The teaching approaches described in the methodologies section of these guidelines may be used by teachers to provide a range of learning experiences for their pupils. Children’s participation in these activities, their reactions, questions, discussions, storytelling, visits, drawings, writings, model-making, role-play – in short, all aspects of their work in history – provide a flow of information about their progress in achieving the objectives of the history curriculum.
This information is crucial to the teacher’s professional judgement about how successfully pupils are learning and in enabling him/her to help children to learn more effectively. A number of techniques will be used in collecting and recording information about pupil progress in history. Each has its contribution to make in assisting the teacher in assessing progress, identifying difficulties, communicating to the pupil, parents and others, and in planning further learning for the child.
The details of children’s learning which teachers notice as historical topics are explored and taught provide essential and immediate information about each child’s learning. Observations may be made as children complete work, engage in discussions, interact with the teacher or receive guidance and help. Although watching children’s reactions and activities during history work will provide information about their grasp of historical knowledge, observations are particularly valuable in assessing how effectively children are able to apply historical skills and the attitudes to historical events and characters which they express.
Some of the details of children’s learning which emerge may do so in a spontaneous or incidental way; at other times teachers may decide to systematically look out for particular behaviours, abilities or interactions. It is not possible to assess all the available information about pupils’ learning, so it can be useful to identify particular children or groups whose work might be the focus of observation. Clarifying in advance the expected outcomes of the learning situation will also help to enhance the observations made.
For example, in a lesson based on the examination of historical artefacts, the teacher might look out for those children who look at the object in a cursory way and then guess about its use and function, in contrast to those who examine it in a more systematic manner. During discussions of a piece of written evidence, some children will simply extract information from the document, while others may indicate that the writer’s standpoint is influencing the information presented. Even simple facial expressions or incidental conversations between pupils following the telling or reading of a story may indicate a pupil’s empathy (or lack of it) with the predicament of an historical character.
Much of the information gleaned through the teacher’s observations will not be written down, but noting significant aspects of some children’s progress or gaps in their historical knowledge and/or skills may help in the planning of future work for the individual, group or class. Notes might be kept in a simple notebook or diary or on a sheet for the topic, group or class involved. Teachers’ observations complement other assessment tools so as to produce a much more comprehensive view of the child’s learning in history.
Teacher-designed tasks and tests
Teachers will use a wide range of activities to introduce children to the units of the history curriculum, to allow them to learn about aspects of the historical topics involved and to reinforce knowledge and skills acquired. The activities will include oral discussions, asking and answering questions, the handling of evidence, recording and communication in oral, pictorial, model, written and computer formats, and through drama, roleplaying and reconstructions. The active learning situations in which these will take place can be used to assess the progress of individuals and groups and can be especially useful in evaluating children’s development of skills and attitudes.
Oral discussion, stimulated by a piece of evidence, an account of the past, a visit or the teacher’s questions can elicit much information about pupils’ grasp of an historical event, character or period. Used correctly, the teacher’s questions can not only provide information about the progress the child has made but can stimulate deeper levels of thought and learning. For example, the use of genuinely open questioning can encourage the child to speculate about the motives and thoughts of historical characters.
Visiting and exploring historical sites and buildings, especially if the visit is focused using a trail leaflet or if the children are accompanied by an older person who can talk about life in that place in the past, will reveal much about the pupils’ awareness of the evidence of the past in their environment and their attitudes to its conservation.
Children’s pictorial and written work and their communication in other forms should provide opportunities for them to demonstrate what they know and understand about the past and what historical skills they can apply. Having children draw or complete pictures of historical objects, buildings or events will reveal the facts about the past which the child has absorbed and scrutiny of the pictures may provide evidence of the child’s chronological awareness or his/her ability to synthesise evidence from a range of sources. For example, a child who draws a Norman knight in a castle in which a television is included has still to distinguish clearly between the past and the present; a child who portrays Daniel O’Connell attired in the dress of an early nineteenth-century gentleman and carrying a wig may be using information from a study of nineteenthcentury life as well as the story of the barrister’s life.
It should also be remembered that roleplaying, drama and model-making are excellent vehicles for children to express their detailed understanding of the past and their empathy with historical characters as well as general cooperative and communication skills.
Work samples, portfolios and projects
The collection of samples of the children’s work in portfolios provides one of the most important tools of assessment in history and SESE. Samples from some of the wide range of tasks suggested in the curriculum and guidelines may be compiled by the teacher or older child, enabling balanced monitoring of the child’s progress in knowledge and skills to be made in the context of the historical topics with which he/she is familiar. Samples may be maintained by the child and/or teacher in simple folders or wallets, and it should also be remembered that history scrapbooks and copybooks may be forms of portfolios.
If work samples, portfolios and projects are to assist teaching and learning they must remain manageable, and so there is a need to keep only the most significant items. Samples should be retained when they
- show that particular objectives have been achieved, for example at the end of a unit of work
- mark significant progress in the application of an historical skill, for example if a child demonstrates an understanding of cause and effect for the first time, or if he/she demonstrates a real empathy for a character in an imagined conversation in role-play
- indicate a weakness or gap in the child’s knowledge or skills: for example, a child may have misunderstood the term ‘monastery’ during a lesson on the early Irish church if his/her drawing of the ecclesiastical site shows a single large monastic building rather than a group of small cells around a church
- indicate significantly greater progress or a breadth of understanding beyond the content of the lessons.
Samples should have attached the name of the child, the date and the help, if any, the child was given in completing the task. The cumulative record of the child’s work, some of which may be selected by the child, allows the teacher to make an informed professional judgement about the child’s progress and his/her readiness for further learning experiences. It will also provide an excellent basis for reporting to parents and others. The contents of portfolios can form the basis of end-ofterm displays for parents and can inform the assessment of the child’s progress which is recorded and reported on pupil record cards or pupil profiles.
Portfolios also have a role to play in helping the teacher to review and evaluate the content, methodologies and approaches which he/she has used over a term or year. Work samples which demonstrate the effectiveness of particular approaches or weaknesses in children’s learning provide important information for the planning of future work. The analysis of portfolios from a range of children and classes by groups of co-operating teachers could lead to the sharing of teaching experience and the development of a common approach to the assessment of history within the school. It may also enhance the reliability of pupil assessment.
Curriculum profiles provide a way in which the child’s progress can be assessed and recorded using indicators of achievement. These indicators, sometimes grouped in sets, attempt to summarise the range of knowledge, skills and attitudes which might be expected at various stages in the child’s progress. For example, in the very early stages of history some of the indicators might include how the child
- talks about aspects of events in his/her own past and that of his/her family and others
- talks about stories from the past
- handles and describes what they see in objects and photographs
- begins to recognise some differences between the past and present
- conveys knowledge of the past through talking and drawing.
By marking, highlighting or shading these indicators as they are achieved by the pupil, a record may be kept of the child’s progress. Reviewing the child’s portfolio of work and other tasks completed by him/her will help the teacher to update the profile from time to time, and the curriculum profile can provide the information needed for the child’s end-of-year pupil profile card.