Moving from low to high-order tasks

19th September 1997 at 01:00
TWENTIETH-CENTURY WORLD: PLANNING UNIT 4 OF THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM FOR HISTORY. ANALYTICAL AND DISCURSIVE WRITING AT KEY STAGE 3: A PRACTICAL GUIDE. By Christine Counsell. Historical Association, Pounds 4.50 each

These two pamphlets - which investigate important considerations for teaching history - are essential reading for every head of department.

The Twentieth-Century World is a thought-provoking pamphlet of much wider relevance than just Study Unit 4. Christine Counsell addresses the factors that every scheme of work ought to encompass - the chronological framework, the balance between local, national and world history, the PESC (political, economic, social and cultural history) second-order concepts (such as causation), substantive concepts (terms such as Communism), interpretations, pupil motivation and the resources available. A good department, she tells us, organises its topics so that work progresses from lower-order tasks, such as sorting, to more complex written exercises.

The Twentieth-Century World is full of practical ideas: three ways of organising the subject matter are suggested; and there is a list of themes that might be pursued through key stage 3.

Analytical and Discursive Writing has developed from Counsell's belief that pupils can write effectively if they are properly taught how. The key is to find the "bottom rung" - the way into a student's understanding.

History is a creative, literary subject, and there is pressure to promote "extended writing", which, indeed, is a teaching tool as well as a primary learning outcome. However, many students find it hard - selection of points, moving from the general to the specific and suitable academic language are difficult skills.

Counsell describes a series of teaching strategies to initiate and develop the abilities of students. Once they have appropriated the lower-order skills, students can then move on to higher-order tasks, such as developing better essay plans; familiar with the basic structures, they can then exercise greater independence.

In curriculum planning, Counsell eschews the simplistic "planning boxes" of the National Curriculum Council; she trusts teachers' judgment and their intuitive grasp of students' needs. Similarly, in extended writing, she accepts that "managing the tension between the pupil's need for structure and his need for independence is an important area for teacher judgment".

The teacher who has read Counsell's pamphlet will be better placed to make those judgments.

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