Developing a coordinated approach to revision for GCSE Science

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Reading time: 9 minutes

Objective: To develop and implement a coordinated faculty approach to exam preparation for GCSE Additional Science and students retaking GCSE Science.

Background:

Our school is a relative small secondary comprehensive school in the south of Bristol, with approximately 150 students per year group. Of these approximately 30 students will take separate GCSE Biology, Chemistry and Physics exams with the remainder taking GCSE Science and GCSE Additional Science.  Of these, most students will take GCSE Science in year 10, with the opportunity to retake in year 11 if necessary, and GCSE Additional Science in year 11.

In August 2016, we received the GCSE Science results for the 92 students we had entered in year 10. The results were disappointing.  Of these students fewer than 50% had achieved a grade of C or above and fewer than 40% had made expected progress. Although there is evidence nationally that students do less well in year ten, and there is an argument that students are not ready to achieve the grades of which they are capable in year 10, we had not previously found this to be the case. In fact, in previous year’s students had often achieved better grades in year 10 than they had in their GCSE Additional grades in year 11. Clearly there was an issue with the way in which this cohort of students had been prepared for these exams. As a faculty we needed to take a long hard look at ourselves and consider both the reasons for this underachievement and strategies we could implement to ensure that these students not only achieved more positive grades in their Additional Science exams, but also that those retaking achieved higher grades in GCSE Science.

Context:

At the start of term one we met as a faculty and had a frank discussion about the year 10 results and what we felt might be some of the barriers for our students. We also discussed the potential issues with some of our students.  Having done so, the consensus was that the issues for many students in year 11 fell into two broad categories, problems with retaining knowledge and difficulties with exam technique and applying their knowledge in exam conditions. It was clear that we needed a more systematic, faculty-wide approach to addressing these concerns. We strongly felt that we needed to develop a suite of resources which students and teachers could use both in class and at home, which would help to develop these skills. We also felt that it was important to ensure that these were consistently used across the faculty so that all students accessed the support in the same way.

We had many potentially useful revision resources at our disposal already and had been using these for a number of years to support student revision, but most had been used in a fairly ad hoc way. Part of the task would be to collate and format these in a way which would be accessible to students and to make them available in a consistent manner. I was also aware, through my links with other local Heads of Science, that other schools were in the process of developing similar resources. We were happy to share the resources that we were developing and were hopeful that other school would feel the same.

As part of the Action Research process in our school each member of staff was allocated Inset time, which they could use to visit other institutions.  As such, I used this time to visit another local school who I was aware, had successfully implemented a revision programme which had helped to raise the achievement of their pupils in science in the previous year. Having spoken to the member of staff responsible it was clear that they had used a programme of independent revision activities to help support their students’ revision and that this had had a really positive effect. I was keen that we adopt a similar system, but also that we had a consistent approach to in-class revision.

Actions:

As a Faculty, our actions fell in to three categories.

  • Interventions to support students retaking GCSE Science.

We decided as a faculty that it would be necessary to support students retaking GCSE Science or taking it for the first time, by using some of our curriculum time. As such I devised a schedule of intervention lessons for these students which I would run. To support this I wrote a revision booklet for each of their assessed units (Biology, Chemistry and Physics). This booklet consisted of a PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist), with links to the relevant pages in the revision guide, some brief revision notes, a mind map to support their revision and an exam question. Over the course of the year student received twelve one hour long revision sessions, and were set work from the booklets to complete for homework.

  • A consistent approach to supporting students in their revision at home.

As mentioned previously, it had become apparent that many students found it challenging to retain information and to recall and apply this when answering exam questions. We decided that we needed a consistent, faculty wide approach to addressing this. Key to this would be supporting students in their revision at home in a consistent was across the Faculty.

As such we decided that during terms 3 and 4, all students would receive weekly revision homework activities, one for Biology, one for Chemistry and one for Physics. These would be set centrally by me using Show My Homework and checked weekly by class teachers. An example of such an activity is shown below. When these were set, students were also made aware of the pages in the revision guides where they could find the relevant content.

