Planning to deliver an A-level history course from a blank sheet of paper

This is the first in a series outlining the process of preparing oneself to deliver an  unfamiliar A-level course.

I need to teach an A-level course with which I have little to no knowledge of. I intend to outline the process I go through to develop my subject knowledge as an aide to teachers new to the profession who might need to do the same, and consider how to apply the principles of good curriculum design to A-level history.

For a variety of reasons, I have taken responsibility for delivering the AQA ‘The Making of a Superpower: The USA 1865-1975’ course. It would be misleading of me to suggest that I have no knowledge of this course. I studied this in a first year undergraduate survey course, more than a decade ago, and I’m certainly aware of the post-1920s components of the course. I have spent the last six years delivering what is now the ‘Wars and Welfare’ component of the AQA History A-level, covering Britain between 1906 and 1957. I have a fairly strong chronological framework of events then, upon which to hang the new detail that I’ll either need to learn or re-master.

It would also be misleading to suggest that I have to start the delivery of this A-level from a blank sheet of paper. I’ll cover that as part of this series, but in brief, I find my best teaching comes from teaching my own lessons. I’ll discuss, as part of the planning process, how and where I will integrate materials created by other colleagues and integrating material from elsewhere.

I had hoped to start this process early.  I had progressed to quite an advanced stage in planning to teach the ‘Tsarist and Communist Russia’ component, before being appointed to head of history and politics at a different school. I learned a lot from those preparations which I will write about hear, and will support my preparations for the US A-level course.

To develop my historical knowledge to a sufficient degree will be a lengthy process and I am keen to get it right. I am pretty confident that I can teach an effective lesson to my students on any given topic. However, the challenge of teaching an A-level effectively is getting the sequence of lessons right and ensuring that they all hang-together effectively. I therefore started the process, and drafting this blog, in the Easter holidays of 2019 but I had to start again in the May half-term break.

I’ve got a rough plan that should lead me from the present day to effective teaching in September, outlined below. I’ll flesh out each step with more detail as it takes place. Many of these steps will take place simultaneously and I’m sure the plan will need to adapt to take into account unforeseen challenges, such as having to prepare for an entirely different unit!

 

How I intend to develop my subject knowledge and plan the A-level programme of study:

  1. Read the course approved textbook. Write a summary of each chapter in a sentence.
  2. Write a more detailed set of notes on each chapter of the textbook, developing the key themes and historical questions asked.
  3. Write a draft lesson overview for the academic year, tentatively proposing enquiry questions, the amount of time to dedicate to each issue and assessment opportunities.
  4. Review the work of others. It is at this point that I intend to integrate anything colleagues can offer me, both from my new school and elsewhere.
  5. Read academic history. There might be some logic in doing this earlier, but it is at this point that I want to take my knowledge a step further and identify opportunities to bring historical writing into the classroom. When preparing for the Russian unit I began with Figes’ Pelican history Revolutionary Russia 1891-1991 and planned to read a few further monographs from historians such as Robert Service. For America, I will start with the sturdy Tindall and Shi survey book to review my lessons and then use other sources to plug in more detail.
  6. Plan the assessment regime. I need to review my lesson overview with the whole school assessment structures in mind, and how I’d like to cumulatively, summatively and formatively assess students’ developing historical knowledge.
  7. Review the A-level against my own objectives. While it might teach the specification, does it teach the historical domain, with its attendant knowledge and processes to my satisfaction? What is missing? What do I need to add in, as I teach my way through the year.
  8. Plan some lessons!

 

Critical feedback on the plan and its implementation welcome! It is worth noting that I am starting with reasonably good knowledge of the exam rubric. One essay style remains consistent from my Unit 2 teaching, so I will only need to consider the use and evaluation of historical interpretations.

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