Research School Network: The Causation Tree Andy Brumby on using EEF’s five-a-day approach to support SEND pupils in primary history


The Causation Tree

Andy Brumby on using EEF’s five-a-day approach to support SEND pupils in primary history

by Kingsbridge Research School
on the

It is not an add-on, or a shiny new tool, but high-quality teaching that is likely to benefit pupils with SEND.

Gary Aubin, EEF’s SEND specialist

Ensuring pupils with SEND have access to high quality teaching is crucial. The EEF’s five-a-day approach helpfully lists five teaching strategies that are proven to benefit outcomes for all pupils including those with SEND. The good news is that these strategies are often part of teachers’ existing repertoire or can be relatively easily added. The strategies in question are as follows:

EEF’s Five-a-day approach

- Explicit instruction

- Cognitive and metacognitive strategies

- Scaffolding

- Flexible grouping

- Using technology

A primary subject leader network I belong to has recently been looking at ways of weaving these five strategies into our teaching of history at Key Stages 1 and 2. At our last meeting we discussed how cognitive and metacognitive strategies can be used to help SEND pupils grapple with complex secondary concepts such as causation, which almost always demand analytical thinking.

The focus on why events occurred or why people acted as they did as well as the results these acts engendered is a fundamental focus within history. This is a central concept that shapes historical thinking and understanding.

Historical Association

So, what does this look like in the reality of a lower Key Stage 2 classroom? Well, once pupils have a sound grasp of what happened during Boudica’s rebellion (the events or story), we might then go on to ask them why the Iceni tribe were ready to rebel in AD 60 (cause) or what the consequences were of the British rebellion (effect). This takes pupils deep into the realms of causal explanation.

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Figure 1: the causation tree

The causation tree (see Figure 1 above) is an example of a cognitive strategy which can be used to support SEND pupils and others in their efforts to construct more effective causal explanations. It can help pupils begin to move on from thinking about what happened to the more complex business of why it happened.

Firstly, talking through our shared experiences of using this and similar strategies, we all agreed that modelling the kind of thinking the strategy requires is essential. For example, I did this by using the tree to explain an incident which recently occurred in my own life: I was driving through town in the dark when I felt a bump underneath my car and realised I had driven over a large branch in the road (event); there had been a storm earlier that day and several trees and branches had been blown down in my area (cause); I was consequently late for the meeting I was going to and had to pay for my car to be repaired (effects).

Next, returning to our Boudicca enquiry, we embarked on some guided practice during which I provided each pair of pupils with three information cards about Boudica’s revolt, and we jointly decided as a class whether they should be placed on the trunk of the tree (for events/​story) or on its roots (for causes) or the branches (for effects). During this stage, drawing on a tried and tested explicit instruction strategy, I made a couple of deliberate mistakes which provided an opportunity for pupils to cheerfully point out that I was wrong because that’s telling you why it happened’ or because that’s more like a consequence or effect’.

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Figure 2: guided practice

As pupils moved to independent practice, it was important to think about scaffolding, one of the other five-a-day approaches mentioned above. For some pupils too much information can easily result in cognitive overload. Therefore, in the context of the causation tree, we need to think about how many cards and how much information there should be on each one. This might be linked to some pre-teaching of key vocabulary that appears in the text on the cards.

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Figure 3: Independent practice with cards placed to show causes of an event

Then, with their cards now placed next to trunk, roots or branches, pupils have an opportunity to compare their thinking and decisions with that of their peers. Pupil A from each pair stays at home base with their own cards to explain and justify their positioning. Pupil B from each group moves to another partner to hear about their thinking and reasoning. This begins to touch on yet another of the EEF strategies referred to earlier: flexible grouping. As they move from one partner to another SEND pupils are hearing a range of thoughts and perspectives from peers of differing abilities. After a few minutes I give notice and Partner B returns to home base to be an explainer whilst partner A gets their opportunity to see how others arranged their cards. After a few minutes more, the two original partners reunite and there’s a chance to refine thinking and revise positioning of cards in light of discussions they have had with others.

Finally, and this metacognitive bit sometimes gets overlooked, it’s time to reflect on our chosen cognitive approach. First time out, to avoid cognitive overload, I tend to ask for feedback on how helpful pupils have found the strategy and whether they would choose to use it again. Later, as they become more familiar with a particular strategy, I might ask them to reflect on its wider potential and to think about its applications to other history topics studied or even to the world of work.

Searching for a ‘magic bullet’ can distract teachers from the powerful strategies they already often possess. The research suggests a group of teaching strategies that teachers should consider emphasising for pupils with SEND. Teachers should develop a repertoire of theses strategies they can use flexibly in response to the needs of all pupils.

There was a time I used to think there must be a special pedagogy for teaching SEND pupils. If only I could stumble on that elusive silver bullet that would make all the difference. Thanks to EEF’s Five-a-day approach and the recommendations in its SEND in Mainstream SchoolsGuidance Report, we can now focus our attention with confidence on a small number of evidence-informed strategies many of which are familiar to us and part of our existing repertoire. That’s good news for those of who are fans of the causation tree and similar approaches!

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