TN - revision hw

Figure 1: Example of a science revision homework task

To help incentivise student take up, we ran a reward system where every time a student completed a revision activity, their class teacher would issue them with a raffle ticket. At the end of the process a draw took place and the winner received a free Prom ticket.

  • A consistent approach to revision in class.

As a Faculty we also felt that it was important to have a co-ordinated and consistent approach to in-class revision. We wanted to ensure that students had had the opportunity to cover all the course content, practice exam questions and to have the security of doing this in a consistent way across the Faculty.  As such, I wrote a programme of five Biology, five Chemistry, and five Physics revision lessons. These were delivered to all year 11 Additional Science students during term 5. These lessons all followed a similar format.

Firstly, students completed a PLC (Personalised Learning Checklist), to remind themselves of the subject content and to highlight the priority areas for revision. An example of this is shown below. Note that the PLC contains revision guide page references to help students access the correct information for their revision at home.

“Use the PLC below to help you to identify the content that you already understand and do not understand in this revision lesson. You will come back to this at the end.  At the end of the lesson the areas still highlighted amber or red need to be your priorities for revision at home.”

TN - PLC

Figure 2: Example of Personalised Learning Checklist used during revision lessons

Having completed the PLC, the class teacher would then use a Power-point presentation, to talk through and summarise the content covered by the PLC. An example slide is shown below.

TN - powerpoint slide

Figure 3: Example of a slide used to summarise learning in a typical revision lesson

The third activity in the lesson would then consist of students using the revision guides and the information they had just been given by their teachers to complete summary, knowledge based questions relating to the subject content. An example of these is shown below.

 Use your revision guide (F- p3-6, H- p3-7), your learning from the teacher’s presentation and your revision guide to help you to answer the questions below.

  1. Label these diagrams of cells: (plant cell/animal cell)
  2. Complete this table to give the function of the following organelles:
Organelle Function
Cell Membrane
Cell Wall
Chloroplast
Mitochondria
Vacuole

Figure 4: Example of a revision activity linked to a revision guide

Finally, students were asked to apply the subject content they had reviewed in the lesson and to answer an exam question.

Each student received a paper booklet for each lesson, which they collected in a folder. At the end of the term they took these home to assist with their final at-home revision.  All resources and activities were shared with students and parents on Show My Homework. Resources were shared between staff in our Faculty on our internal shared network.

Impact:

The table below summarises the overall outcomes in GCSE and Additional Science for the cohort of students involved in this project.

Subject %C+ Nat. % C+ %A/A* Nat. %A/A* Average  grade Target Average grade
Additional Science 57 58 4 9 C- C
Science 54 48 2 4.5 D+ C

Figure 5: table of GCSE results for cohort involved in this project

Pupils had achieved threshold outcomes (C+), which were above or extremely close to national averages. Although the overall average target grades were below the internally school set targets (based on FFTD), they are likely to represent progress which is at average or above national expectations. The percentage of students achieving A/A* was below national expectations, however we only have a small number of students targeted A or A* taking GCSE and GCSE Additional Science as most of these students were taking the Separate Sciences. It is interesting to note that Additional Science results were better than GCSE Science. These results are for almost exactly the same students, all took both GCSE and Additional Science. Although there are clearly many variables in play, not least the year in which the exams were taken for the majority of students, this does suggest that the Additional Science homework and in class revision programme did have some positive impact.

Twelve students, who were retaking GCSE Science in year eleven, out of a total of 45 (27%), achieved an improved grade in year eleven. This suggests that the revision programme for these students had some impact, although it did not lead to an improvement in grades for the majority of students.

Anecdotally, the vast majority of students questioned said that they valued the revision programme and found it useful; many were extremely enthusiastic about it. It was also interesting to note that those students who were most enthusiastic and who bought into the programme most fully, also seemed to achieve the best results. Obviously it is impossible to infer cause and effect here. However, detailed analysis of the results indicated that many of our targeted borderline students (especially on the D to C borderline), who had made their target grade had also engaged fully with the revision programme. It was also noticeable that these students were disproportionally female. Our results were significantly better for girls than boys, especially for middle ability students. It did appear that a gender difference in buy-in to our revision programme might at least partially account for this.

