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Letters to a New History Teacher: No. 3

Someone else’s sense doesn’t always make sense!

I recently gave myself the tip to not reinvent the wheel – to use others’ resources and the text books wherever I could. But this week I’ve had one of those weeks where I had to take my own medicine and found it rather difficult to swallow. The problem is that I simply don’t have time to create a scheme of work for myself and, more importantly, what’s already in the department is very good (others vouch for the great progress made by the students). But the set of lessons and the enquiry they addressed just didn’t make sense to me… Someone else’s sense was not, well, my sense! So what did I do?

Well, I did not sit down and attempt to magic up some time and create a new scheme of work (as I would have in NQT1). Instead I did the following – and I’m sharing it as I realised that having given myself the tip not to reinvent the wheel, it might be helpful to give a few guidelines about ‘how to use someone else’s wheel’.

Ask the person who created the materials for 20 minutes of their time:

  1. Ask the person to bring with them some examples of students’ work from the unit – ideally some end products (which could well be assessments)
  2. Arm yourself with a print out of the resources and scheme of work (if the latter doesn’t exist, on a sheet of A4 prior to the meeting sketch out what you think the objectives, activities and outcomes are by scrutinising the resources; make sure you specify knowledge, skills and concepts outcomes)
  3. In the meeting sit at a computer together (or with pad and paper – whatever your preference) and start with these questions: (a) What is the big question / the enquiry question, (b) what are the overall outcomes you intend / hope for the students to achieve – break this down into knowledge, skills and concepts
  4. Now take each lesson, one by one, and ask the author to explain what the lesson does to contribute toward the enquiry and its intended outcomes. This discussion should be the most formative part of your meeting (for you) as you’ll be able to explore what the activities are about, how long they should last in a lesson, what differentiation will be needed (perhaps the author has some already), likely stumbling blocks for the children and so on. If you made a brief sketch on A4 of what you thought the unit was about (i.e. a scheme of work did not exist) this discussion helps to clarify your thinking about the unit.
  5. As you talk, make a note about each lesson – I find the most useful headings for my notes are: Lesson number, Lesson objectives, Lesson activities (inc time), Differentiation, Notes. If a scheme of work already existed making my own notes onto it help me to gain a little mastery of someone else’s explanation
  6. By the end of the meeting you’ve got a scheme of work and – through discussion – have helped yourself to make sense of someone else’s sense. What’s more, you might just find you’ve helped the author realise a few tweaks might be needed – bonus!
  7. Finally before you end the meeting review the student’s work together. Ask the author to explain the strengths of each piece (annotate them) and to explain why they gave each piece a particular mark. This gives you some models to work towards. Crucially, if you can’t see how the student created any parts of their work using the lessons you’ve discussed, now’s your chance to ask the author how. What you’re essentially trying to see is whether the ingredients (the lessons) lead to the product before you (the history ‘cake’!)

I hope this helps make your ‘not reinventing the wheel’ a little easier too.

PS. If you’re trying to use a textbook activity and it doesn’t seem to make sense it is ok to tweet the author! If you get no reply try tweeting using the hashtag #historyteacher and you might just find a fellow teacher who’s been there and can make some suggestions. Or try out the forum on Schoolhistory. Either way don’t leave it til the night before the lessons are due – give yourself and the people you’re asking some lead time.


Letters to a New History Teacher …

… is a series of blogs by Esther Arnott as she experiences “NQT2” – a return to teaching after a year being a new mum. Her return has given her similar feelings to those she had as an NQT, but this time around she has a bit of experience to share with herself and you, so these blogs are offered in the hope they support those of you setting out on your own new history teaching journeys – whether as NQTs or trainees on PGCE courses or other schemes. The blog will run through the year as ideas – and reality – strike Esther (and as motherhood allows!). She’d love to hear from you if you have particular questions, issues or features you’d like addressed.


About Esther

Esther qualified to teach in 2005 and took up a post at Lampton School in west London. She became head of department in 2008 – and this was swiftly followed by an Ofsted subject visit where she and her team achieved Outstanding in all categories. She works with a wide number of beginner teacher groups – including Roehampton University and Teach First – and she set up the London History Network to help share good practice. She became an SHP Fellow in 2009. When her school became one of the first Teaching Schools she applied to be a Specialist Leader of Education for history and has since worked with London schools to support heads of department and other middle leaders to achieve excellence. In 2012 she was promoted to leadership with responsibility for Literacy – and of course still teaching history! In 2013 she had baby Samuel, taking a year out …to now return as NQT 2!!