This is the first of four posts I hope to write this half term, each one describing my history lessons with my KS3 groups this half term. This post and the next one will be about year 9, with years 8 and 7 to follow. My purpose in doing so is simply to share what I have been doing in the hope that it is useful to other history teachers, as well as inviting feedback that may help me to do things more effectively.
In writing these posts I was inspired by Katie Ashford’s recent blog “Beyond the ‘show sentence’” (https://tabularasaeducation.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/beyond-the-show-sentence/) in which she explained how she has developed her pupils’ ability to write analytically in English. I hope readers will see similarities in my approach in terms of the focus on modelling being used initially in order to move pupils to independence in writing.
With year 9 I have three lessons per fortnight with a set 2 and a set 3 (we have two parallel bands in each year group with three sets in each band). We have been exploring the causes of the First World War and my ultimate aims were twofold: firstly, to enable my pupils to explain how and why tension had developed between the great powers in Europe by 1914 and then to explain how an assassination in an obscure corner of Europe led to a continent-wide (and ultimately world) war.
I had 7 or 8 lessons with each class and I largely followed the teaching and learning cycle outlined in one of my first posts, although the phases often overlapped:
- Building the field – ensuring the pupils have the knowledge they need.
- Modelling and deconstruction – showing pupils how to corral this knowledge into good historical writing, breaking down the structures of an explanatory paragraph.
- Joint construction – giving pupils an opportunity to join me in constructing an explanatory paragraph, guiding them to apply what I modelled to them.
- Independent construction – allowing pupils to write independently, to see how much they had learnt.
Building the field
I started with the absolute basics: the dates of the War, the combatants and the main developments (Russia’s surrender, USA’s entry), establishing these with the pupils and setting a short quiz as an ongoing homework, with which we then started each lesson until pupils were regularly getting full marks:
World War One basic facts
1. When did the Great War begin and end? (2)
2. What were the names of the two alliances that fought each other? (2)
3. Which countries were in each alliance? (6)
Triple Entente Triple Alliance
Great Britain Germany
4. Which Empire fought against Britain? (1)
The Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey)
5. Which country ‘changed sides’ during the war, and in which year? (2)
6. Which country surrendered in defeat in 1917? (1)
7. Which country entered the war in 1917? (1)
I also explained that they may see the War referred to as World War One, the First World War or the Great War and explained the origin of the latter term, pointing out that the first two names didn’t exist until there was a second world war!
We then established the long term causes of the War as the MAIN causes: Militarism, alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism. This is a relatively simplistic way of looking at the origins of the War, but one which I felt my pupils could handle and would be able to understand well. I used the familiar analogy of Europe being like a barrel filling up with gunpowder, ready for a spark that would ignite an explosion.
We read about the MAIN causes in our textbook and then defined them using a structure I have written about before, the four-stage definition devised by a brilliant ex-colleague of mine Helen Handford:
This gives very structured definitions (and can be used across the curriculum by the way!) and helps pupils to move towards using more academic language in preparation for writing. Following the teaching and learning cycle in miniature, I modelled the first definition, talking pupils through the way I constructed it. We then defined Imperialism and Militarism together, with me guiding pupils to agreed definitions. Finally, pupils used the structure to define alliances for themselves. They were largely successful in producing a definition similar to the one I had in mind: ‘Alliances are groups of countries that agree to fight together in a war.’
Modelling & deconstruction
I set the first assessment question of the year as: Why did World War One start in 1914? (taken from our scheme of work). Instead of simply allowing pupils to tackle the question immediately, I decided to use the teaching and learning cycle to scaffold their ability to explain the causes. This meant that pupils would end up with a full answer to this question encompassing an explanation of the long term MAIN causes and an explanation of how an assassination led to war. However, they would only have written the final two paragraphs independently.
As we progressed through these phases of the cycle we returned to the textbook to re-read and discuss sections relating to each MAIN cause as and when we needed to, supplementing this by looking at several maps, including one of Europe showing the two alliances and a map showing the scramble for Africa.
I modelled the first paragraph for pupils showing them the structure I wanted them to follow on the board:
As I modelled and pupils copied, I called pupils’ attention to the phases of the paragraph and the purpose each served, as well as certain structural features that I asked them to focus on within each phase, such as ‘one factor…’, the use of dates and phrases like ‘this led to…’ that indicate causation/explanation.
Having set up the next two paragraphs in the explanatory phase, we then jointly constructed the next two paragraphs, ending up with the following:
Imperialism, which is a desire to gain and expand an empire, was another factor that caused tension to build up in Europe by 1914.
From the late 19th century onwards the great powers of Europe competed with one another to grow their empires, which led to the ‘scramble for Africa’, in which Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium all took control of large parts of the African continent between 1880 and 1900.
This created tension because these countries began to see each other as rivals, and threats to their overseas empires, thus making war more likely.
The third factor that enabled tensions between European nations to rise before the Great War was militarism, which is when countries massively increase their armed forces very quickly.
In the early years of the 20th century the European powers began to expand their armed forces, spending more and more each year on weapons and other military equipment. In 1906 Britain launched a new advanced type of battleship called the ‘Dreadnought’, which led to a naval arms race with Germany. Other countries built up their armies and by 1914 Germany, France and Russia each had an army of over one million men.
This meant tension built because as each country increased its armed forces, all the other nations felt threatened. Also, the temptation to use the weapons and forces that had been expensively built up was very great.
As we were jointly constructing I asked questions such as:
- How do we decide the order of the factors? (Answer: use the explanatory phase of the first paragraph for the order)
- Having used ‘One factor which…’ in the first paragraph, how should we introduce these next factors?
- Which dates are important for the middle phase?
As well as more specific ones like:
- Which countries were involved in the ‘scramble for Africa’?
- What was the name of Britain’s new type of battleship?
Pupils were then given 20 minutes to think about, draft if they wanted to, then complete in neat their own paragraph explaining how alliances led to tension. This is the version that I wrote:
Alliances are groups of countries that agree to fight together in a war, and it was these agreements that represent the fourth source of tension in Europe from the late 19th century onwards.
By 1914 Europe was divided into two rival alliances. In 1881 Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary signed the Triple Alliance and in 1907 Britain, France and Russia signed the Triple Entente.
The result of this was tension between the two rival camps as they became suspicious of each other. A disagreement between two nations could result in a wider war, as each country joined in to defend their allies.
As this blog is already over long and I’ve left the kids’ books in school(!), I will use my second post to show some of the pupils’ responses later in the week when I’ve retrieved their books. But, overall, pupils were able to follow the three-phase structure and had understood the purpose of each phase. The quality of the content of each phase and the extent to which they had described the formation of the alliances and how this led to tension was more variable.