Every year, normally on the second Wednesday in June, the Leaving Cert History exam takes place. Higher Level students have 2 hours 50 minutes to answer a documents based question and three long essay questions.
A top, or even 'middle-of-the-road' grade cannot be achieved without an extensive amount of writing. From the first minute to the last, the exam is a writing marathon run at a sprinting pace.
Granted, extended writing is a fundamental skill of History. It is important that young historians can produce essay type answers that show not just a dept of knowledge but also an ability to think independently. However, in setting this challenge, the State Examinations Commission should ensure sufficient time is allocated.
In the immediate aftermath of the exam, History students, hands still aching and fingers numb, commonly and justifiably complain that more time was needed. Students have to 'hit the ground running' with little or no time for essay planning and review of answers. The time allocated for the Higher Level Leaving Cert History exam should be increased from 2 hours 50 minutes to at least 3 hours.
A 3 hour exam would bring History into line with a number of other exams. Higher Level Business Studies, Engineering, Biology, Construction Studies, Design and Communication Graphics, Accounting, Physics and Chemistry are all 3 hour exams. The amount of writing required for History is, at the very least, comparable to the aforementioned exams.
The State Examinations Commission should consider allocating at least 10 extra minutes to the Higher Level Leaving Cert History exam. This would be a fair and equitable move. It would in no way compromise the integrity of the exam. It would have a positive impact on student wellbeing. Indeed, the student voice should be heard. Students should be consulted. What are their views on the time allocated to history? That consultation should begin at 4.51 pm tomorrow.
Evening Echo, 8th May 2018: Teachers appeal for history to remain a core subject in Junior Cycle
Students gradually improve their historical writing skills as they progress through the junior cycle. Students master the key term, the sentence, the paragraph and the essay, in that order. Each step takes time and effort to master.
Needless to say, failure to master the key term or the sentence will result in below standard paragraphs and essays. As such, it is important to implement strategies to develop the basic skills of historical writing.
Develop the sentence is one strategy that a teacher can use to improve students' historical writing skills. Give a set of only fair sentences and challenge the students to develop each one to a very good sentence. Model the task by giving an example.
Take feedback and give praise!
Download the blank template provided.
Develop the Sentence Template
A factual errors task is a good example of how teachers can test student knowledge.
Give students an account based on a topic which has been covered. The account will contain a set number of errors. The students must read the account carefully, then show the errors using a highlighter.
Using their knowledge of the topic, they must then give the correct facts. The teacher should take feedback, and ask questions to generate discussion.
Consider assigning an extension task. For example, get them to research online a related topic and then write their own account.
Walkabout Bingo is a fun strategy for getting students to work with each other.
Every student gets the same set of questions on a chosen topic e.g. Medieval Life. The students walk around the classroom and get the answers from each other.
They can only get one answer from any one classmate. Therefore, if there are eight questions, the student must get eight classmates, answering one question each. The answer and the name of the student who provided it are recorded.
The first student to get all correct answers and call BINGO, wins! Consider giving a reward e.g. subject department bookmark.
The activity continues until everyone has a full set of answers. Follow up by taking feedback.
This strategy can be used at the beginning, during or at the end of a lesson or unit of learning. Try this strategy by using the resources below. Enjoy!
Sample Walkabout Bingo: Medieval Life
Blank Template: Walkabout Bingo
Sign up to the History Matters 365 Mailing List via the Home Page.
Choose your own history homework is an excellent strategy for promoting student autonomy. It is also a good example of differentiated instruction.
Introduce at the beginning of a unit of learning. Keep copies of associated materials in class:
Allow for three levels of difficulty; Low (L), Medium (M), and High (H). Students can't repeat a task and must choose at least one from each level before the unit is complete. Introduce a Wildcard (W) option to encourage creativity.
This strategy allows both high, and low achieving students to 'take ownership' of homework, be creative and attempt tasks at their own level, with scope to try something harder.
Give students time to present their homework in class. Display some examples on the classroom display board or walls. Give plenty of praise!
Download - Choose your own history homework
BBC Teach - Holocaust Memorial Day Resources
History Matters 365 Blog
A history teacher's survival guide.
Christian O' Connor, History Teacher, St. Mary's Secondary School, Mallow, Co. Cork. Cork HTA Chairperson.
- History Matters 365 BLOG
Junior Cert History
- Junior Cycle History
Leaving Cert History
- Teachers' Corner
- Cork HTA YouTube Channel
- The History Room