Making revision more effective

A sharing best practice post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Among the many challenges inherent in the new GCSE courses is the greater volume of knowledge and understanding that pupils are required to learn, recall and master in the exam hall.  This puts even greater importance on them undertaking effective revision.

In recent years staff have worked hard to develop a broad range of revision resources, whether they be revision booklets, guides, summary sheets, past paper booklets, revision tests and so on.  On top of the that, with the potential for using computer and online resources, teachers have collated or produced youtube films, channels, links and guides, not to mention making paper based resources accessible via VLEs, Google Drive and the School website.

However, despite this plethora of resources offering pupils a multitude of ways in which to revise, there are those  who still fail to make effective use of them.  In some cases these are pupils who have collected or accessed resources, have told the teacher, ‘Yes, I have my revision resources’ and ‘Yes, I know what I need to revise’, but still fail to revise effectively.

For some the problem lies not in knowing how to revise, because teachers have modelled and rehearsed that.  Nor in knowing what to revise, because teachers have provided them with revision lists and planning tools.  The problem for some seems to lie in marrying the two together.

For some pupils, breaking revision down and being specific in telling them which activities to undertake with which resources is far more likely to be productive, even for those who think they know what they are doing.

Being prescriptive in the way pupils are expected to revise can take the mystery, or in some cases the awe that some seem to feel, out of starting and completing an effective revision session.

As a tutor of a Year 11  group I have discussed with my pupils what help they want from teachers.  The answer that came back loud and clear was, “We need their help to tell us exactly how to revise individual topics.”

When I thought about this I came to the following conclusions:

  • The more structured the revision task the better, especially for the less able and many of the boys (as well as those students who are inclined to panic) so that they know exactly how and where to start revising
  • Frequent consolidation, not just of the learning but of the ‘how to’ strategies for revision, is needed to keep pupils focused

So, as a Maths teacher with a Year 11 class this is approach I am incorporating into my revision this year by using the following process:

  • Complete one mock paper per fortnight in class

Then, in the following fortnight pupils complete two homeworks:

  • Week 1 – a written homework that can be self-assessed in class
  • Week 2 – a clearly defined revision task based on the outcome of the mock, which I talk through with the class before they complete it

JJ - HW task

Figure 1  An example of a revision homework

Put simply my advice is:

  • Show the pupils how to revise by modelling the strategies
  • Set revision tasks on a regular basis, guiding the pupils specifically as to what they need to revise and how they are to do it.

Featured image: ‘Brain’ by ElisaRiva on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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Using pupil workbooks and interactive PLCs to support learning

A Sharing best practice post by Daniel James (Computing and Business Studies)

Reading time: 2 minutes

The development of a structured approach to learning in GCSE Computing lessons came out of a detailed evaluation of students’ books, notes and revision techniques from the previous academic year. It was clear that there was, in some cases,  a huge difference between the quality of lesson notes and the pupils’ ability to find these notes and use them effectively for revision purposes.

It was from this starting point that we decided to create lesson booklets for all modules in the GCSE Computing course. This provides a structure for students when making notes,  removing the anxiety that some felt when they did not know what note to make in a lesson from all that they were being taught.

Structured Learning 2

Structure Learning

Figure 1 and 2:  Pages from the pupils’ workbooks

The lesson booklets also enabled students to find the notes they needed when revising more quickly and thus focus on undertaking the revision rather than trying to work out which of their notes they needed to revise from.

Along with the lesson booklets we have created end of module revision booklets that have a one page module summary sheet and then exam questions taken from previous exams (or the sample material for new GCSEs).  These support the revision process and ensure students get to the point of applying their learning to exam questions more efficiently, which is after all the ultimate goal in exam preparation!

Revision- notes

Revision- Exam Practice

Figures 3 and 4: Examples of revision notes and exam practice from the End of module revision booklets

This term we are introducing an online interactive PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist) that we have created to allow all students to RAG (Red/Amber/Green) rate their learning across the course.  This allows us as teachers not just to see how all the students in a class are doing but to tailor our revision lessons and final preparation to these needs in the run up to an exam.

