The following unit is a redesign of a unit of the Medieval European History unit created by Alinda Sheerman (2015).


The unit of work was created for Stage 4 (Year 8) students and is situated within the Australian Curriculum’s History Depth Study 4B, focussing on Medieval Europe (ACARA, 2015, p. 3), with an emphasis on building students’ questioning, research, note taking and formal writing skills (Sheerman, 2015). Student inquiry is guided by a teacher-created focus question of ‘How did many of the aspects of life as it was in Medieval Europe influence society today?’ Students were explicitly guided by the teacher in formulating their own ‘big questions’ and instructed in the fundamentals of note taking, information synthesis and formal writing (Sheerman, 2015). The recommendations made in the analysis and evaluation of the original unit of work (Starbird, 2016) will inform the redesign of the Medieval European history unit. The intended learning outcomes and assessment tasks remain aligned with the Australian Curriculum’s history strand, however with a greater emphasis on Critical and Creative Thinking (ACARA CCT, 2016), Critical Information Literacy and Guided Inquiry Design Processes (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012).

The learning outcomes for the redesigned unit will have a greater emphasis on building students’ historical inquiry skills, as depicted in the table below:

Depth Studies Outcomes

(Addressed in original unit)

Historical Inquiry and
Critical & Creative Thinking Skills(Additional outcomes in redesigned unit)
ACDSEH008 – The way of life in Medieval Europe (social, cultural, economic and political features) and the roles and relationships of different groups in society.

ACDSEH050 – Significant developments and/or cultural achievements, such as changing relations between Islam and the West (including the Crusades), architecture, medieval manuscripts and music.

ACDSEH051 – Continuity and change in society in ONE of the following areas: crime and punishment; military and defence systems; towns, cities and commerce.

ACDSEH052 – The dominance of the Catholic Church.

ACHHS150 – Historical questions and research – Identify a range of questions about the past to inform a historical inquiry.

ACHHS152, 153 – Analysis and use of sources – Identify the origin and purpose of primary and secondary sources and use information from a range of sources as evidence.

ACHHS154 – Draw conclusions about the usefulness of sources.

ACHHS212 – Identify and describe points of view, attitudes and values in primary and secondary sources.

CCT – Pose questions to probe assumptions and investigate complex issues.

CCT – Critically analyse information and evidence according to criteria such as validity and relevance.

CCT – Generate alternatives and innovative solutions, and adapt ideas, including when information is limited or conflicting.


 (ACARA, 2016)

Sheerman’s Medieval European history unit (2015) focussed on a teacher-guided and heavily structured inquiry process, with less emphasis on student-directed questioning, research and creation. The below table, contrasts the types of inquiry in both the original Medieval European history unit (Sheerman, 2015) and the redesigned unit (Starbird, 2016):

Inquiry Phase Teacher Directed
Structured Inquiry
Guided Inquiry
Student directed
Open Inquiry
Questioning Teacher asks guiding question, students ask individual inquiry question with teacher support (Sheerman, 2015) Teacher asks several guiding questions, modelling the types of big and essential questioning frameworks students can use (Starbird, 2016)
Evidence Teacher gives students sources to base assessment task on (books, web sites, magazines) (Sheerman, 2015) Students use some teacher-provided sources and learn the expert search strategies to locate information on their own
(Starbird, 2016)
Findings Students collect data from teacher chosen books and web sites, with teachers providing scaffolding to assist students in taking notes (Sheerman, 2015) Students collect data and formulate their own explanations and evaluations based on their individual findings
(Starbird, 2016)
Communication Teacher chooses formal assessment tasks (Sheerman, 2015) Teacher allows for students to propose a medium to present their research findings
(Starbird, 2016)


Incorporating the Recommendations

Increase Student Freedom

  • Greater freedom in choice in the presentation medium for the Big Inquiry Question and the Inquiry Circle presentation (Create phase) (Krathwohl, 2002 and Lupton & Bruce, 2010)
  • Encouragement of student questioning and autonomous learning, with less focus on structured inquiry and more focus on equipping students with the skills to plan, implement and manage their own inquiry (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2012)
  • Instead of one inquiry focus question that is quite complex and dry, instead have several inquiry focus questions to guide more diverse questioning:

How did societies change from the end of the ancient historical period to the beginning of the modern age?