Conclusions:

  • Our revision programme ensured that all students had access to the same high quality revision resources and interventions.
  • This was well received and appreciated by the vast majority of students and parents.
  • There is some evidence that the programme lead to improved outcomes in Additional Science.
  • There is some, limited, evidence that the retake revision programme lead to improved outcomes for those students retaking GCSE Science.
  • Broadly, our revision programme seemed to benefit girls more than boys leading to on average better outcomes for female than male students. This seemed to be the case especially for middle ability students.

Next steps:

  • Update and revise the revision programme for the current year 11, for the new 1-9 GCSE.
  • Investigate the apparent gender difference in impact. How can we adapt the programme so that it is more impactful for male students?

 

Feature image: ‘Chemistry, Erlenmeyer Flask’ by GDJ on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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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

 

Three models of revision: which was most effective?

An Action Research Project by James Barr (History)

Due to one of those timetabling anomalies at the start of the year, I was given a group of seven students who were part of a larger GCSE History group but unlike the rest of the group, were not studying Triple Science. Consequently, they had been given one additional history lesson per-fortnight while the rest of the history group was in a science lesson.  As their normal history teacher was unable to take this extra lesson, it had been given to me.

I was briefed from the outset that the students would be expected to manage their own time and use the lesson to consolidate and revise their learning accordingly. I booked ICT rooms for the session and let the students work independently on SAM learning. From the outset I wanted to monitor their revision and adjust it accordingly to find the best fit for the class. The data I analysed was from SAM learning logs, student books and knowledge tests undertaken throughout the year. The students also had access to revision guides and resources given to them by their main teacher to support their learning and revision.

Model 1: ICT based revision using SAM Learning

From the start there were huge differences in the level of engagement of the students. Those who were more dedicated and self-motivated revelled in the freedom and enjoyed being able to work at their own pace. Whereas, half the group struggled to remain focused on the task at hand. I regularly had to give out sanctions for misuse of ICT and move students as they struggled with the independence that had been granted to them. This was backed up by my initial findings from the data generated on the SAM learning website.

Student Subject Year Time Home School  * M/F
Pupil 1 GCSE 11 2:45 61% 42% 77% M
Pupil 2 GCSE 11 2:55     87% M
Pupil 3 GCSE 11 2:30 90% 50% 68% M
Pupil 4 GCSE 11 14:35 28% 37% 79% M
Pupil 5 GCSE 11 41:10 37% 25% 86% M
Pupil 6 GCSE 11 70:45 47% 30% 82% M
Pupil 7 GCSE 11 1:55   13% 72% M

Fig. 1 Students’ overall usage of SAM learning across all subjects

Figure 1 shows the overall usage of SAM learning by the class across all subjects. This showed me that the students were capable of using SAM learning and most of the class used it at home but there was a huge divide between the students who used SAM learning effectively and those who didn’t.

Student Subject Year Time Home School  * M/F
Pupil 1 HISTORY 11 0:50     83% M
Pupil 2 HISTORY 11         M
Pupil 3 HISTORY 11         M
Pupil 4 HISTORY 11 3:40 16%   70% M
Pupil 5 HISTORY 11 12:05 37%   83% M
Pupil 6 HISTORY 11 8:15 36%   77% M
Pupil 7 HISTORY 11 0:30     63% M

Fig 2 Students’ overall usage of SAM Learning in History

Figure 2 demonstrates the usage of SAM Learning by the students for History. This illustrated the lack of engagement of some learners with SAM learning in History. Pupil 2 and Pupil 3 did not even log in to the SAM learning History section at all during our sessions. They either worked while not being logged in or completed work in different subject areas.

On seeing these statistics I immediately changed tack and moved to a more classroom based approach to these lessons.

Model 2: Classroom Based Independent Revision

We then moved on to classroom based revision lessons. As previously stated the revision sessions were meant to be independent and student led, so the students were given workbooks, the relevant textbook and revision guides to help them revise different areas of the course. At the end of each session the students would take a short knowledge based quiz to check their learning for that session. I logged the scores of the tests at the end of each session.

