Our Humanities team have been developing strategies to stretch and challenge all students at the highest level. Here, head of faculty Michelle O’Neill describes the impact so far:
I’m no data whizzkid, but even with my old fashioned eye I could see that the so-called Higher Attaining Starters (aka HAS) were just not making the grade. In all three humanities subjects. There was clearly a problem!
It just didn’t make sense. We had been praised as a faculty for helping our learners EXPLAIN. Our contribution to the wider literacy education of the school is frequently heralded as outstanding. So what had gone wrong?
Closer inspection of data and discussion among the faculty soon got to the bottom of the issue. Four years ago, we had really tackled the problem of our learners constantly telling stories – describing and listing. We taught them to explain. A technique we employed was the now-familiar PEE (Point, Evidence, Explanation), extended by using MAP (Maybe, Also, Perhaps). Use of this technique became ingrained in the faculty, referred to in most lessons, and learners became trained how to apply it to almost any task and question. Attainment, for many learners, improved, and our consistent approach to teaching literacy skills through the humanities subsequently was celebrated.
But did we over-teach this technique to the students’ detriment? Did learners become so well trained, that the personality and deeper thought became lost in amongst the sentence stems and writing frames? I certainly did not want to ‘un-teach’ PEE; it worked! But how could we get learners to move on from PEE, once mastered? I decided that since teaching our learners a technique/skill for explaining had worked, we needed to invent (or steal) a variety of other techniques to encourage writing with deeper insight and analysis.
In presenting these new techniques to the faculty for trial, I linked the techniques in with lower level skills and the PEE structure, in sequence of depth/challenge. The idea being that this scale of techniques, or the ‘Humanities Taxonomy’, could be dipped into for any learner at any level. The scale runs like so:
Developing Stage (perhaps NC Level 3-4; GCSE Grade <D) – State a fact; Back it up!
Securing Stage (perhaps NC Level 5-6; GCSE Grade C-B) – Point, Evidence, Explanation(Link) (PEEL) with MAP (Maybe, Also, Perhaps).
Extending stage (perhaps NC Level 7+, GCSE Grade A-A*) – Line of Continuum (‘How Far…’ ‘To what extent…’); Jigsaw/Main piece of the puzzle; Establishing a line of argument; Writing with FLAIR.
The visual stimulus, with simple images and/or examples are really important in communicating to learners what these techniques are about. Please look at the images of the slides below if you are interested (I’ve included the ‘top four’ extending examples). These techniques certainly aren’t meant to be taught every lesson to all students, but by bringing them in at regular points, and using them as planning tools for extended writing pieces for the HAS, the improvement and progress should follow.
So how do I know this works? Well, I haven’t done an RCT, and I haven’t even done a proper breakdown of attainment data pre- and post- implementation yet. That’s still to come (the data, not the RCT!) What I have done is use them regularly in lessons with top sets from Year 7 to 11, usually completing a small task in relation to one of the techniques in most lessons, but asking students to try to use all the techniques in the planning or writing of assessed essays. From talking to learners and judging the quality of their writing from a ‘gut instinct’ perspective, I know learners have found it easier to stretch their writing and to show deeper insight.
What’s next? A roll out of these techniques faculty-wide, with posters adorning the walls and sticky labels for books to match, is all in the pipeline for a big launch in September. The faculty is trialling and experimenting with the techniques in the summer term, and are on board with a whole faculty approach for autumn. It is hoped the the attainment of HAS across all year groups, in all the humanities subjects, improves as a result. Watch this space!
Michelle O’Neill (@MrsMONeill) – Leader of Humanities, Wellacre Academy