PLC

Figure 5: Section of the online interactive PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist)

PLC- Analysis

Figure 6: example of the analysis section of the online PLC

Featured image: ‘Workstation’ by Open-ClipArt Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Common CC0

‘The dog ate my homework!” – strategies to improve the setting and completion of homework

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Nicola Osman (English)

“The dog ate my homework!”  How inventive are your pupils when it comes to giving you a reason why they are not handing in or did not complete their homework?

The story goes that John Steinbeck went for a walk after he had finished writing the draft of his book ‘Of Mice and Men’.  When he returned he found that his dog had indeed chewed the hand-written manuscript to pieces and the story had to be written out again!

The challenge of setting meaningful homework that pupils are going to complete and which, if we are honest as teachers, we have remembered to set and resource on the correct day, according to our homework timetable, is one that many teachers face.  Also, if we can take the sting out of the need to chase and discipline children when it comes to late or uncompleted homework we are doing ourselves a service too.

It was time to revisit our approach to homework.

With these ideas in mind, our English faculty have set about addressing this problem for every teacher in the team and for every pupil, in every class.

The four principles that guided our plan were:

  1. To set a meaningful homework for every pupil, every week
  2. To use our online homework setting resource ‘Show My Homework’, effectively
  3. To ensure that homework had a genuine impact on pupils’ learning
  4. To set work which helps to prepare pupils for the demands of the new GCSE English syllabus

To do this we are adopting a two step strategy.

Step One: Adopt a Faculty Approach to Homework

We have adopted a common programme of homework for all pupils in each year group (Which can then be differentiated as necessary for particular pupils/groups)

Spelling HW

Figure 1: A Year 7 Spelling homework

As Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar (SPaG) have been given a much greater profile in GCSE English it was decided to set homework in a cycle that directly addressed these areas across Years 7-9.  The cycle runs as follows: Week 1 – Spelling, Week 2 – Punctuation, Week 3 – Grammar.   Systematically building up these skills with pupils will lay the foundation for later GCSE study.

Grammar HW

Figure 2: A Year 8 Grammar homework

Punctuation HW

Figure 3: A Year 8 Grammar test used to assess a learning homework (see figure 2)

In Years and 10 and 11, where greater retention of information and memorising of quotations are demanded by the new GCSE syllabus, a two year programme of planned and structured revision made the most sense as the basis for homework across the GCSE course.

Revision HW

Figure 4: A section of a Year 10/11 Revision homework plan

With a clear structure established, all of the homework tasks  for the coming year could be planned and prepared in advance.  This involved a lot of work but by sharing the load across the faculty team and by setting homework in a common format that could be used across all classes, we reduced the scale of the job.  So, guided by our four principles above, each member of the team has prepared a share of the homework materials for the faculty.

By working in this way we also achieved a consistency of format and style in the tasks which meant greater consistency for pupils.  This work demanded an investment of time and energy, which was taken from lessons gained after exam classes had left in the summer term but the benefit for us all is that next year’s homework has been fully planned and resourced across the faculty and this will save planning time next year.

Step Two: Streamline Communication

Having planned a year’s homework in advance, ensuring that the pupils get and complete the homework becomes the next priority and a clear ‘no excuses’ communication system is the key.  No more,  ‘I didn’t get the homework!, or more embarrassingly, ‘I forget to set the homework!’.

One teacher in the Faculty now takes responsibility for setting all of the homework for the Faculty for a term.

All of the homework for a term can be set in advance and scheduled using the Show My Homework system.  You can either make all the homework available to pupils in advance for the weeks ahead or it can be scheduled to be automatically released to pupils on a weekly basis.  Show My Homework also allows you to attach the resource sheet electronically so there is no need to photocopy multiple sheets which could then get ‘lost’.  Show My Homework also ensures that parents as well as pupils know what homework has been set and when it is due in.

