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Examine and Critically Analyse a Topic Based Approach to Teaching and Supporting Learning in Humanities.

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Module number: FDG 218 teaching and supporting learning in humanities

Examine and critically analyse a topic based approach to teaching and supporting learning in humanities.

In the following assignment it is intended to critically analyse and evaluate a topic based approach to teaching and supporting learning in humanities. A six week scheme of work has been produced showing progression in teaching and supporting learning of knowledge, key skills and concepts in humanities. This will then be evaluated as a whole planning process. I will then go onto discuss the topic based approach promoting geography, history and R.E. The strengths and weaknesses will be examined using examples of children’s experiences.
This large junior school serves a predominantly Asian community in an urban area of Blackburn. A significant proportion of families have the support of social services or other agencies. The proportion of pupils claiming free school meals is well above average. When they enter the school, pupils’ attainment is well below average and a higher than average number enter or leave partway through the junior years. The majority of pupils are learning English as an additional language. Most are of Pakistani or Indian heritage, a small proportion being Bangladeshi, White British or mixed Asian and British. The proportion of pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities is above average.
Confidentiality will be assured throughout this analysis with no names of the school or teachers will be mentioned.

The planning of a topic based approach could be proven to be a lengthy process. In order for me to begin my planning, a topic had to be chosen. At this stage it was important for me to choose an interesting topic area which will not only interest the children, but to interest me as well. This was important as I chose to plan for ‘World War 2’ to begin with. As this did not interest me, the planning became become very difficult and therefore the teaching and learning process would have become even worse. It was essential that I had an interest in the topic as this would create towards the teaching. In my opinion an enthusiastic teacher leads towards enthusiastic learners, therefore making the learning experience further enjoyable.
“making use of schemes of work. These provide a valuable framework but it is important to realise that you are expected to personalise the materials to make them applicable to your own situation...the benefits of using personal experiences, enthusiasm and themes which are of particular interest to them as teachers. This is likely to lead to a higher degree of engagement”
(Kathy Alcock, 2004)

Therefore I chose to plan for the topic ‘Tomorrow’s World’. Within my mind map brainstorms of ideas were drawn together branching to which specific humanities subject there were linked to. Some activities were cross linked to the other areas of the curriculum. Once these activities were separated, the knowledge, skills and concepts were identified. This was a difficult process, however using prior from lesson and observing these in practice in school by the class teacher made it easier to perform. Following on from this process, the activities were placed in the scheme of work. This was done first. The objectives, taken from the national curriculum handbook, were adapted in relation to the activities. Analysing the views of some teachers given, “when planning a topic, I have found it easier to base the activities around the objectives chosen” (teacher, YR 6), however I chose to adapt the objectives around the activities as I found it more sense. It was found that some objectives did overlap over activities. This was seen to an advantage as it showed that children could relate to previous knowledge and it would also enable further progression

