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Think big

Heather Scott discusses critical skills lessons as an enriching strategy for learning

Teaching students to think in history is difficult. We've had many great textbooks which have helped (such as Minds and Machines or Modern Minds from the Longman Think through History series, or Thinking Through History by David Fisher, Ian Wilkinson and David Leat) and we have battalions of energetic and vibrant teachers around the country, taking up the baton of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority schemes of work and making them work in our classrooms.

We are the best taught subject, according to Ofsted. And we consistently achieve good GCSE results, which requires significant effort from students to write well thought-out answers.

So how do we do it? At Challenge College we are trained in critical skills (CS). (See the lesson example and Rachel Smith's summary, right.) The approach firmly places the emphasis on thinking in the hands of the students, setting key tasks to be achieved within a limited time. The method of achieving the task is down to the students and this is where the thinking comes in.

This may look like a laissez-faire approach for the teacher. Far from it.

The skills, attributes and knowledge that are integral to the students'

successful completion of a CS Challenge need to be carefully planned and developed by their classroom teacher. As part of our planning, we aim to deliver a CS Challenge with every teaching group once every half-term. In this way, we can continue to build up their collaborative and independent thinking skills throughout their time with us at secondary school.

I have taught CS Challenges now for two years and I'm still learning how best to present them. I have used them with key stage 3-5 students and the end product has varied from posters, booklets and newspapers to an email sent to a Nazi history expert and a video of a lesson planned, delivered and taught by Year 12 students with just one hour's notice.

The best part of a CS Challenge for me is the assessment - it's not often that we can say that in teaching. Mostly I will use peer assessment, where each group assesses the other groups' work, thinks about the products and writes comments about the clarity, how well it fits the criteria for the task, or what could be improved. Sometimes I will use teacher assessment while the CS Challenge is happening - there is nothing to match the students' faces when they read the bright pink Post-it notes I have attached to their work.

CS Challenges have become integral to our teaching and learning here at this school and we are developing a student body of independent historical thinkers.

Heather Scott is senior strategic leader: innovation and development at Challenge College, Bradford

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