Posted by: markhowell101 | April 2, 2011

Geographical enquiry at key stage 3

Having delivered the new OCR B enquiry controlled assessment last year I was struck by the lack of understanding of what an enquiry was and how to put one together shown by my year 11’s. Looking through our KS3 assessments at the end of last year it was clear to both me and my HoD why this was. We had very few enquiry tasks in the key stage 3 program of study and the ones we did offer were not enquiries in the truest form in that we gave the title and sourced the information and students just picked the info apart in order to answer the question. Clearly this sort of preparation does not gear students up for the GCSE enquiry tasks in the new courses. Whilst the title is dictated by the exam board, at GCSE students need to be able to research the required information for themselves.  

It was therefore decided that our assessments and therefore our schemes of work needed changing over the summer to include enquiry assessments and lessons which help develop enquiry skills and techniques. For me the biggest challenge was trying to give students the idea of what an enquiry was and how to put one together. I took my 2 year 9 groups as a sample of how to deliver this idea, believing them to be a good basis to build from as I teach top and bottom set. With both groups I spent one lesson at the start of the process exploring what an enquiry was using this excellent blog as the basis for these lessons. http://geodonn.posterous.com/for-markhowell101-headbutts-and-geographical.

Students used this video to establish a grounding of what an enquiry question was, what research needed to be done to reach a conclusion and we began to evaluate the quality of different research (video evidence, interviewing riders etc). At key stage 3 students can achieve a decent level by creating a good enquiry question, doing relevent research and reaching a valid conclusion. If they can begin to evaluate the evidence they start to push level 7 so for me the discussion of this video delivered all the concepts required even for the bottom set group who were even starting to display some level 7 evaluation skills.  A colleague of mine who watches a lot of rugby said she effectively delivered this lesson using the rugby bloodgate enquiry so pick something you know about and this should work.

From here I gave them a limited amount of background info about 2 earthquakes from 2010, Haiti and Chile and students started to generate their own enquiry questions (typically they came up with why did Haiti kill more people whilst Chile was more powerful on the Richter scale?). They then had to break that question apart into the various aspects that they would need to research in order to reach a valid conclusion. Again both groups were able to do this effectively although of course the lower ability needed more guidance on suitable questions and lines of enquiry.

To make an effective enquiry you will of course then need to allow to for them to openly research and this needs to be done ideally in a computer suite although it can be done at home but inevitably this leads to varying outcomes in terms of quantity and quality of research as is typical of homework. My colleague could not get access to computer so had to do hers this way and the outcomes for some students suffered due to lack of time spent on homework, perhaps they have learned for next time and the more important GCSE enquiry.

Finally I allowed time to write the assessment up in whatever format they chose, again in preparation for GCSE. Some whilst most chose a report style some chose powerpoints and others even enquired as to whether websites or podcasts were possible but time constraints meant this was difficult.

The outcome for both me and my colleague (not a geog specialist) was very good grades across 3 groups using this process. The key stage 3 curriculum levels means that if students understand what an enquiry requires they can easily access high level 6 and low level 7 if they are an able student. Hopefully in the long term the outcome is even more favourable and I hope that in 2 years my year 11’s will have a better idea of what is expected of them in a GCSE enquiry.

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