This is backed up by our second line of communication, the English faculty homework board.  The board in the corridor of the English faculty is a ‘one-stop-shop’, where the teacher responsible for setting homework in a particular term, posts the five homework tasks, one per week for each year group.  Pupils can then physically check their homework in school and are encouraged to take a picture of it on their phones if that is helpful to them.  With the same location and routine for ‘publishing’ each homework pupils have no excuse for not being able to check their own homework.

HW noticeboard

Figure 5: The English faculty homework board

With many of the tasks being  self and peer-assessed, initially through tests or checks in class, this allows each teacher to focus their marking time towards the piece(s) of work that is of the highest priority for more detailed assessment.

Non-completion becomes apparent through poor test scores and by setting a pass mark and consequent re-test for those who have not made the effort, the incentive to ‘get it right first time’ is established.

Some final thoughts…

  • The scheme requires an investment of time and effort at the beginning but once established should save teacher time
  • All teachers  have an equal responsibility to contribute thus ensuring fairness within the team
  • Communication of homework and expectations regarding homework are simplified for teachers, pupils and parents
  • This scheme highlights the importance of Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar to pupils

Going forward…

  • We intend to extend the options for differentiation within the tasks

So, come the start of the new school year the dog may need to find something else to chew on!

Featured image: ‘Learn, school, help’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Mini-interventions

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Richard Noibi (Mathematics)

Reading time: 2 minutes

When we speak of interventions in education, particularly in the areas of literacy and numeracy, we typically think of large scale initiatives.  Schemes that might run across a whole school.  Interventions that have been meticulously planned with supporting documentation, layers of responsibility and financial accountability.  These are important but for many  pupils, it can often be the small-scale interventions teachers make, that can have the greatest impact in overcoming a barrier to learning in a particular lesson.

One example I use is the ‘mini-intervention’.  This is a way of supporting a pupil who has missed a lesson or not understood a key step in their learning.

Here’s how it works in my maths lessons.

Step 1

At the start of each lesson I give my class a bell-work/starter activity to get their mathematical brains warmed up.  This might reinforce the learning from recent lessons, give them a chance to demonstrate their mastery of an aspects of maths, or get them engaged with a new area of study.

Starter

Figure 1. An example of a starter activity

Step 2

While the majority of the class are working on the starter I will sit down with a pupil who was absent for the last lesson and go over the work we have covered in a 1:1 ‘mini- intervention’ and using a block of post-it notes to provide a brief explanation and  summary of the key learning points they have missed.

Fig 1

Figure 2. An example of some ‘mini-intervention’ post-it notes on trigonometric ratios given while the rest of the class work on their starter problem

Step 3

The pupil now has a greater chance of succeeding with the lesson ahead.  They can still seek support but they have enough information to make a start on the work set for them and often this is enough to let them catch up with the rest of the class.

Fig 2

Figure 3. Work on  multi-step trigonometric ratio problems completed by the pupil who received a ‘mini-intervention’ in figure 2. who has caught up with the rest of the class

By providing a pupil with a  post-it intervention they have a reference point to help them tackle the work, rather than having to repeatedly seek help once the main part of the lesson has started.  This helps them to be more independent in catching up with the rest of the class and allows me to focus my attention on the needs of other pupils in the class.

Fig 3

Figure 4. An example of a ‘mini-intervention’ post-it on the transformation of functions

Fig 4

Figure 5. The work completed independently by the pupil in figure 4 following their min-intervention

Why not try some mini-interventions yourself?

Featured image: ‘post its/ideas’ by B-G on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Take-Away Revision

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘I’m looking forward to revising for my exams!’, said no student ever.

Revision is a fact of life for students preparing for exams and for many it may seem like an insurmountable obstacle.  Building revision time into your scheme of work, teaching students effective and efficient revision strategies and lots and lots of exam practice will all help but the fact remains – revision is about hard work.

Once students have faced the fact that revision is a necessity if they wish to achieve their best results, then offering them support, encouragement and resources is the teacher’s next job.

One of the ways in which you can do this is to provide them with a ‘Take-Away Revision Bag’.

