Guidance for planning online curriculum

Richard Kennett

This last week has been horrific. I’ve not known whether I was coming or going. Well actually I suppose it was neither as I haven’t left my house in a week. Trying to adjust to suddenly changing everything we do as teachers and setting work online has been hard. Lots of us (and I’ll include myself in this) have scrambled around trying to grab what we can to set something, anything, genuinely anything. The hits on the meanwhile elsewhere website went through the roof.

But as the dust settles and this becomes our new normal, for a while at least, I think we can begin to try to do better than just grabbing what we can.

As a community of history teachers we have made massive progress in the last few years working on curriculum with all of us focusing on the following three questions:

  • What do I really want to teach my students? (intent)
  • What is the best way I can teach this? (implementation)
  • How will I know my students have learnt this? (impact)

And, as ever, we have done this through enquiry, building on the foundations that this community have been establishing for decades.

Now is not the time to forget this but to remember this is what drives us, what makes us brilliant and what makes other subject associations and communities look on us with envy.

But while I think these principles need to be remembered we cannot do things in the same way. Teaching online is hard. Those of us with families are stretched trying to teach our own kids whilst simultaneously teaching the children of others. For our students (and us) this is a scary time and we won’t be able to work and function at the same level as we were before.

So what might these principles look like in an online environment with young people learning from home?

Intent in an online world

Firstly, I think we need to have a serious think about what we want our students to learn. Doing the exact same as in the classroom probably is not appropriate. We should simplify our plans. We need to think about what is the absolutely crucial knowledge you need your students to learn this spring / summer. Keep this list small. I’ve just been trying to teach my Year 10s remotely this week about how Hitler and the Nazis move Germany from a democracy to a dictatorship between 1933 and 1934. In class we do lots on this. In addition to the big obvious points we learn about Gleichschaltung and going into German local governmental changes. This week I’ve quickly realised this isn’t possible. If my students know about the Reichstag Fire, the Enabling Act and the Night of the Long Knives that will do. They are the crucial bits. The other bits can either be learned later or we possibly just don’t need at this moment.

Implementation in an online world

Enquiry is the best way to teach history. A big question that ties everything to together is ace. It gives form and function to history learning. And there is no reason we shouldn’t be doing this now in an online environment. Setting your kids a big enquiry question that might last a few weeks right now is good. It means that each ‘lesson’ you can set a baby step towards this bigger question. This means that students can see the bigger picture and the component parts will make sense. In terms of what you do in each lesson that is up to you. But again go easy. It is entirely possible that those things you wouldn’t do in the classroom you might do now (I’ll confess I set a poster one lesson this week). Whatever works for you and your students and doesn’t create stress is the order of the day.

Impact in an online world

We need to go easy on ourselves when it comes to marking and feedback. I’ve seen some teachers this week try and get students to hand in work every lesson that they then mark. That is not sustainable for us or them. And I bet you wouldn’t do this in the classroom. Self marking online quizzes are great but I don’t think you should do them every lesson or otherwise they will become boring very quickly. In terms of marking something more substantial this is again where I think enquiry can help. If you set an enquiry over two or three weeks (for KS3 it could well be longer) the only bit of work I’d mark is their final enquiry outcome, whether that be an essay or a presentation. That will be the opportunity where you can really see if your students understood what you have been setting. 

So in summary, don’t be hard on yourself, you are going to need to do things differently. You can’t have the same standards you had in the classroom, it is not realistic. And finally wash those hands.

Podcast: Learning History from Home

Listen to this episode from 'Handy History Teaching Tips' by Sally Thorne and Helen Snelson: 

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