Well, it was once again time to pop alomg to David Weatherly’s annual Regional Primary History Conference. The theme for this academic year was ‘Achieving secure chronological knowledge and understanding through thematic investigations’. For those of you not ‘in the know’, David is a School Improvement Adviser and an accomplished teacher with an international reputation as an inspiring trainer. Whether working in schools or at CPD events, he always models practical and achievable approaches to improving both the engagement and outcomes of pupils. He is author of the popular Primary Connected History scheme published by Harper Collins and he teaches at all stages of learning regularly. His conferences are always hugely insightful, engaging, interactive and enjoyable, and today’s was no exception either (http://davidweatherlyeducation.co.uk/)
Firstly, David reinforced his rationale for the day: ‘Ofsted has identified that in history many pupils find it difficult to place the particular events, characters and historical episodes they study in a logical sequence. The day will focus on how engaging pupils with compelling and challenging thematic historical enquires can support them to build chronologically secure knowledge and understanding across different time periods. There will be an emphasis on how pupils can be supported to ‘think chronologically’ and to identify similarities and differences between ways of life in different historical periods.’
Next, he outlined the conference’s key objectives, e.g. participants should all leave … :
- understanding the concept of chronology and the skill of chronological thinking;
- knowing how investigations of overview topics and themes can be used effectively to develop an understanding of continuity and change and a secure sense of chronology;
- aware of how to plan such enquiries both to engage pupils and ensure continuity and progression in subject outcomes EYFS-Year 6;
- with a number of fully documented and resourced thematic investigations which illustrate key principles to trial and evaluate in your own schools.
After registration and an abundance of refreshments to sample (Bowden Hall Hotel near Gloucester always look after us well!), David’s first session concentrated on ‘Principles of designing historical enquiries which develop the concepts of chronology and chronological thinking’. He explained what chronology implies, what chronological thinking is and why chronological thinking and understanding are important (links to key aspects of history, including causation; continuity and change and significance). David then examined each of these key aspects of history in turn, inviting us to participate in various small group activities, to help exemplify them more clearly. We then explored progression in chronological thinking and understanding from EYFS to Year 6 together. David talked about the recent EYFS Framework pilot study, its follow up reporting and consultation plans and the quite radical changes to the ELG ‘Understanding the World’ that are expected. He emphasised that History Subject Leaders need to be liaising with EYFS Leaders as this is where chronology-related teaching and learning actually begins. David referred to his infamous table of outstanding provision (four legs and a top):
- Understanding the value of learning history.
- Working as young historians through enquiry (considering what ‘working historically’ means and the enquiry approach).
- Recognising and planning for progressively more challenging subject outcomes (highlighting what ‘progression in history’ in terms of the application of historical skills and processes looks like).
- Formative assessment enabling key stage summative judgements to be made against performance descriptors.
Following a break for further refreshments, we focused upon putting these ‘Principles into practice: EYFS and Key Stage 1’. Firstly, David explained what chronology looks like at Key Stage 1:
- Construct simple oral and written historical narratives by working forward from a beginning to an end or outcome;
- Construct a simple timeline using an existing scale of equidistant intervals to record events in the order in which they occurred;
- Understand in simple terms the concept of causation – how historical events are caused by other important past events and in turn have their own consequences;
He then guided us through an enquiry, entitled ‘Why did Delia buy a new hat?’. During the process, we each took on the role of a Key Stage 1 pupil and:
- compared and contrasted a number of historical sources to enable us to recognise and describe, in simple terms, some of the stark contrasts that existed in living conditions amongst different sections the population of Britain in 1912;
- described and offered reasons as to why so many migrants, like Delia, left Ireland in the 1900s to start new lives in other countries, such as the United States of America;
- described and explained the difference between primary sources and secondary sources of historical evidence;
- created a simple timeline using equidistant intervals of time to identify, describe and explain the temporal order of the events of the final day of the Titanic April 15th 1912;
- created our own historical narrative in the form of a journalistic recount text, which sequenced and described the events that occurred during the voyage of the Titanic and provided reasons as to why things unfolded as they did.
Not only did we learn more about this key historical event, but it also brought back memories of the award-winning film that many of us had seen several years ago.
Lunch called in the Orangery, which not only filled our rumbling tummies exceptionally well, but also provided an opportunity to chat informally with both David and other delegates.
Next, we investigated ‘Principles into practice: Key Stage 2’. David had chosen an interesting enquiry, ‘How have the medical breakthroughs of the last two hundred and fifty years affected the lives of people in Britain?, in order to demonstrate progression from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2. He began by outlining the learning objectives, namely to:
- Describe and explain what the term life expectancy means and what change occurred in the average length of time a baby would be expected to live about 11,000 years ago;
- Compare and contrast sources of evidence to reach a judgement as to why life expectancy in Britain fluctuated greatly during the period 1500-1840 and justify our views and opinions;
- Evaluate a range of original sources and reach a judgement regarding what people in Britain in 1665 considered to be the cause of the Great Plague and the actions they could take to cure those who had already contracted the disease and prevent others from catching it;
- Describe what Edward Jenner discovered in 1796 and explain and evaluate the implications of his discovery for the future medical health of the people of Britain;
- Identify, describe and sequence the main milestones in the history of medicine in Britain and explain and justify their ordering;
- Create our own timeline of medical advances in Britain by designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time along a scale and recording the correct temporal order in which the events occurred;
- Structure a piece of discursive writing to give meaning to our timeline through describing, explaining and evaluating the importance of the events that occurred and reaching a judgement which justifies our opinion about which we feel to have been the most significant.
Some recalled covering the history of medicine during their GCSE and/or A Level History courses; for others, this was a very new area of history to study. It had particular relevance to us in Gloucestershire since there are many local references to Edward Jenner, as well as the associated museum at Berkeley (a possible venue for a future school trip).
More refreshments arrived before David’s final session, which provided a ‘summary of key messages and next steps in school’. When reflecting upon the whole school curriculum, History Subject Leaders must ensure that it is ‘knowledge-rich’, with opportunities to develop key historical skills embedded within it. Progression should be clearly evident. Do not be afraid to ‘do less better’. Consider incorporating a history-themed day or week to promote a ‘creative curriculum’ and depth of learning and understanding. ‘Deep dives’ are likely to explore documentation, but will also include lesson observations, book scrutinies and much discussion with SLT, Subject Leaders, classroom teachers, pupils and parents/carers. Use the time to showcase what great history is going on in your school!
I will re-visit some aspects from today within our future Primary Humanities Network meetings; there were some very valuable messages relayed here and superb resources shared, but there is only so much that can be delivered in a day!
Many thanks, David, for your invitation to attend this year’s Regional Primary History Conference. I look forward to seeing you at the geography one next March, if not before.