With the run up to exam season well and truly underway it’s time to consider how best to support students. The answer? Practice, practice, practice.
To help students I’ve gone back through the available past papers and collated exam questions (and mark schemes) into topics so that students can practice questions for specific topics. Each section contains:
- A knowledge organiser for students to self evaluate their starting point for each topic.
- Key vocabulary that they need to remember.
- Past paper questions by topic for practice.
- Mark scheme to check their answers.
This is just one of several strategies that students will use to aid their learning over the next few months.
Always in the pursuit of doing better for the students I teach, two posts have made me reflect deeply on my practice this week.
In the post Joe describes how he specifies the subject knowledge required for a given topic in meticulous detail. This is useful for a few reasons:
– it clarifies for the teacher exactly what the students need to know and enables more precise planning.
– it serves as a good benchmark for students at the beginning of a topic. Seeing the required knowledge laid out in front of you on a side of A4 is extremely powerful and will enable students to highlight what they are already know.
– when it comes to revision, students have real clarity about the knowledge they need to know.
During my relatively short time as a teacher, when starting a new topic I may have shared a vague outline of what the topic will involve but never to the detail suggested in Joe’s post. I feel like a trick has been missed here, which is why I plan to experiment with knowledge organisers from this point forward.
Andy’s post puts into practice Joe’s knowledge organiser for a GCSE English class. Andy also describes in depth his approach to a series of lessons leading up to an exam. Lessons follow a similar routine (although the stages of each lesson might involve different delivery styles / mediums):
1) Begin with a ‘memory platform‘ where they will be tested on key knowledge/quotes from the knowledge organisers using a wide range of quizzing methods. Students need to be fluent in this knowledge and to do this they will need to cover it repeatedly. They will be encouraged to elaborate on these points of knowledge, exploring their wider significance.
2) Revise and extend a key area. OMAM and AIC – the green lessons – will be taught side-by-side, whereas the poems will be revised in pairs.
3) Lessons will end with 15 minutes of deliberate writing practice where students will be expected to hone the finer parts of their analytical style by writing a paragraph at A/A* standard – this is a top set – based on the content of the lesson (modelling and scaffolding will feature here too).
When planning revision sessions (and in a broader sense planning a curriculum structure) it’s worth thinking about the following:
If learning happens when we think really hard about something and we remember what we think about, then engaging students in activities, practices and routines that encourage this is probably a sensible course to take.
GCSE Computing revision.
As a result of reading the aforementioned posts and adopting the collective thinking of Professor Coe and Daniel Willingham, I have developed a revision structure for a GCSE Computing class I teach. It follows this cycle:
1. Start with a memory platform, usually a multiple choice quiz (these are deliberately rigourous with any one of the three answers a potential correct answer, forcing students to study the different answers and think hard about theirs).
2. Knowledge organisers. I have only just started using these as prompted by Joe and Any’s blog posts earlier this week. But I intend to use them at the beginning of teaching a topic as well as revision. It’s a collection of documents that will be referred to throughout the entire course. in revision sessions the knowledge organiser is an opportunity to see an overview of the knowledge and pick out the things they can remember and the things that they need to revisit first.
3. Key subject specific vocabulary. Students are then given time to recall key terms from memory for a particular topic. This is followed up by the TLAC technique ‘Check or change’ where students check their definitions against correct definitions and make changes if needed.
4. Flash cards. Students are then given time to create a set of flash cards based upon the key subject specific vocabulary. Flash cards have previously been identified as a more effective revision technique. I’m working on the premise that if students are comfortable with the subject specific vocabulary then they should be able to at the very least attempt every question for that topic (obviously they need to understand the context of each question, that comes next). Feedback from students has been really positive as the motivation to use the flash cards appears to be higher than to write out copious notes.
5. Past paper questions. Finally students attempt past paper questions, using the subject specific vocabulary in different contexts. I have also experimented with working through long answer questions with students using the following routine:
- students attempt a question in exam conditions
- teacher works through the answer with the class using students answers to prompt discussion and supportive critique
- students attempt the same question again in exam conditions
- teacher works through answer again with the help of students to model an answer
- a similar question (that requires the same knowledge but uses a different context) is then used as a starter in the next lesson.
It’s hard to evaluate how much of an impact the above strategy will have on exam performance but…
… from a teaching perspective, revision sessions certainly seem more focused with a greater clarity of what students need to know for each topic which lends itself to more precise deliberate practice.
… students have a much clearer picture of what they need to know and the work they are producing is of better quality and a greater depth. Students are more inquisitive and motivated to increase their knowledge.
… lessons have a greater sense of urgency to them.
RESOURCE: GCSE Computing knowledge organisers.
Below is a link to a GCSE Computing revision pack that i have recently updated (and simplified) which focuses on past paper exam questions.
The booklet is split into theory topics and allows students to:
- identify gaps in knowledge before attempting questions.
- define keywords and build subject specific vocabulary.
- mind map key areas of each topic.
- attempt past paper questions by topic.
You can read more about my thoughts on revision here.
**Also check out this great resource from @teknoteacher – GCSE Computing revision.
Here’s a video in which he explains the use of the resource – click here.
He is also running a series of free computing webinars for teachers – click here to find out more.
Talent isn’t born. It’s made.
In Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’ he travels the world to seek out groups of very successful people and in an attempt to discover why they are so successful. Through his observations of multiple different groups from musicians to football players he noticed one recurring trend – deep practice. In fact he has created an equation that summarises the elements needed to make progress and succeed at something. It looks like this…
Ignition or primal cues relates to the motivation a person has to be successful in the first place. As a teacher I believe it’s part of my job to talk to students about what motivates them to succeed. Some students are able to easily articulate this. whereas some will need some help finding the reason why they need to be successful. Either way I need to support the students I teach in understanding their ignition to succeed.