According to the planning cycle above, it was important that I adhered to it. Each part of the process is linked to the next one; therefore it was important I covered all areas in order for the topic to flow. Both assessment and evaluation are essential elements of the teaching & learning cycle. These elements were difficult to incorporate into my scheme of work. These were essential as assessing the children’s learning will inform me of future planning needs and an evaluation of a lesson will allow me to reflect on the lessons strengths & weaknesses. According to my scheme of work, the assessment opportunities were monitored via several ways, such as open ended questions, group discussions, presentations, group work and observations. I would evaluate each lesson to determine how different strategies and approaches would benefit the teaching & learning further.
Humanities consists of three foundation subjects; Geography, History and Religious education. These subjects can either be taught separately, or may be combined in a topic with one leading curriculum subject. It was found in my scheme of work that it was history lead showing a vast amount of flexibility. As explained previously, an enthusiastic teacher goes a long way to inspire and motivate children. Therefore an audit was completed (see appendices) to show my keen interests within the different areas of humanities. This was key as how I perceive humanities subjects will influence how I wish to develop my subject knowledge. According to my audit, several subject areas will need to be developed to be able to communicate my enjoyment towards the children. Within a topic based approach, all key skills and concepts are covered under one umbrella. This is beneficial as if these skills are taught using the single-subject approach; the children could feel bombarded with too much information. As a topic based approach integrates all humanities subjects into one, many schools have decided to change the way humanities topics are being taught.
“An important distinction needs to be made between integration that brings together quite different subjects, which none the less have some characteristics in common with other subjects, and non-differentiation which is a way of thinking about subjects that does not admit their separate identities”
(Alexander et al., 1992)
All subjects are required to have their concepts, as do the humanities subjects. However these concepts may be taught as sub-concepts in the other areas of the curriculum. For example, “one might teach about scale as a sub-concept for understanding timelines, through maths and geography... Some analysis of the various skills and processes across the curriculum can reveal ways of linking subjects through the key concepts, skills and processes. This is vital in integrating the humanities subject areas as it is “using one subject as a vehicle to teach another” (Turnet-Bisset R, 2005)
A topic based approach encourages the full use of the curriculum flexibilities, which enables the teachers to take ownership of the curriculum. This is what is required according to the Excellent & Enjoyment and ofsted in order to diplay excellent primary teaching.
“In the curriculum in successful primary schools, ofsted explains this change in the context of encouraging schools to use their own professional judgements, and make full use of curriculum flexibilities, in order to take ownership of the curriculum. Ofsted is actively encouraging a new culture of innovation through this new framework”
(Excellent & Enjoyment – a strategy for primary schools, 2003)
In my opinion as teaching as a topic based approach covers all humanities subjects, less planning may be involved. This could be very beneficial towards the teachers as it will be less time consuming. Furthermore as all three subjects are covered, it would be as though the jigsaw pieces are coming together as the topic is explored through the different humanities areas. A use of the knowledge is applied through different areas which makes the learning more meaningful.
On the other hand making sure to deliver the topic isolation could become a problem. This issue could be arisen as if children have studied a similar topic in an earlier year, the topic would no longer remain meaningful for them. They could be taught the same skills and concepts previously; as a result the teachers need to ensure to look at some kind of collaborative planning throughout the school. This will enable continuity and progression within the teaching environment.
Furthermore, depending on some of the children’s learning styles, single-subject teaching may prove a success as they separate the learning areas and more importantly the skills, concepts and contents of the chosen subject.
Prior to 1991 there had never been a written curriculum for history. There are two main debates about what should be taught in history. Either knowledge of important events or key historical ideas. The national curriculum 2000 attempts to combine both of these together to enable the teachers to link the key concepts and skills that underpin the Knowledge. Some may argue that children are streamed with knowledge learning experiences. In contrast some may debate that the major concepts which need to be underpinned in history are embedded in the knowledge and skills. A creative activity supports this side of the debate greatly. According to my scheme of work, a starter to the lesson is for the children to bring in any old piece of technology from home. This can then support what the children already know about the passing of time over the last decade. As the children should have more of a vivid experience, they should be able to create a time line on how mobile phones have changed over the last decade, of which supports the overall learning outcome of the learning experience. Within a further lesson in my scheme of work, the children are set a problem. In order to solve the problem, the children are required to; plan, design and create a mechanism to save a puppy from a drain pipe. This enquiry-based learning is an excellent method of acquiring subject knowledge and building on values & skills at all levels of study, as well as being an effecting learning strategy to access the topic. According to (Owen and Ryan, 2001) “enquiry is taught, not just caught and needs to be modelled carefully by the teacher”. This particular activity supports the seven characteristics of enquiry-based learning as follows: 1. Children are involved in active learning where questions are generated and researched by children, with increasing independence. 2. Activities are supported by high quality resources. 3. Activities are relevant and meaningful to the child and focus on real issues. 4. Children are encouraged to develop thinking skills. 5. Children work collaboratively where the process is often characterised by dialogue. 6. Children develop specific enquiry skills and research techniques. 7. Activities are interesting and motivating, offering opportunities for creativity.
Cross curricular links are opportunities to make use of different subjects that overlap. It is important to develop these cross curricular links or linked unit of work which use a process of learning that are to two, three areas. Within my scheme of work a number of cross curricular links were developed. For example, within the first lesson close links to numeracy were formed as the children were required to create a time line to fulfil the success criteria. Close links to speaking & listening were displayed during group challenges and categorising ideas. Links to art as posters were to be designed and ICT as the information would be transferred onto Microsoft word for their final outcome. These show the skills were overlapped into different subject areas. My history lead topic could be improved by including some pictures and photo graphs as part of an activity. This could boost their thinking skills can overcome the concept to compare & contrast to this present day.
(Donaldson, 1978)
“Geography is learning: from the real world, about the real world, in the real world”
Geographical skills underpin the learning of all subjects in humanities. Current educational thinking suggests that the importance of the skills is to support the children’s knowledge & understanding. These skills are referred to as the process skills which children need to apply their knowledge and understanding.
Geography could engage learners using many aspects to way it is delivered. As we look around the world, there are many places which are “flat, mountainous, dry, wet, desolate, dangerous, dull or interesting.” It is wondered why with all this diversity and variety, geography is not very popular within schools. According to Kirchberg it is not the raw material to blame, it is the way the material has been and still is presented within schools which can cause disaffection.
“The didactics of teaching do not need to be redesigned, but new paths have to be followed, with new contents, methods and lesson procedures that are better adapted to today’s children and adolescents”
(kirchberg, 2000, pp 5-16)
Looking upon my scheme of work, the geography lead lesson has given the children the opportunity to explore their local landscape using geographical questions. This is put into practice by the allocating their own area with the schools grounds and designing their planet analysing survival skills. This in my opinion could prove to be more of a successful approach as to enclosing children within the classroom environment and limiting their creative & kinaesthetic intelligences.

Figure taken from Primary Geography Handbook
“we need to take account of these various ‘intelligences’ when we begin any new topic”
(Gardner, 1983)
In my belief young people should be introduced to geography in ways that will motivate them to discover more for themselves. It is important for teachers to engage geography in ways that will motivate children to discover more for themselves. It is vital to engage geography in a positive way and develop their own vision of the subject area in order to enrich their teaching, leading to enjoyment for the pupils. This will enhance the learning experience immensely and can promote further progression.