Goody bag 2

In the bags go…

  • ‘What is the examiner looking for from each question?’ guides
  • ‘How to answer different types of exam questions’ guides
  • Revision booklets
  • Past papers
  • Worksheets
  • Factsheets
  • Pen and Pencil
  • A highlighter
  • Blank revision cards
  • Post-its
  • Sweets
  • A personal message from me

Goody bag 3

Once students have been given their take-away bag they can add to them, or use them to keep all their revision materials and notes together in one place.

Students then bring elements of the bag to each lesson to use.

The bags also  mean they are able to work through different tasks at their own pace and plan their own revision.

Goody bag 4

I am then able to use the time gained from having pre-planned the revision activities to analyse their exam answers to target further revision on required topics or to focus on the needs of individual students.

The students were delighted by their revision ‘gift’ and it gave them a lift when undertaking the hard work that was being demanded of them.

Goody bag 1

Why not offer your students a take-away!

Learning with Games

A ‘Sharing best practice’ post by Sarah Fox (Food Technology)

Reading time: 2 minutes

‘To play or not to play?’, that is the question.  Are games a valuable tool in the teacher’s arsenal of learning strategies or are they a distraction and trivialisation of education?

Go fish

Figure 1: Go Fishing: hook yourself a question and provide an answer.  Get it right and keep your catch.  Get it wrong and the fish goes back in the pond

There are those who would argue that we as teachers are ‘educators not entertainers’ and there are indeed times when we need to remind our pupils of that.  However, there are also times when the enthusiasm and engagement engendered by ‘playing’ a game in class can be harnessed to serve the teacher’s purpose, whether it be to acquire knowledge, reinforce learning or to develop critical thinking skills.

Jenga

Figure 2: Jenga.  Take a question from the pile and a block with a points score written on it.  Answer the question and score the points.  Get it wrong and no points are scored and the question goes back in the pile

As teachers our priority is to ensure that the learning behind our choice of teaching strategy remains the key focus of our lessons and games do not become an end in themselves.

Guess who - what's for dinner

Figure 3: Guess What’s for Dinner? Swap the cards in the ‘Guess who?’ boxes for food related words and concepts and then take it turn to question your opponent until you have worked out what the answer is

Games do have many educational virtues to commend them, not least the development of social skills such as cooperation and teamwork  but perhaps above all, it is the sense of engagement they can foster that makes them a useful learning tool.

Labelling game

Figure 4: The Labelling Game  Compete with a friend to produce the most detailed ‘Nutri-Man’ and ‘Healthy Hands’

Taking the principle or format of some of the most popular or simple games that have stood the test of time and adapting them to the classroom can be a very effective teaching strategy.  Simplicity is key to making such games work.  Take a familiar format from a traditional game (snakes and ladders, hangman) or one from the popular culture (Who wants to be a millionaire?, Top Trumps, Guess Who?) and you have a head start as pupils know how to play the game.

A carousel of such games (as shown in the pictures) can make an engaging revision session.

Why not visit your local charity shops and pick up the games people no longer want and re-purpose them in your classroom!

Featured image: ‘Dice, game’ by OpenClip-Art Vectors on Pixabay.  Licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

Improving pupils’ handwriting

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Sarah Barker (English)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Teachers are expert at deciphering poor handwriting.  Whether it be the last footsteps of a spider who has dragged its eight, ink-stained legs across the page of an exercise book, or the text that has taken leave of the lines  to wander freely about the page in defiance of the laws of gravity.  However, there are times when even the most skilled and experienced of teachers is left stumped by what a pupil has written.

Expressing oneself clearly in writing is a skill for life, not to mention the desire we have to ensure that the examiner will be able to read our pupils’ answers!

Improving handwriting, especially when a pupil is well into their teens is a challenge and requires real effort and concentration once writing habits have been formed.

K Before

Figure 1. A pupil’s handwriting BEFORE handwriting practice

One strategy promoted by the English Faculty to develop ‘automaticity’ in handwriting for pupils in all year groups, is to go back to basics and consciously and deliberately practise some of the basic building blocks of handwriting as an activity in its own right.