Student Average Score
Pupil 1 60%
Pupil 2 15%
Pupil 3 45%
Pupil 4 80%
Pupil 5 98%
Pupil 6 88%
Pupil 7 40%

Fig. 3 Students’ average score in knowledge based quizzes following independent revision

Figure 3 demonstrates that there was an improvement in performance and that more effective revision was actually being completed. However, on analysis of the actual work completed a number of the students copied the textbook verbatim, not really changing the information in any way or trying to engage with their learning. This had an impact on the results obtained by those students.  Looking at this information I decided that a different approach was needed again!

Model 3: Teacher led revision

At this stage, after observing a colleague’s revision sessions, I decided to adopt a more didactic approach. Telling the students the information that they needed to use with regard to each topic and then giving them time to record and learn it before testing their knowledge at the end. The topics were arranged on A3 learning mats with 9 key subtopics on each page, with boxes where the student could add notes/information. This was then tested at the end of the session and the results were again logged.

Student Average Score
Pupil 1 80%
Pupil 2 55%
Pupil 3 75%
Pupil 4 90%
Pupil 5 98%
Pupil 6 92%
Pupil 7 74%

Fig. 4 Students’ average score in knowledge based quizzes following teacher led revision

Figure 4 demonstrates to me an overall improvement in the class. The nature of the teacher led lessons and the completion of the learning mats, meant that the students had to focus on the tasks at hand, which lead to the information being easier to remember for the test at the end. Although, I felt that those students who had been working well all year in each of the three models had lost a degree of independence by the very rigid structure in the teacher led lessons, their marks did not suffer. Though possibly, they would have been better served by being allowed to work independently.

Conclusions

Overall, I felt that the most successful structure for revision was the more didactic, teacher led method of delivery, coupled with the use of learning mats for the whole unit. SAM learning and independent revision led to a wide range in student knowledge and attainment, whereas the more didactic method closed this gap, although, as stated previously, this did have drawbacks.

Moving forward, I would recommend that students should be allowed to revise individually if you have confidence in their ability to learn/revise independently but also to have targeted groups in the class that the teacher can teach directly to ensure that they effectively gained key ideas from the course to advance their revision. This would then be structured by using course based learning mats to give the students a clear framework to use in order to structure and record their revision.

Featured image: ‘Man Reading’ original image licensed under Creative Commons Zero – CC0 from Max Pixel

Using E-Learning as an intervention tool for GCSE Science with Year 11 Students

An Action Research Project by Tom Nadin (Science)

Objective

The objective of this project is to research and implement e-learning strategies as a means of improving the progress and outcomes of key marginal students in GCSE (Core) Science.

Background

As a school, we operate a key stage four model in which historically, the majority of students complete the GCSE Science course in year ten and GCSE Additional Science in year eleven. We also have a group of students completing the Separate Sciences course. Using this model, the majority of students are entered for all GCSE units and accreditation at the end of year ten. The exception to this is students who we do not feel to be ready to sit their exams at this point. Each year we also have a number of students who sit their GCSE examinations at the end of year ten but who are re-entered for these exams in year eleven. Almost always this is either at the school’s request because a student’s overall GCSE Science grade is below that expected, or because students or parents request a re-sit in order to improve their overall grade, in order to access college courses.

In the academic year 2014-15 the school entered 122 students for their GCSE Science exams at the end of year ten. Having consulted with teachers, parents and teachers, the decision was made to withdraw 18 students from these exams with a view to entering them at the end of year eleven. Although overall, the GCSE Science results for this cohort were pleasing the further decision was made to re-enter 29 students to re-sit their GCSE Science exams at the end of year eleven.

This presented the Science faculty with a particular set of challenges. 47 students were due to sit their GCSE Science exams alongside their GCSE Additional Science exams in the summer of 2016. This would place significant extra demands on these students, in terms of the number of science exams they would sit and especially in terms of the bulk of knowledge they would need to retain in order to achieve successful grades. By definition this group of students overwhelmingly consisted of students who either had not achieved, or were not on track to achieve their targeted grade at the end of year ten. This was for a variety of reasons but often underpinned by a failure to successfully access the curriculum and support offered to them in year ten, or by difficulties in retaining and applying the bulk of knowledge required. In other words, this group consisted largely of the very students least likely to be able to successfully overcome the challenges facing them.

