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How to improve in History
Help for students and parents
We encourage all our students to reflect on their learning in lessons and use feedback from their teacher’s to help them improve. Below, you will find the ‘statements for improvement’ that summarise the feedback students are given.
These statements will be used on the termly reports sent to parents and students and parents are asked to look at the further guidance below to help clarify the statements on the reports
- Improve your explanations of how and why things change over time
Change and continuity is one of the key concepts in the history curriculum and students should aim to show an awareness of how events/people/themes/cultures have changed throughout different time periods by using their contextual knowledge and considering a range of different factors. For example, if students were asked to consider how the Black Death changed people’s lives, they could use what they already know about Medieval times to think about different aspects of life like work, housing, population and trade.
- Develop your ability to reach and justify judgements
Substantiated judgements are important throughout any written work in History. Judgements should not just be tacked on to the end of pieces of work however, they should feature throughout the work. For example, if students were asked to argue whether or not Charles I deserved to be executed, they should set out their initial view in their introduction and offer a link back to the question (i.e. a judgement) at the end of each of their paragraphs, using their knowledge and evidence to support their point.
- Show a better understanding of why there are different views of historical figures and events
Students need to be able to explain why some people in history are seen differently – possibly why some people like them, whilst others dislike them or why some people are treated or remembered as heroes whilst others are not. To do this well, students need to use their contextual knowledge as well as any evidence that is available to them to help them understand the different interpretations. For example, if students were asked why Oliver Cromwell is sometimes remembered as a hero and sometimes as a villain, they would need to use what they already know and any available sources about the English Civil War and the Commonwealth to offer and / or explain different views of his leadership.
- Improve your explanations of the reasons for and consequences of change over time
An important part of understanding the concepts of change and continuity is thinking about the consequences. As well as being able to explain the reasons for change (as described for point 1), students need to consider the long term effects of these changes. To do this successfully, students need to consider a range of factors and the impact of the changes on different groups of people. For example, if students were asked what changed as a result of World War One, they could think about changes in society, economy, and government and how these might have been experienced differently by soldiers, women, workers or children.
- Develop your ability to make links between different causes, events and consequences
An important skill in history is to be able to see how events and their consequences, big and small, are linked together. To do this successfully, students should first be able to ‘match up’ causes, events and consequences and then identify themes and connections. To explain these properly, students will need to use their contextual knowledge. For example, students might be asked to explain how the different changes as a result of the Industrial Revolution are linked together – they would need to identify themes such as education, health, population and employment and use their understanding of the period to explain the ways in which improvements in education affected healthcare for the better, which in turn led to population growth etc.
- Show a greater understanding of different historical interpretations
This is similar to point 3 above - students need to be able to explain why people and events are seen differently, but to really excel, students will need to analyse the differences between interpretations and use their contextual knowledge as well as the source material and the provenance (time, author etc) to compare them effectively and possibly decide which is more valid. For example, if students were asked to explain why there were different interpretations of Richard Arkwright or Charles I they would need to consider various things about the interpretation such as the time it was produced, the author and their experience, the purpose and the tone and language.
- Improve your ability to evaluate historical sources
Source evaluation is a central skill to be being a successful historian and students need to be able to understand different historical sources (written sources, posters, cartoons etc) and evaluate (weigh up) their reliability and utility. To do this well, students need to make use of TANPLAK – time, author, nature (type of source), purpose, language/tone, audience and their own knowledge. For example, if students were asked to evaluate different accounts of the Battle of Hastings, they might consider whether or not they were written at the time, whether they were written by an Anglo-Saxon or Norman author, etc., in order to decide how each source is best used by historians to discover more about the Norman Conquest.
- Make greater use of purpose, audience, context and medium within your evaluation
Many students make very vague comments about the provenance of the sources they are studying (i.e. the time / place / person they have originally come from). To excel, students need to explain specific points about the purpose, context and medium (type/audience) and how these affect the reliability or utility of a source. For example, if students were studying a letter home from a soldier in the trenches during WW1, rather than saying ‘it is reliable because it was written by someone who saw the events at the time’, a better explanation would be ‘it is reliable as it is a primary source written by a soldier with direct experience of the trenches. It is useful as the soldier describes the conditions of the trenches, such as the mud and the rats and this is reliable as the heavy rain caused flooding in the trenches which led to mud being an issue, whilst the lack of hygiene and numbers of dead bodies attracted large numbers of rats. However, as it is a letter home to his family, he may leave out some of the worst conditions as he would want to reassure his family that he was alright.’
- Develop your ability to interpret and extract information from a range of source material
To do well in history, students need to get used to reading historical sources and developing their understanding of language that may be less familiar to them as well as cartoons or posters that contain satire and sarcasm. To succeed, students need to practise ‘reading between the lines’ and using their contextual knowledge to help them to work out what a source means, especially if there is an underlying message. For example, if students are asked what a collection of visual sources tells them about Medieval life, they would need to describe what they can see (e.g. a scene of soldiers ransacking and looting a village) before considering what this might tell us (e.g. wars were common and law and order was precarious). They would then need to use what they already know about Medieval times to decide whether this new information is valid and / or useful.
- Improve your planning and structure and develop the level of detail in your explanations
Forming and sustaining a coherent argument is a key skill in history and something students will need to master for their GCSE and A-Level studies. Before starting to answer a question, students should give themselves time to plan so that they have a clear idea of what they are going to say. They should then think about how they are going to introduce their points, how they are going to separate these points into paragraphs, what contextual knowledge (e.g. dates, facts, and figures) they will use in each paragraph to support their points and finally how they will conclude their argument to give a clear judgement.
- Develop your ability to use specific contextual knowledge in order to fully explain your answers
As above, students need to be able to form coherent and well-supported arguments. Students should follow a basic essay structure when answering questions and ensure that they have used their contextual knowledge to explain in as much detail as possible. For example, if a student was asked to explain the impact of the Black Death, rather than just identifying a basic list of things that changed (the population, housing, employment etc.), students should allow a paragraph for each of the factors and use their knowledge to give specific points and examples for each one.
- Develop your use of contextual knowledge to decide on the importance of particular people or periods.
This higher-order analysis combines numbers 2, 6 and 11 and draws together the many skills students will develop throughout their study of history. In mastering these individual skills, students should be able to reach substantiated judgements as to particular events, people or periods using their contextual knowledge and the source material available to them.