What beliefs and values emerged in Medieval Europe and how has modern society been influenced by these?

What significant people, groups, events, creative works, inventions and ideas from Medieval Europe have influenced the world today?

How did the different societies and cultures in Medieval Europe interact?

Build students Historical Inquiry and Critical and Creative Thinking Skills

  • Address information literacy skills by focussing on the Australian Curriculum’s Historical Inquiry Skills and the cross-curricular Critical and Creative thinking skills (ACARA, v8-2, 2016), allowing for greater freedom of choice in which primary and secondary sources are used to investigate and build historical knowledge.
  • Greater freedom in generating questions appropriate to stage-level, student interest, whilst still scaffolding students in broadening and evolving their questioning throughout the research process.

Incorporate Critical Literacies, Evaluation of Information and Expert Searching

  • Greater emphasis on equipping students with the skills to begin conducting expert searches to improve student autonomy during research
  • Greater emphasis on evaluating primary and secondary sources using stage-appropriate t00ls such as the CRAP Test [Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose] (Pearson, 2009)


(Mental Floss, 2012). Students should be provided with opportunities to conduct their own searches online in order to build expert search strategies using 21st Century tools, such as Google and Google Scholar.

Key Changes to the Medieval European History Unit

Inquiry Phase Original Unit
(Sheerman, 2015)
Redesigned Unit
(Starbird, 2016)
Open Stimulus introduction not specified. Stimulus film: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Students discuss how Medieval Europe is depicted in the film. They begin inquiring about how they would find out which parts of the film depicted the time accurately and which did not.

Stimulus Text: Measly Middle Ages (Deary, 1996).

In their online learning journal, students reflect on what they already know about Medieval Europe, what they want to know and how they will go about completing the task.

Open Students complete SLIM reflection questionnaire Students attend a museum exhibition on Medieval Europe. They view a variety of artefacts from the time (inventions, weapons, tools, clothing, furniture, etc). Students select an artefact and work in inquiry circles to study their chosen item (Eg. how it was used based on the primary and secondary sources they uncover, its significance to culture/society, what impact it had on Medieval European society/history and how it influenced future design). This early investigation will allow teachers to assess student research skill competency in order to provide individually catered scaffolding for the larger research task in the unit. Students will reflect on this initial research phase in their online learning journals.
Immerse Instruction on searching broadly using teacher-selected sources. Instruction on searching broadly using both teacher-selected sources and online searching.
Immerse Students find general information on 5 teacher-selected topic areas. Students find general information on there student-selected topic areas (within Medieval European history).



Students use ‘Big Question Machine’ scaffold to develop an essential inquiry question. Students first work on an inquiry question on their own and begin researching this question.

Students then discuss big/essential questions and utilise ‘Big Question Machine’ scaffold to improve upon their inquiry question.

Students reflect on their questioning skills in their online student journal.

Gather Build background knowledge on their areas of interest using Note taking scaffold. Build background knowledge on their areas of interest, with multiple opportunities to engage in critical literacies, analysing primary and secondary sources for quality, validity and discrepancies.
Gather Students gather information to construct their assessment report. Students gather information on their chosen inquiry question.

Using scaffolds, students mind map their research process to evaluate information and come to conclusions based on the information they have uncovered.

In inquiry circles, students discuss possible ways to present their research.

Students choose how they are going to present their research and justify their choice in their online student learning journal.

Create Students write essay answering their inquiry question. Students synthesise their ideas into a final product of their choosing, then present this information either to their inquiry circle, the entire class or the teacher, based on individual student choice.

Students reflect on their creative process in presenting their information, what they would do differently next time and what they have learned about researching.