Separating out the task of improving handwriting from the challenge of writing a considered evaluation of an extract from Shakespeare, works to the benefit of both endeavours.  Improve the physical skill and then apply it to the intellectual challenge.

k-after.jpg

Figure 2. A pupil’s handwriting AFTER handwriting practice

So, you might open an exercise book to see that a 15 year old boy spent the first few minutes of the lesson ‘writing’ lines of ‘mountains’ and ‘valleys’, followed by a line of breaking waves.  Or in a 13 year old girl’s book lines of ‘a’s, ‘c’s and ‘d’s have been carefully scribed as the first part of a homework assignment.   In this way the basics of a legible script are developed and when applied to the written work to follow, handwriting improves, the pupil feels a sense of pride and the teacher breathes a sigh of relief that they  (the examiner, the college admissions tutor and the future employer) will be able to read what has been written.

 

Featured image: ‘Font, lettering’  by Victorian Lady on Pixabay.  Licensed under CCO Public Domain

 

Word Triangles

A ‘Sharing Best Practice’ post by Caroline Hill (SENCO)

Reading time: 2 minutes

Supporting pupils with learning needs around literacy and dyslexia is a challenge most teachers face.  For some pupils the need to master key words is the issue, for some it is the technical vocabulary required for a particular subject and for others it may be the growing volume of vocabulary demanded by new exam specifications.

image1

One simple strategy that can support pupils in this is the use of word triangles.  Quite simply these are triangles, subdivided into three sub-sections which contain: 1) The key word to be learnt, 2) the definition of the key word, 3) a visual representation, prompt or reminder of the word.

image4

Pupils can be engaged in the production of the cards or they could be prepared for them, as their needs require.  Once a series of cards have been produced, challenge can be increased by cutting up the cards and using them like jigsaws, reinforcing the learning of each word and its definition.

image3

A bank of such cards can then serve as a valuable revision resource or as an activity which can be used by a teaching assistant in lessons to reinforce learning if working with the child in class, or used during one-to-one/small group interventions.

image2

Featured image: ‘Abstract/Mosaic’ by Vanntile on Pixabay. Licensed under Creative Commons Public Domain CC0

The Awkward Mole

A sharing best practice post by Jodie Johnson (Mathematics)

This activity sharpens up pupils’ ability to precisely follow a particular process to complete a specific task.  These examples come from Maths but they could apply equally well to any process in any subject.  For instance, ‘constructing a perpendicular bisector on a line’, ‘bisecting an angle’, ‘drawing an equilateral triangle’ etc., etc.

awkard-mole

Step 1: Pupils A and B sit back to back with Pupil A facing the teacher/board with an incomplete worksheet (see above)

Step 2: The teacher silently demonstrates the process to complete a task on the board.  Pupil A copies the teacher’s demonstration onto their worksheet.

Step 3:  Without changing position Pupil A now explains to Pupil B how to complete the process on their worksheet by giving clear verbal instructions (they are not allowed to look at what Pupil B is doing)

Step 4: Pupil A and B look at the results and discuss the instructions given (were they specific?, were they clear?, how could they be more precise? how could they be improved), in order to refine and perfect them.

Step 5: (Here is where the ‘awkward mole’ comes in!)  You now invite a ‘random’ pupil to come up to the front and follow the instructions they are given by another member of the class to demonstrate how to complete the process in front of the class.  Unknown to the rest of the class you have primed the ‘random pupil’ to be your ‘awkward mole’ and instructed them to be as awkward as possible when following the other pupil’s instructions – to take instructions literally, to deliberately ‘misunderstand’ ambiguous instructions and so on.  The onus is then on the pupil giving the instructions to refine their thinking and instructions until they succeed in getting the mole to ‘get it right’!

In one case a pupil instructed the mole to ‘draw an arc’, so that’s what he did with Noah and the animals too!

You can prime more than one pupil to be your mole in the lesson and don’t forget to reverse the roles for pupils A and B so they both get a turn.

Featured image: Mick E. Talbot, Mr Mole, CC BY-SA 3.0