Space for thinking
How do we support pupils in applying and shaping their knowledge in response to the demands of assessment questions for the linear A-Level course?
This blog follows my first  and second  published through CTSN and captures the essence of my presentation and workshop delivered at the ResearchED Ipswich conference on Saturday 17th November 2018 which was hosted by Suffolk ONE Sixth Form College. All blogs, presentations and journal entries serve to document my progress in supporting pupils with the demands of knowledge across linear courses, starting with the pedagogical tool of the conventional knowledge organiser from Michaela Community School at Wembley park to support GCSE pupils and more recently those promoted by Andy Griffith and Mark Burns. Teaching Backwards which also served the purpose of supporting pupils’ metacognition at A-Level (below). Whilst the former supported pupils’ retention of knowledge (see previous blogs and results for findings and evaluation), the latter proved valuable in supporting the application of knowledge in response to the demands of a given question (impact to be confirmed by summer examinations).
Even pupils with strong knowledge retention struggle to apply this knowledge to the demands of a given question under the pressure of assessment conditions. This was something I had observed as classroom teacher of the AQA History linear course when it came to a depth study of the Wars of the Roses and was very much echoed by the examiners’ report in 2018. To both our frustration, pupils seemed intent on regurgitating a memorised narrative or effectively rewriting the question, forcing content or factors they felt more familiar with or had practised in response to a similar question in the past. At best, their ‘planning’ consisted of a list of content bullet points or was for best part absent having dived straight into prose, the essay then wandering its way towards a conclusion which seemed to suggest that the destination had been the journey itself rather than a carefully-thought and substantiated judgement. Through my role as CPD champion I came across Griffith and Burns' organisers whilst co-planning CPD sessions on metacognition and identified their value in helping pupils to organise their thought process and knowledgemore rigorously in response to the specificdemandsof the question. The structure of the knowledge organisers quite literally mapped out the structure of the answer demanded by the question and so the shape of thought required to reach it. For example, the knowledge organiser illustrated by the template above leant itself to the essay question ‘The reasons for the outbreak of violence between the Yorkists and the court party were the same between 1459-60 and in 1455’as shown below:
With this one small switch in planning approach, pupils’ work was immediately more focused by a forced process of relevanceand structure. The rationale and purpose of the organisers as a planning tool was explained to pupils and then handed over for their own use. Not only was the essay then planned, but pupils could then deduct their overall judgement towards developing the outline of their argument and conclusion (see below):
Different organisers leant themselves to different types of question. Whereas the previous was concerned with comparison, another was more concerned with an evaluationof factors, for example ‘The ambition of Richard Duke of York was the main reason for instability in England in the years 1450-1461.’:
Finally, we explored how we might approach a question that demanded an analysis of patterns towards inevitability, such as ‘Was the triumph of the Yorkists inevitable?’. Here we very much lifted the graph form advocated by historian Ian Dawson:
As a result of ‘mapping’ this thought process explicitly during the planning stage, it is hoped the application of their knowledge will be more concise, relevant and organised under the pressure of examination conditions. Due to this, the secondary impact should be that the outline of pupils’ argument should be more carefully considered, sustained and more effectively culminate in a stronger conclusion,resulting in higher attainment at A-Level. This year Hattie’s organisers were only implemented at the revision stage of Year 12 but I shall be piloting the approach towards informal assessment opportunities across the next academic year and will be sure to update the blog with my data and findings.
Teaching Backwards, Andy Griffith and Mark Burns, Crown House Publishing Nov 2014 ISBN 978-184590929-1
Teacher of History
Saffron Walden County High School