of each stage with common errors. The catch will be getting the data on common errors if this is the first time you’ve done it but you could always stagger when each class does the ongoing essay.

    This approach only works with actual student responses/misconceptions populating the response grid.

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