Ants and the Tet Offensive: teaching Year 11 to tell the difference


By Paul Jack, Emma Fearnham, published 11th February 1999

The history department at Morpeth School in East London has improved performance at GCSE. The department has also done something unusual: it has abandoned coursework. This might seem a surprising decision but the rationale is interesting and clear. Arguably, the fundamental examination skills are identical to those needed for coursework - ability to identify general and particular, to select apposite detail, to identify issues rather than facts and to make conceptual links explicit. But what is fascinating is that the examination is a particularly demanding (and therefore telling) test. If pupils can transfer this type of training into the exam setting, where they must recall, select and deploy with independence, then we really know that we have intervened effectively to deepen understanding and improve thinking skills. In particular, note the discussion of Big Points and Little Points - a literacy strategy already widely-used by history teachers. Jack and Fearnhamm give it a new power by getting beyond the usual cardsorting and requiring pupils to define their own ‘Big' and ‘Little' ideas.

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