As a faculty we were not in a position financially or logistically to offer significant additional in class support to these students so needed to think creatively about out of class solutions which would help these students to access and retain the knowledge required to succeed in their exams. Online E-learning packages such as SAM learning (to which the school subscribes), seemed to offer an avenue through which support could be provided and monitored effectively.

Context

SAM learning is an online package consisting of student activities and online tests. Many of these are self-marking and can provide immediate feedback to both students and teachers. Activities can be set by teachers but can also be accessed independently by students. The school has subscribed to SAM learning for several years prior to the period of this investigation, and although it has been used by staff and students, for example for homework tasks and independent revision, it was yet to be used systematically by the Science faculty.

The functionality and accessibility of SAM learning seemed to provide a means through which interventions could be put in place for our targeted group of Y11 students. In addition to this, I was aware anecdotally of examples of SAM learning being used effectively to support revision and exam preparation at KS4, both in other departments in our school and in other local institutions. Although there appeared to have been little research done specifically in to the use of SAM learning as an intervention tool, there did seem to be robust evidence to support the view that consistent and regular use of SAM learning could lead to an improvement in student outcomes overall.

One of the most comprehensive studies into this area was conducted by the Fisher Family Trust (FFT). They investigated the effect of SAM learning on the progress and outcomes of 258 599 UK students between 2009 and 2011. The findings of this study seemed to suggest a strong link between the use of SAM learning and an improvement in student outcomes. For example the study found that on average 10 plus hours use of SAM learning led to students achieving 12.3 capped points scores higher than expected and that, although less significant, as little as between 2 and 10 hours study on SAM learning could lead to a measurable improvement in student outcomes as shown in figure one.

Fig 1

Figure 1. The actual and estimated attainment of students, with regards to their usage of E-learning.

This study also suggested that the group of students whose outcomes were improved most significantly by the use of SAM learning were those with the lowest achievement at KS2. This is summarised in figure 2. This was particularly interesting as many of the students in our intervention group were relatively low achievers at KS2.

Fig 2

 Figure 2. Value added performance with usage of E-learning in relation to prior attainment.

Most interestingly the results of the FFT study seemed to indicate that as little as two ten minute sessions per week could have a measureable impact on outcomes in Science and that more than ten hours spent on SAM learning would on average, improve outcomes by a third of a grade. These findings are summarised in figure 3.

Fig 3

Figure 3. Value added performance in core subjects with usage of E-learning.

Other research appeared to support the view that SAM learning could act as a valuable intervention tool, especially for students with a back ground of lower or under-achievement. For example an American study (Jorgensen, 2010), stressed the potential effectiveness of SAM learning in providing accessible interactive and scaffolded learning. She also stressed the program’s potentially positive impact on disengaged learners in academic and content-rich subjects such as Science.

The research seemed to suggest that SAM learning was worth exploring for use as an intervention tool with our targeted group of students in Y11.

Actions

Having made the decision to use SAM Learning as an intervention tool, it was essential to devise a programme through which it could be effectively introduced and delivered to students and monitored by members of staff. I also felt that the interventions were likely to be most effective if they integrated a range of resources and activities, drawing on existing best practice, rather than using SAM learning as a stand-alone intervention. As such, the faculty and I decided on the following actions;

  • Each student in the intervention group would be allocated a member of teaching staff as a mentor. This member of staff would ensure that the student had access to appropriate resources and would monitor and support their use. They would also be the first point of contact with home.
  • Each student would be provided with a paper revision guide and GCSE Science workbook. The staff mentor would discuss this with students and monitor their use.
  • Each student was provided with a content specific, personalised learning checklist (PLC). This had been modified so that once students had identified specific areas of need, they could reference the appropriate activities both in the revision guide/workbook and in SAM learning. Figure 4 provides an example of such a PLC

Fig 4b

Figure 4. PLC, showing specific links to revision guide and SAM learning activities

These PLCs were designed to make students’ use of SAM learning (and other revision resources), more effective by allowing them to target their efforts on the areas of greatest need.

