I had planned to spend this weekend writing about teaching the Renaissance, but a wellspring of excellent blogs about Knowledge Organisers has tempted me to change tack.
Last week, I blogged about how teachers who support knowledge-based teaching are spending less time criticising methods they disapprove of, and more time promoting alternatives. Knowledge Organisers are a great example of this constructive turn. Joe Kirby first blogged about Knowledge Organisers in March 2015, and education-bloggers have gone wild for them. Just this past week, Summer Turner has written a great blog about teaching ‘facts not fads‘, and Jon Brunskill has started a series of posts about using Knowledge Organiser at Primary level.
When I began writing a knowledge-based Key Stage 3 history textbook for Collins last year, the publisher and I agreed that each unit should end with a Knowledge Organiser, outlining ~25 keywords, ~10 key dates, and ~8 key people. Here is an example from the unit on Norman England.
However, as I read more about Knowledge Organisers, I realised these double page spreads slightly miss the point. They remain an invaluable classroom resource, allowing pupils to remind themselves of key information independently when planning and writing their own work. But the knowledge is insufficiently organised. Many of the definitions are in the style of a glossary, and not specific to the unit in question. And a lot of important information has been left out, as it did not fall neatly into the categories of words, dates or people.
So, in September I set about designing new Knowledge Organisers. My understanding has always been that Knowledge Organisers are the base from which quizzes can be designed. However, in the spirit of not duplicating work, I decided that my quizzing questions and Knowledge Organiser should become one and the same.
For each unit of work, I have drafted 50 quizzing questions –10 per chapter. I have then organised these quizzing questions into an A4 Knowledge Organiser, along with key dates from the course. This has amounted to 18 Knowledge organisers across Key Stage 3, consisting of 900 separate quizzing questions – I will be posting them all on this page soon.
As has been written about at length, the exercise of creating a Knowledge Organiser was an extremely helpful mental exercise, which has paid great dividends in refining the clarity of my teaching. Facts have been included according to the following criteria:
- Important for the end of unit assessment.
- Important for building long-term historical knowledge (as Michael Fordham has blogged about here)
- Taken from the set reading we have completed.
Using the Knowledge Organiser
Knowledge Organisers now provide a backbone to our teaching across Key Stage 3 history at West London Free School. Joe Kirby has written before about ‘renewable resources’ – a concept I love – and these quizzing questions are a perfect example. They simplify our lesson planning, cut down on workload, and provide consistent retrieval practice for pupils. How do we use and reuse them?
- Pupils are given Knowledge Organisers at the start of the unit. One benefit of formatting the Knowledge Organiser onto a page of A4 is that it can be tucked into the plastic cover on the back of pupils’ exercise books for immediate access when self-quizzing (and ensuring no lost worksheets – the bane of homework setting!).
- According to our Key Stage 3 lesson cycle, every other history lesson starts with a quiz taken from the Knowledge Organiser. This may either be a low stakes recap quiz, or a high stakes test for which the pupils revise, and we take in the marks. Almost always, pupils’ marks increase thanks to self-quizzing homework – gratifying for the pupil and teacher alike.
- We return to the same quizzing questions at relevant points throughout the year. For example, the 10 questions here on the feudal system will reappear towards the end of Year 7 when we come to teach the Peasants’ Revolt, re-activating pupils’ prior knowledge about the structure of medieval society.
Aside from simplifying my planning, the enormous benefit of this is that pupils constantly revisit the same questions and answers, through verbal recapping, quizzes, self-quizzing homework, and tests. Facts such as ‘The Harrying of the North’ took place in 1069, following an Anglo-Saxon rebellion in Durham, become automatic.
The benefit for this was abundantly clear when I marked my Year 7’s essays at the end of the unit. We set pupils the essay ‘How did William the Conqueror establish Norman control over England?’, and spent a lesson planning an essay with three chapters looking at the role played by violence, leadership and luck, followed by a conclusion deciding which factor was most important.
The essay was written during a 55-minute lesson. Almost all pupils were able to thread their paragraphs with specific, detailed information from the Knowledge Organisers. Below is a paragraph from a top-ranking piece of work, with detail from the Knowledge Organiser highlighted in yellow:
And also two paragraphs from a middle-ranking piece of work:
I have often wondered why critics of knowledge-based teaching insist that facts committed to memory are axiomatically ‘disconnected’ or ‘meaningless’. Facts obviously can be these things. But when facts are extracted from key reading completed throughout the term, and applied to a piece of analytical history writing at the end of the term, they are steeped in meaning.
Historical meaning comes from webs of understanding, and these webs are created by linking together a knowledge of people, places, dates, events and concepts. I have encountered no better means of codifying that knowledge than in a Knowledge Organiser.