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Sally Burnham

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  1. Sally Burnham is Head of History, Deacon's School, Peterborough.
  2. Eleven Non-specialists including a New Zealand Rugby Coach. Practical strategies to ensure high levels of history teaching when you are working with non-specialists. Non-specialists are becoming more and more common in history departments, often because of the popularity of the subject at GCSE and A level, specialists are put with these groups leaving key stage three to a range of non-specialists. This year I have come to realise that although I have a large number of non-specialists, I can’t give the same thing to them all – I need to differentiate for my teaching staff. They are mixed ability in terms of experience, teaching ability and interest in history. My aim as Head of Department is to provide support for my colleagues whilst ensuring that there is the best possible history teaching across the school. Many Heads of Department will know the sinking feeling when you first get to see the timetable for the following year and the history teaching staff run onto two pages – there are two choices – allow history teaching to run into the ground or make it work. Making it work is obviously the only real option we have and although I wouldn’t say I had all the answers I hope the following ideas will help you manage a diverse team of non-specialists. Questions to ask yourself: 1. What makes a good history teacher? 2. What are the problems with non-specialists? The key ideas I came up with are planning, resources, training, assessment and support. Planning How much planning do you do and how much planning should you expect a non-specialist to do? I have experimented with providing actual lesson plans for teachers and I have also tried just providing a detailed scheme of work with resources labelled in a filing cabinet. There are pros and cons for each – lesson plans model what needs to be done, show how to teach concepts and helps with subject knowledge but there is the risk of the non-specialist not planning the lesson themselves, not preparing and not thinking about differentiation needs of the class they teach. Schemes of work provide the outline and encourage new ideas and strategies but can lead to a knock on your door 5 minutes before the lesson and the statement “I’ve got history next and I haven’t…” and the danger of missing the point of an enquiry, for example an enquiry looking at why Cromwell has been interpreted in different ways becoming Cromwell – hero or villain. Possible solution – a combination of the two? I have a folder with crib notes and a selection of lesson plans for teachers to refer to in my cupboard and I provide them with a detailed scheme of work. This year this does seem to have been quite effective and all bar one of my non-specialists have been planning their own lessons with reference to the folder at strategic points. This way is also good in that it encourages discussion among teachers as they share their ideas and resources. Subject Knowledge Last year at the SHP conference Charles Clarke spoke of the importance of specialists teaching subjects. One of the criteria when interviewing prospective PGCE candidates is their ability to talk about their subject with enthusiasm with reference to recent historiography. So with this much emphasis on subject knowledge it is worrying that some pupils only ever have non-specialists teaching them history for the whole of their Key Stage Three history education. There are two issues here for history teaching; subject knowledge and conceptual knowledge. Ways to develop subject knowledge: § Scheme of work and accompanying notes § Textbook § Higher level textbook § TV programmes § Teaching History (specific articles and the Polychronicon – March 2004 edition looks at Cromwell, June 2004 edition looks at the Holocaust, both are key areas in most Key Stage 3 schemes of work) Ways to develop conceptual knowledge: § I provide all history teaching staff with a pack at the beginning of the year outlining what we mean by causation, interpretation and significance and how we can help pupils get better at it § Teaching History articles e.g. when looking at significance I pop the Rob Phillips article (GREAT War) and Christine Counsell article (the 5 R’s) into pigeon holes and just put a note at the top asking which one we should use. § Department meetings can be devoted to looking at how to teach a concept, although when you have lots of non-specialists organising a meeting when everyone can attend may be a nightmare! We had a good meeting looking at ways of teaching causation using Chapman’s Alfonse article (TH) Resources What is the best approach? § Textbooks – which ones? Money? (Danger of death by textbook?) § Worksheets in a filing cabinet labelled so that staff can find the ones they need for a lesson without running up the photocopying bill (danger of death by worksheet?) § Videos with notes saying which sections are good. DVDs are great for this as you can recommend chapters. § Always embrace any attempt by others to create their own resources and make sure they are shared within the department. Staff Training Again what is the best approach? § Time set aside for you at training days § Afternoon off timetable for your department so you can lead some workshops § Meetings (If you have a large number of PE staff breakfast meetings help to overcome the problem of fixtures after school) § Chats over coffee/lunch to share ideas § Observations (make sure when you observe non-specialists you follow the golden rule of lots and lots of positives and one or two areas to develop) § Invite non-specialists into your classroom to observe how certain concepts are taught § Encourage dialogue between your PGCE students and non-specialists and if possible get the PGCE student to plan and teach one or two lessons with the non-specialist. Assessment Assessment is the buzz word among historians this summer and as a Head of Department it is important to develop a policy that moves pupils forwards, allows teachers to assess their own teaching and helps you as Head of Department to evaluate long term planning as well as monitoring progress. See Teaching History June 2004 edition for reading about assessment. For both Key Stage 3 and GCSE I have a series of common assessment tasks that all pupils must complete in their books and there are mark schemes for each (see attached document). I then get all teachers to bring samples of work to department meetings so that we can moderate them and this allows us to discuss again what we mean by a certain concept, what we are looking for and how to provide constructive feedback to pupils on their work. By making this a regular event no one feels threatened and non-specialists quickly become confident in what they should be expecting and how to provide feedback that will allow pupils to get better at history. A final word… SUPPORT, PRAISE and THANKS are crucial – we all work better when we feel valued and this is very much the case with non-specialists.
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