  • It proved relatively easy to set up a group in SAM learning which contained all of the students in the intervention group. This enabled me to set the relevant tasks for the students concerned. I made the decision to set all of the Core Science tasks up front, giving students the opportunity to complete them at their own pace. I felt that this would allow them to use their PLCs to identify and then work on key areas of the subject content.
  • The interventions were tracked at the faculty level though mentors regularly updating a central spreadsheet indicating when actions had taken place. Figure 5 shows an excerpt from this tracking grid.

Fig 4a

Figure 5. An excerpt from the faculty interventions tracking grid.

  • Mentors regularly met with the intervention students in order to discuss their exam preparation and their use of resources. Having set the SAM learning tasks, I was able to monitor their usage online.

Impact

Initial analysis of the GCSE Science headline figures in 2016 suggested that the results were pleasing. Overall, students had exceeded national expectations in terms of outcomes and progress. This is summarised in figure 6.

Fig 8

Figure 6. Summary of achievement in GCSE Science 2016.

These results also suggested a modest, but significant improvement in results from those achieved and/or predicted by/for these students in the summer of 2015. Taking into account the predicted grades of the students who were not entered for GCSE Science in Y10, the percentage of students achieving A* to C grades had increased from 52% to 57% and the percentage of students making at least three levels of progress has increased from 51% to 57%. Both of these gains were particularly significant as they pushed faculty outcomes above national expectations.

It was clear that students had made limited, yet significant gains. It also appeared that the interventions we had put in place had had some impact. Of the 47 students in the intervention group, 16 (34%) had improved by one or more grade from year ten to year eleven in GCSE Science. Interestingly, of the 18 students that we did not enter for GCSE examination in Y10, only 4 (22%), improved their grade, whereas 12 of the 29 students (41%), who did take GCSE Science in Y10, but re-sat in Y11, improved their grade.

It also appeared that the use of SAM learning had had some impact on student outcomes, both for the targeted intervention group of students and perhaps unexpectedly, across the whole year group. SAM learning usage reports in June 2016 suggested that use of SAM learning across the year group in Science had increased by over 200% on the previous year, and that students in our school were on average marking greater use of SAM learning than the national average. Although it is impossible to link this usage with outcomes across the faculty, the research suggests that it is likely that it did have a positive impact. It seems likely that the raised profile of SAM learning and the distribution of resources such as the amended PLCs to students outside the target group led to increased use of SAM learning across the year group.

Specific analysis of the outcomes of students in the targeted intervention group also proved to be very interesting, especially when compared to usage of SAM learning. This is summarised in Figure 7.

Fig 6

* Based on national transition matrices.

Figure 7. SAM Learning usage and change in GCSE Science grade from year ten to year eleven.

Indicates where a student did not sit GCSE Science in Y10. The grade shown here is the teacher assessed grade.

Although there does not appear to be a direct correlation between use of SAM learning and an improvement in outcomes (and detailed statistical analysis would be needed to show this), there do appear to be some patterns.

  • 14 of the 16 students who had improved their grades had spent at least some time on SAM learning.
  • Of the 24 students who had spent at least 30 minutes on SAM learning 12 (50%), had made an improvement in their grade.
  • Of the 23 students who had spent less than half an hour, or no time on SAM learning 4 (17%), had made an improvement in their grade.
  • 2 of the 3 students with the highest usage of SAM learning made no improvement to their grade.
  • It appears that girls were more likely than boys to use SAM learning, with girls accessing SAM learning for an average of 2.40 hours and boys for an average of 1.45 hours. Twelve boys did not access SAM learning at all compared to 7 girls who did not. Interestingly this difference seemed to correspond with a slight but not significant difference in improvement of outcomes with 7 out of 24 boys (29%) and 9 out of 23 (39%) girls improving their grades.

Conclusions

It does appear that the interventions used with this cohort of students had a limited, yet significant (in terms of improved outcomes for the faculty), effect on students’ grades between year ten and year eleven. This view is supported by analysis showing that 34% of students in the intervention group improved by at least one grade. This improvement was more marked in girls (39%), than it was in boys (29%). It was also notable that more students improved their grade having first taken the exams in year ten (39%), then re-sat in year eleven, than those who were withdrawn in year ten and sat for the first time in year eleven (22%).

