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Beyond the textbook: effective teaching for the new OCR B (SHP) GCSE

When we ask teachers what they and their students are enjoying about new OCR B (SHP) GCSE they nearly always mention three things:

  • the varied and interesting historical content
  • the clear structure of the course and of individual studies
  • the human interest that lies at the heart of each study

The twelve textbooks that SHP has produced with our publishing partner Hodder Education attempt to enhance these features of the OCR B (SHP) GCSE. Underlying the thinking behind the textbooks is the same fundamental question that all good history teachers constantly grapple with: how can we do justice to people from the past and our GCSE students with the limited space (authors) and time (teachers) we’ve been given? Feedback from teachers suggests that wrestling with this question has resulted in textbooks that succeed in engaging students with the complexity of the past.

The clear structure and engaging content of SHP’s new GCSE series will go a long way to ensuring that your students enjoy their GCSE SHP history course and do well in the exams. But lessons dominated by textbooks, however good these are, will be dreary. As series editors and authors, it’s a joy to see history teachers going beyond the textbooks when planning for challenging, engaging and accessible learning for their GCSE classes. Five strategies seem particularly helpful:

 Planning historical enquiries

We’ve engaged students with the knowledge and understanding they need for the GCSE exams by structuring each book around historical enquiries. These provide a clear focus for students’ learning and encourage them to communicate their understanding in rigorous and creative ways. Big historical questions draw students into history, build their knowledge and develop their thinking. Many teachers are following this approach, but are going beyond the textbook by adapting and modifying enquiries to meet the needs of their own students. A range of approaches are being developed, including:

  • switching the order of enquiries (for example, some teachers have begun the depth study on the Elizabethans with ‘Daily Lives’ to provided a more accessible starting point)
  • modifying enquiry questions, end products and recording tasks
  • building-in clips from historical documentaries and films
  • developing local examples and case studies as alternatives to the ones in the textbook
  • creating opportunities for on-line research

Two good examples of approaches to planning enquiries for The People’s Health can be found on our website:

Ensuring accessibility

The textbooks in SHP’s new GCSE series contain sufficient knowledge to allow your highest-attaining students to achieve level 9 in the exam. The clear structure, engaging stories and strong visuals go a long way to ensuring that low-attaining students will also enjoy their GCSE SHP history course and will do well in the exams. But, you’ll obviously need to adapt the textbooks to meet the needs of your weaker students. Teachers are finding the following strategies particularly helpful.

  • making greater use of pictures and documentary clips to develop historical knowledge and understanding
  • simplifying the author text and activities
  • re-formatting text by creating matching and sequencing activities
  • creating lots opportunities for pair-talk
  • turning textbook narratives and situations into teacher-directed role-plays

 You can find a helpful example of approaches to helping low-attaining students get to grips with the overviews for the thematic study on our website.

Choosing your own case studies of individual people and places

As you’d expect in an SHP textbook series, a wide range of people and places feature in each book.  The enquiries create curiosity, and deepen understanding, by focussing on the lives and experiences of a wide range of people in different places. The ‘Closer Look’ feature between each enquiry allows for an in-depth focus on some remarkable individuals and locations. For example, students studying Living Under Nazi Rule have been moved by the life and death of the boxer, Rukeli Trollmann and fascinated by the study of Berlin at the end of the war. In The Making of America the life story of Quanah Parker makes an intriguing final ‘Closer Look’. On Alex Ford’s website you’ll find more great case studies. The Thematic Study and British Depth Study offer a range of opportunities to include your own case-studies of local people and places that will make the course even more engaging for your students.

 Engaging students with real historical sources

 The constructive use of historical sources has always been central to SHP’s philosophy and and we’ve ensured that our new GCSE books contain a range of fascinating sources. Sometimes these act as a hook at the beginning of an enquiry. For example, in Crime and Punishment students are fascinated by the charge sheet of John Hearn, a twelve-year-old boy from Lambeth sentenced to one month’s hard labour in Wandsworth Prison in 1873. As well as written documents, the books also contain a range of visual sources and artefacts. They also reflect SHP’s emphasis on ‘history around us’ by featuring different historic sites: the Hastings battle site, Leeds in the 1830s, the Taj Mahal and many more.

You can enable students to delve deeper into historical sources by building some of the fantastic online source collections into your schemes of work. See, for example, the extensive source collection for Crime and Punishment on the National Archive website or, for Living Under Nazi Rule, the excellent new website on Nazi concentration camps.

Making the most of visual interpretations

The stronger emphasis on interpretations of history in the new GCSE history has allowed the OCR B (SHP) specification to engage students with the range of ways in which the past is interpreted. In particular, SHP’s textbook series includes a plethora of visual interpretations that are full of interest, and that engage students with the ways in which images of the past are constructed. Teachers are finding it it easy and enjoyable to go beyond the textbook by searching for their own visual interpretations. A google image search using the names of some of the artists and and illustrators we’ve used in the textbook will produce some great stuff. You’ll also find a wealth wonderful historical illustrations in the Look and Learn History Picture Library

During this academic year, SHP will be adding resources for teaching the OCR B (SHP) specification to our website. The SHP e-news will alert you to these, so make sure you’ve signed up to our mailing list. You can find the link on our homepage.