Scaffolding inquiry – evaluating sources

The strength of a hypothesis lies in the strength of the evidence used to support it. Therefore, useful, reliable and trustworthy sources can make or break an inquiry task. We can assist students to find good evidence by giving them the skills to evaluate the worth of their sources. These skills follow a developmental progression, and are set out in the National Curriculum for History under the skill category of analysis and use of sources:

Years 7 and 8 Years 9 and 10
Identify the origin and purpose of primary and secondary sources.

 Locate, compare, select and use information from a variety of sources as evidence.

 Draw conclusions about the usefulness of sources.

Identify the origin, purpose and context of primary and secondary sources.

 Process and synthesise information from a range of sources as evidence in an historical argument.

 Evaluate the reliability and usefulness of primary and secondary sources.

I see the source evaluation skills for years 7 and 8 as foundational skills. The additional expectations on students of years 9 and 10 are in bold. I worked collaboratively with my KLA to create a framework for the evaluation of historical source material across years 7 to 10. The framework takes developmental progressions into account, and scaffolds the development of evaluation skills in two ways:

Firstly, we provide prompt questions for students to answer to encourage them to think about the reliability and usefulness of sources. The types and categories of questions increase in complexity as a progression of learning. In line with the curriculum, students of years 7 and 8 respond to issues of origin, type, purpose, perspective and usefulness of the source; in addition, students of years 9 and 10 also respond to issues of context, trustworthiness and corroboration.

Secondly, we provide the prompts in different ways, depending on the ability level of the students.

  • Students of years 7 to 9 are provided with a source evaluation scaffold with specific questions to complete (with the questions and categories for their developmental stage).
  • Students of year 10 are provided with a scaffold, but are encouraged to write their own detailed evaluation that takes all of the relevant issues into account. This establishes a good foundation for the requirements of senior history subjects.

An example of scaffolding provided to year 8 students:

research questions


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