Progression

Progression in history
There is a very clear correlation between those schools where teachers have a clear understanding of progression and those where standards of teaching and attainment are high.

This of course comes as no big surprise. Because teachers know the next steps in their students learning they can plan accordingly and ensure that they are doing what they can to provide appropriate challenge. This is easier said than done. For where, after all do we find the wisdom we need with regard to progression?

The site offers two distinct forms of advice: one is general and you can get that from many places. The other relates to progression with specific ‘key elements’ and is much more rare and precious. At Key Stages 1 and 2, I simply don’t refer to the levels at all. I know what they are, inside out, but I find them too blunt an instrument to use to create small learning steps. To be fair, they were never intended for that purpose, but that is all there is. Until now. What I have done is to create a sort of ladder of progression for each strand. We all know that progress in history is neither evenly paced nor equal in all aspects. But we need to find a thoughtful, if imperfect, best alternative. This is what you will find here, and it has served teachers very well. What they have done with the ladders is to colour code each rung of the ladder. Each colour represents a topic. At a glance they can then see which ideas are being covered in each topic. It reveals any ideas at the end of the key stage that have not been taught, as well as topics which have done little to develop any worthwhile skills. Some schools have realised the link between progression and planning and have copied the small step statements on the ladder into the relevant key questions of their medium term planning. A neat device to close the circle.

At Key Stage 3 the issue of progression becomes even more important and arguably even trickier. This is largely a function of the pernicious influence of the level descriptions which loom larger the closer you get to end of key stage reporting. Peter Lee and Dennis Schemilt in their recent seminal article for Teaching History described progression as being a cage when it should be a scaffold. They poured scorn on the use of level descriptions and felt that teachers needed to use their professional judgement with greater confidence and authority. To help the process this site has shown a number of ways in which departments have approached the task. Two stand out. The first is the notion of a grid which is not a single ladder but like a series of staggered ladders which show the new ideas that pupils should be encountering in each successive topic. It also shows which ideas need to be consolidated. By showing the department’s own chosen context in which each set of ideas is best developed, the grid gives clear direction to the whole department’s work and is invaluable for non-specialists.

The second approach entails the use of placemats which visually set out the ideas that pupils will cover in each of the old key elements. Pupils can see which ones they have mastered and which they need to work on. Because it is set out like a chess board it avoids the tight linear sequence of a ladder whilst still suggesting a broad hierarchy of tiers of ideas. The visual approach is very motivating if used with pupils. Some departments cut out the pictures and pupils stick them onto the placemat when they show ‘mastery’ of that idea.

Why not go straight to the progression grids and placemats at Key Stage 3 and have a look at what some successful departments have done. You may well be inspired to have a go with your department, as many have!

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