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It’s early days, but we’ve already had lots of positive feedback from teachers and students about the new OCR B (SHP) GCSE. In this blog I will reflect on some of the issues raised during the Autumn INSET programme, and take an initial look at next priorities.
At the OCR First Teaching courses in the autumn, teachers reported that they and their students were enjoying three aspects of the course in particular:
Of course, there’s still stuff that we are all getting to grips with. Some schools reported that they spent far too long on the overviews at the beginning of each period. Next time, they’ll build this knowledge much more quickly in just a lesson or two. Understandably, many people are feeling nervous about some new question types and mark schemes. Three additional resources from OCR will help with this: Guidance on the application of mark schemes (February), Further sets of specimen papers (May and December) and annotated student responses (beginning this term).
In the spring term, many schools will be teaching their chosen British depth study for the first time, so I thought it might be helpful to reinforce five principles that will lead to effective learning for your students.
Engage your students with the five issues in the British depth study. Structuring the depth study around rigorous and engage enquiry questions will provide a clear focus for learning. It’s important to devise questions that encourage students to develop their own view on a particular issue. Giving them a statement to explain or to kick against will help with this. An enquiry such as ‘Brutal slaughter’ Is this how William gained control of England? will provide an engaging focus for students. Such enquiries will also help to prepare them for the judgement questions (8 and 9) in the exam.
Focus on people. Each lesson in the British depth study should focus on the experiences of people living through the events of the Norman Conquest, late-Elizabethan England or Britain in Peace and War, 1900-1918. Often the focus will be on famous individuals, but look for opportunities to engage students with the diverse lives of ‘ordinary individuals’ living through these tumultuous events: Saxon rebels, Elizabethan play-goers, working-class women campaigning for the vote…
Build in a range of interpretations. The British depth study provides an opportunity to deepen students’ understanding of interpretations of history. Make sure you build in a range of interpretations across the enquiries: academic, educational popular and fictional. In particular, help students to engage with the work of real historians: comparing TV documentaries on the Battle of Hastings, considering the changing interpretations of Elizabethan witchcraft, understanding the power of a historian’s language when writing about the Edwardian poor….
Engage students with images. The British depth studies provide rich contexts for engaging students with some stunning visual sources: The Bayeux Tapestry, Elizabethan portraits, Edwardian photographs and films. Exam questions will often include visual interpretations so make sure you build these into enquiries. Your students should enjoy studying Victorian paintings of Norman and Elizabethan England, illustrations by modern reconstruction artists, as well as a range of TV and film interpretations.
Make the learning rigorous and enjoyable for all students. To do well in the exam, your students will need a set of clear and detailed revision notes on each issue, but this does not mean that GCSE lessons should be dominated by note-making. Focus enquiries on real and creative outcomes such as exhibitions, plans for documentaries and interviews with ‘expert’ historians. You’ll want to engage students with the text and images in the published resources, but make sure you also build knowledge through your own stories and explanations, teacher-led role-plays, source collections and documentary clips.
I hope you and your students enjoy the British depth study; following the advice above should help create an innovative and fulfilling course. Remember to keep visiting the SHP website, where the (free) resources section will continue to grow, and you can find contact details for the SHP regional advisors – don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can also email the OCR history team directly on firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment below or follow us on Twitter @OCR_History.
Lastly, we hope to see as many of you as possible at the SHP summer conference (7-9 July, Leeds Trinity University) where there will be workshops on the British Depth Studies and many of the other components of OCR History B – details on the SHP website from 16 January.
Michael’s next blog, later this term, will focus on planning the History Around Us unit.
Michael Riley - Director at Schools History Project (SHP)
Michael has been Director at SHP since 2008. He is responsible for the strategic direction of SHP, ensuring that the project provides an independent source of ideas and experience for the teaching of history in schools. He also organises the annual conference and regional courses, maintains the website and represents SHP at external meetings. Michael is involved in the development of SHP-Hodder publications.