Continual deep practice is about increasing the amount of myelin in the brain*. Have a look at this great interactive guide to Myelin on Daniel Coyle’s website. Myelin is…
Myelin is a lipid and protein sheath-like material that forms an insulating cover that surrounds and protects nerve fibres.
The general idea is that the more myelin you have insulating your nerve fibres, the faster impulses (or information) can travel between nerve cells. Some scientists believe that myelin can be increased with regular deliberate practice. It’s similar to bandwidth in the speed of an internet connection. The more bandwidth you have the faster the transfer of data. The more practice you put in, the more the myelin wraps around the nerve fibre increasing the bandwidth (the diagram below shows this in a bit more detail). It’s worth noting that this works both ways and needs to be maintained with regular practice.
Daniel Coyle uses the example of Brazilian soccer players to explain deep practice in action. From an early age they play a game called Futsal and they continue to play it into their teenage years. Futsal is played on smaller court with a smaller ball which means that players will touch the ball more often than playing 11 a side on a full size pitch. This is deep practice. It’s quality controlled by a master coach (someone with expert knowledge of the game / subject) who intervenes with striking impact to ensure learning is meaningful. The video below examines more examples of where deep practice has produced successful outcomes.
How does this apply to revision?
If we want students to be successful in exams then they need to practice – sounds simple enough, but is not entirely true. If we want students to be successful they have to fine tune their practice so that it is deep, deliberate and regular in order to build up a thicker insulation of myelin. What follows are few strategies that I am currently trialling to achieve this.
1) Regular self assessment with input from the teacher.
It’s important to let students assess their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to a topic to revise. Teachers are the master coaches described in ‘The Talent Code.’ We have to know our students well and track their learning and use this information to intervene with self assessments so that students know what they are actually good at and areas that they need to improve. The key to good revision (I believe) is to focus more time on the weaker areas (being deliberate) rather than spending lots of time revisiting knowledge/skills that a student is already competent in. Below is an example of a self-assessment I have used with students. The black ‘X’ represents the student response. The green Y’s represent my response based upon prior testing and my knowledge of the students competencies through questioning and classwork. If I have agreed with the students response I have not added an additional symbol.
The grid provides a clarity. Students get validation for what they think they already know or an opportunity to discuss area for improvements. It also helps students to focus in on the weaker areas and thus provides a starting point for revision.
2) Chunking information.
Once students have self assessed their strengths and weaknesses and they have been agreed, they can then begin revising required knowledge. In order to not overload the students working memory I have created a resource that chunks the information down in smaller sub-topics (see the list on the self reflection diagram above). Each sub topic has a series of questions that students answer in an open book environment. Example answers to these sections are released to students once they have attempted to answer them. They also have access to past paper exam questions and answers. Students are free to work through this revision pack using the self assessment as a rudder to guide them towards topics that will require more attention.
3) Regular rigorous multiple choice tests.
The ‘chunked’ revision materials are sync with a multiple choice test. I have created the tests using Joe Kirby’s brilliant posts on designing rigorous multiple choice tests (Post 1 | Post 2). I’ve attempted to increase rigor by adding more incorrect answers that are based on common student misconceptions.
The tests can be taken multiple times and using a platform like Edmodo means the tests are also tracked and scored without the teacher lifting a finger. Edmodo also allows students to go back through the test and see where they dropped marks.
A key element here is frequency and over a 6 week revision period it’s important to space the timing of these multiple choice tests to aid retention. As Joe points out in his most recent post on curriculum design,
Repeated retrieval improves long term retention: frequent quizzing prevents forgetting.
4) Regular ‘Walking – Talking’ mock exams.
One new strategy that has been trialled at my school this year has been ‘walking-talking’ mocks in all subjects. For those not familiar here’s how they work. The students revise for a mock as normal. When the mock exam takes place the teacher walks them through the first question and then gives students an appropriate amount of time (depending on the number of marks available usually) to complete the question and then get some instant feedback on how well they did. It’s hard to judge the real impact of doing this exercise but it certainly helps students feel more comfortable in exam conditions. I know I have been guilty in the past of running a mock exam in ‘exam conditions’, students tend to score poorly on it, get feedback but didn’t get an opportunity to re-draft answers (my fault) and the whole scenario was demotivating and not very productive. A walking-talking mock provide students to feel success in an exam environment. This new found motivation can then be used to drive revision sessions. As the year goes the strategy is to get students to sit 3-4 mock exams and by the end of the process provide them with less and less support as their confidence grows.
This post is by no means a ‘you should run revision sessions like this’ post. It’s a reflection on some of the ideas that have inspired my thoughts around how to do revision better. It is very much a work in progress and feedback is very much welcome!
I often tell my students to not be upset with the results they didn’t get from the work they didn’t do. I feel the same and care deeply about their results. When my students walk into the their exam I want to make sure I’ve done everything within my power to ensure they succeed.
Myelin – by Daniel Coyle
How to grow a super athlete – by Dainel Coyle
The myelin in all of us – by David Shenk
Why use multiple choice tests – by Joe Kirby
How to design multiple-choice questions – by Joe Kirby
Research on multiple-choice questions – by Daisy Christodoulou
Walking, talking mocks: are mock exams the way forward? – by Martin Jones
Hardwiring learning and effort = success – by Domini Choudhury
*I am not a scientist. For more information on myelin please see this interactive guide or even better still, read Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code.