Share Students complete 2 minute speech to the class, their inquiry circles or to the teacher depending on what the student wishes. Each inquiry group makes a creative presentation to the class, based on their research. This can be in the form of speeches in character, a play involving each of the characters or the performance of poems and songs from the point-of-view of a chosen historical figure.

In inquiry circles, students brainstorm what they learned about the research process, themselves individually and what tips they would want to give the Year 8 students next year who go through this same process.

Evaluate Students complete reflection scaffold on Survey Monkey online.

Teachers evaluate student progress based on observation throughout the inquiry process.

Students write short final learning journal entry, reflecting on the inquiry process and what strategies they will use when they next have to engage in an historical inquiry.


Assessment Redesign

The assessment tasks for the original unit, though engaging and detailed, did not often require students to engage in higher order thinking (Krathwohl, 2002) and did not allow for students to move beyond the Generic or Situated Windows, into the Transformative or Expressive Windows (Lupton & Bruce, 2010). As such, the redesign of the unit altered the assessment tasks significantly to be more in line with Guided Inquiry Process Design, where students have greater freedom and autonomy in the Gather, Identify and Create phases of their inquiry learning journey. The below table contrasts the redesigned assessment tasks for the Medieval European history unit:

Original Unit
(Sheerman, 2015)
Redesigned Unit
(Starbird, 2016)
Traditional 1,500 word essay/report answering individual inquiry question.

30% of final mark

Short one-page report on their chosen Medeival artefact. Students present their findings to their inquiry circle, discussing how they found their information and how they dealt with conflicting information in the research phase.

10% of final mark

Two-minute speech in character from Medieval Europe.

10% of final mark

Big Inquiry Question – Students present their research findings, through a student negotiated medium, allowing for greater choice in presentation style.

20 % of final mark

Group work presenting information about area of study at Medieval Fair day.

10% of final mark

Inquiry Circle group collaborative creative presentation (10%) – Students choose a presentation style to showcase their knowledge of individual figures from the time or a character representing a sub-group within Medieval European society (Eg. knights, farmers, land owners, etc). This can be done through a short student-written play, poetry, monologues, songs, speeches in character or another student-proposed presentation style, allowing for students to engage with the unit creatively, opening up the potential to address the Expressive Window (Lupton & Bruce, 2010).

10% of final mark

Research/Learning Process (participation in Inquiry Circles, peer-editing, completion of scaffolds, contribution to online learning blog and reflective journal writing on learning process

50% of final mark

Inquiry Process & Reflective Journaling: Students are graded on their participation in Inquiry Circles, the completion of the scaffolds, their peer-editing of the Big Inquiry Question, their contribution to the online learning community blog and their personal reflections on their learning process in the online learning journal.

60% of final mark



ACARA. (2015). Content for Year 8 – Learning area content descriptions. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. Retrieved 28th October 2016 from:

ACARA CCT. (2016). Critical and Creative Thinking. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. Retrieved 28th October 2016 from:

Kuhlthau, C., Maniotes, L, & Caspari, A. (2012). Guided Inquiry Design : A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Retrieved 1st October 2016 from:

Lupton, M. & Bruce, C. (2010). Windows on information literacy worlds : generic, situated and transformative perspectives. In Practising Information Literacy : Bringing Theories of Learning, Practice and Information Literacy Together. Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, N.S.W., pp. 4-27. Retrieved 7th October 2016 from:

MemeMaker. (2016). Paleo-Inquiry [Header Image]. Retrieved 9th October 2016 from:

Mental Floss. (2012). Anachronistic Memes : The Best of the Bayeux Tapestry. Retrieved 14th October 2016 from:

Pearson. (2009). The CARS Test for Information Quality. Retrieved 1st November 2016 from:

Sheerman, A. (2015). Topic 4B: Medieval Europe (C. AD 590 – C. 1500). Broughton Anglican College, Sydney. Retrieved 1st September 2016 from:

Sheerman, A. (2016). Guided Inquiry in Australia [Blog]. Retrieved 1st September 2016 from:

Starbird, T. (2016). Medieval History Unit Redesign.