Schools are required to provide Religious Education for all children. R.E. is not part of the National Curriculum; however is part of the basic curriculum. My school follow an agreed syllabus outlined by themselves. According to the QCA, the aims of R.E. are to: * develop understanding of the influences of beliefs, values & tradition on individuals, communities, societies and culture * develop the ability to make reasoned and informed judgements about religious and moral issues, with references to the principle religions in the UK * reflect on their own beliefs, values and experiences in the light of their study * develop a positive attitude towards other people, respecting their right to hold different beliefs from their own, and towards living in a society of diverse religions. Dfes/QCA (1998) it is very important that when teaching faith and traditions that you promote a positive attitude. We should ensure that all work should help children to appreciate and respect all faiths & traditions. Within an observation of a R.E. lesson in my school, children found it difficult to accept other faiths & beliefs. As a consequence the class teacher based the lesson around music. A hymn was prayed in old English with the teacher interpreting each line. As this was carried out, comparisons were made towards the children’s own beliefs. This faded the mental block of separation and gradually children became more interested. As my role as a teaching assistant, sharing the same views as the children it was vital for me to encourage the children to take part using my own subject knowledge and enthusiasm to help encourage the children to learn about different faiths. As a result the barrier was removed and a successful learning environment was created.
Some teachers may be concerned about their lack knowledge about faiths and traditions. This can be looked at in two ways. Firstly the teacher would need to undertake some research of their own via; textbooks, teacher’s handbooks, TV programmes, internet or meeting people from other backgrounds. On the other hand, the teacher could take advantage of the children’s prior knowledge and learn with the children.
Same as all humanities subjects, the teacher needs to deliver all lessons in a creative approach, using their own enthusiasm to attract their attention. According to Hoodless P. (2009) “a place of worship is the source of a first-hand learning experience in which children can begin to recognise that their community is made up of diverse groups of people. Their learning can be experimental in that they can reflect on their own responses to such a visit and how it helps them understand both their own and perhaps someone else’s traditions.” This is one of the implications my scheme of work as no visits to a place of worship is supporting the R.E. lead lesson. Furthermore implications could occur as parental permission and support is needed. Some parents may be sensitive to the religious context of the visit and may need reassuring of the educational purpose and learning outcomes of the visits.
R.E. is taught separately to the integrated topic in my school. This could be modified by integrating R.E. into it as “the publication of the attainment targets of the foundation subjects will inevitably see an increasing emphasis on topics drawn from these subjects as well as the more core subjects.” In response to this quote, R.E. should be able to fit into topics naturally. It is the role of the R.E. coordinator to ensure that some subject-based R.E. topics are covered in the topic to ensure it has a structured response.
“respecting the best topic practice will involve the careful selection, planning and structuring of topics on a whole school basis”
(Bastide D, 1992)

Additionally, chosen themes to deliver the topic need to be suitable for the significant aspects of R.E. This is one of the reasons why I found it difficult to incorporate R.E. into my chosen topic. Most objectives may be squashed into one week; therefore there the children may not receive a coherent and structured treatment.
“to make good use of the interest and curiosity of children, to minimize the notation of subject matter being rigidly compartmental, and to allow the teacher to adopt a consultative, guiding, stimulating role rather than a purely didactic one”
(ibid., p.198)
In reference to this, I believe a topic based approach is a more convenient and successful approach to teaching the humanities subjects under one umbrella. Some implications may occur; however there are many benefits in a learning environment as analysed in this assignment. Many allegations arose within my scheme of work, of which could be improved on. For a future progression as an upcoming teacher, this approach will be taken full advantage of to enable a safe and secure environment for the children.


Edited by Bastide D. (1992), good practice in primary religious education, Routledge Oxon
Claire (2005), martin & Matthews, 2002
Excellent & Enjoyment – a strategy for primary schools, 2003
Geographical association (2001), primary geographer assessment special, Sheffield geography association
Hoodless P (2008), achieving QTS meeting the professional standards, teaching history in primary schools, learning matters Exeter
Edited by Stephen scoffham (2004), primary geography handbook, geographical association, Sheffield
Turner-Bisset R. (2005), creative teaching history in the primary classroom, David Fulton, Publishers Chriswick London

Websites: (accessed 10/12/2009) (accessed 12/12/2009) (accessed 15/11/2009)

Bibliography: Edited by Bastide D. (1992), good practice in primary religious education, Routledge Oxon Claire (2005), martin & Matthews, 2002 Excellent & Enjoyment – a strategy for primary schools, 2003 Geographical association (2001), primary geographer assessment special, Sheffield geography association Hoodless P (2008), achieving QTS meeting the professional standards, teaching history in primary schools, learning matters Exeter Edited by Stephen scoffham (2004), primary geography handbook, geographical association, Sheffield Turner-Bisset R. (2005), creative teaching history in the primary classroom, David Fulton, Publishers Chriswick London Websites: (accessed 10/12/2009) (accessed 12/12/2009) (accessed 15/11/2009)

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