Development of a History Education module

Dr Elizabeth Matthew, School of Humanities
e.a.e.matthew@reading.ac.uk
Year of activity: 2012/13

Overview

A collaborative project between the Department of History and the Institute of Education developed an innovative module in History, History Education (HS3HED), allowing Part Three students to test and develop their interest in teaching by undertaking and reflecting on a two-week subject-specific placement in a local secondary school. The module has been successful in improving students’ employability, and has been highly praised by students and external examiners.

Objectives

  • Enable students to test and develop their interest in careers in History Education by applying their skills and communicating their knowledge in local schools.
  • Enhance student employability by giving students an advantage in the competition for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) places, while developing a wide range of presentational, organisational and interpersonal skills highly valued in other areas of graduate employment.
  • Broaden students’ academic experience by introducing pedagogy outside their own discipline.

Context

Recent changes within secondary education have increased demand for well-trained teachers of History. The module has encouraged students to take advantage of this opportunity. A third of University of Reading History graduates in further study now enrol on PGCE courses.

Implementation

The module was developed through collaboration between the Department of History and the Institute of Education, with an awareness of the skills that need to be demonstrated when competing for an ITE place and the requirements of secondary schools.

The Institute of Education contacts local schools to seek placements for students. The number of placements that are able to be offered determines the number of students able to be enrolled on the module. As a result, unlike a typical module within the Department, recruitment to HS3HED is conducted by interview. All applicants who complete the application process receive an interview. Regardless of outcome, applicants are offered the opportunity to receive feedback on their interview.

In pre-placement seminars, students are introduced to lesson-observation skills, secondary teaching strategies, and pedagogy characteristics of ITE, with these sessions being highly participatory. Seminars led by staff from the Institute of Education provide students with information on getting the most out of their placements, lesson planning, and the current secondary curriculum.

Originating in a Faculty of Arts and Humanities Teaching and Learning ‘Think Space’ funded project undertaken by Elizabeth Matthew (Department of History) in 2011 to enhance employability in History, the module was further developed in collaboration with Richard Harris and Elizabeth McCrum (Institute of Education), who contributed their knowledge of secondary education and awareness of the skills that need to be demonstrated when competing for an ITE place.

The Department of History seeks placements for students through the Institute of Education’s contacts with Initial Teacher Education Coordinators in schools in Reading and the surrounding area. The number of placements offered each year determines the number of students able to be enrolled on the module. As a result, unlike a typical module within the Department, HS3HED has selective recruitment. All applicants who complete the application process receive an interview. Unsuccessful applicants are offered the opportunity to receive feedback on their interview.

In pre-placement seminars, students are introduced to the organisation of the module, lesson-observation skills, secondary teaching strategies, pedagogy characteristic of ITE, and the assessments for the module. Highly participatory seminars led by staff from the Institute of Education advise students on the secondary history curriculum, lesson planning, and how to get the most out of their placements. Post-placement seminars in the Department of History provide additional advice on assessment.

On placement, students observe and assist the delivery of lessons. To increase the variety experienced by students, partner schools are encouraged to include a wide range of year groups, and a few lessons in subjects other than History on the students’ timetables. Schools help students identify a topic and target class for an independently researched and planned lesson, for shared delivery with the student’s placement supervisor. The supervisor also gives each student an hour’s mentoring support each week.

Students are assessed by: a placement log, in which they analyse their lesson observations; a report on their independently researched and planned lesson; and delivery of an oral presentation on their placement experience and its impact on their career development. In addition, students are graded by school supervisors in four aspects of performance on placement, with this assessment being given least weighting to prevent disparities in grading standards from skewing final results.

Impact

Results on the module have been consistently high, though this is partly a reflection of its selective nature. Greatly encouraging is the enthusiastic feedback received from students on the module: in 2014-15 11 out of 12 student rated it as being ‘Excellent’ in formal feedback collected by the Department, while students also give positive feedback through informal channels. The module has been praised by external examiners for its innovation and quality of assessment feedback. In improving student employability in education the module has been similarly successful: 6 out of 7 students applying for ITE after taking the module in 2012-13 were successful in gaining PGCE or School Direct places.

Reflections

The selective recruitment to the module means students experience participation in a selection process. As interviews are a key aspect of the application process for ITE places, as well as for wider graduate employment, this is a valuable skill to develop, and the feedback offered supports this.

The different forms of assessment ensure students engage with the module, learn in depth, and develop the skills to demonstrate this. Having students complete a placement log requires students to learn about and reflect on a number of key aspects of teaching and learning, while their report on their independently researched and planned lesson requires them to reflect upon how they have applied their learning. The oral presentation allows students the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking, and also the communication skills central to the role of teacher. By having their school supervisors grade them, students receive clear and informed feedback on their performance in school. All elements of assessment promote their full engagement on placement.

The principal benefit of the module is that it develops students’ employability skills, specifically those that will give them a competitive edge in competition for ITE places. Through their placement experience students discover how interested they are in pursuing a career in secondary school teaching, and this can be highly beneficial in shaping their plans beyond graduation.

Additional benefits are that the module provides a USP for student recruitment, and has extended the Department of History’s links with local schools, enhancing outreach activities. HS3HED has also created a blueprint for the development of other innovative placement-focused modules, both within History and more widely across the University.

Although contact hours are less onerous, offering this module is labour intensive for the Department of History in terms of coordinating student selection, matching students to placements, liaising with the individual placement providers, marking coursework and examining oral presentations. But given the benefits to students, who enjoy, engage with, and perform well on the module the Department of History believes that it is more than worthwhile. It is hugely appreciative of the vital continuing role played by the Institute of Education in the pre-placement training, and of the support provided by partner schools, particularly the placement supervisors. Their willing and generous participation has been crucial.

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