It is impossible to demonstrate a causal relationship between these improvements in grades and the use of SAM learning. No attempt was made to control other variables which may have had an impact on student outcomes. All students had access to a range of intervention resources, for example revision guides and work books as well as SAM learning. In many cases students who had high usage of SAM learning also regularly accessed and used other resources. Indeed, those students who were most willing to access and use SAM learning were usually those who were best motivated in general and most willing to seek support from their mentors and indeed to access other resources. However, there does seem to be a tentative relationship between use of SAM learning and an improvement in grades. Fourteen of the sixteen students who made an improvement in their grades had spent some time working on SAM learning with 50% of students who accessed SAM learning for more than half an hour seeing an improvement in their grades. A gender difference in SAM learning was also apparent, with girls being much more likely to use SAM learning and likely to spend longer using it in total, than boys.

It seems at least possible, although it is by no means proved by this piece of research, that the use of SAM learning has had a positive impact on outcomes for students retaking GCSE Science in our school. However, further more detailed research, with an attempt to control other potentially contributing variables, would be needed to demonstrate a positive correlation, let alone a causal relationship.

Next steps

This piece of action research has provided me with the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons in to how to provide effective interventions. I will be able to apply this learning and improve the package we offer to the current year eleven. It has also raised some interesting questions that could form the basis for further research.

Learning, to be applied to the current year eleven:

  • SAM learning is a valuable intervention tool. It allows students to access and assess learning independently. We will be using it again with the current year eleven
  • SAM learning is especially effective when combined with a self-diagnosis system, such as the PLCs as this allows students to direct their effort to the areas where it is most needed. Again, we will make sure that these are available for use with the current year eleven.
  • This research supports the view that SAM learning has a positive impact on student outcomes, although it by no means proves it. We will make sure that current students are aware of this and of the potential gains to be made by the regular use of SAM learning.
  • Girls appear to be more likely to access SAM learning than boys. In the current Y11, boys will need more monitoring and support than girls.
  • Out mentoring was not always effective in leading students (especially boys), to consistently use SAM learning. We will need to consider more effective ways in which mentoring and support can be offered.

Possible areas for further research:

  • Is there a causal relationship between the use of SAM learning and improved outcomes in GCSE Science, especially for previously underachieving students?
  • What is the relative effectiveness of SAM learning as an intervention tool compared with more traditional paper based resources, for example revision guides and work books?
  • Are girls more likely to access SAM learning than boys? Why might this be?

References and further reading

Fisher Family Trust (2012), Impact of E.Learning.

Jorgensen M. (2010), An intervention that works – SAM Learning.

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Establishing a Framework to Support Independent Revision

An Action Research Project by Darragh McMullan (Humanities)

Focus

The focus for this will be year 10 students going into year 11. From previous experience and with the increasing demands on students to undertake exam revision, I feel students need to be clear what areas of a course they are weaker in and what areas they need to focus on more specifically for revision. This is not taking away from the fact that students still need to revisit the whole course but it can enable them to attend specific revision sessions and target certain areas in the run up to exams.

Actions

I set out to use PIXL to track students’ knowledge of topics in year 10. This was achieved by creating simple 10 question knowledge tests on the key points for that unit. Based on what students achieved they would receive a Green, Amber, Red rating. This was recorded in their books for their reference and also on an Excel spread sheet. This would enable targeting of students at revision time.

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Students can then prioritise attendance at revision sessions for areas of weakness. In these sessions I do not want them to be a similar lesson to the one taught the previous year. I feel the best way for students to revise independently is using learning mats (see below). This includes all the key questions students need to know for particular units. Students can find and discuss these questions in revision sessions with the teacher becoming a facilitator, helping students, answering questions and stretching students.

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Next Steps

Taking this further I have begun to look at exam questions and how this can be tracked to enable students to see what questions they need to concentrate on. I have also started to develop revision packs that include these questions as HW.

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This will enable HW to be set as a revision task with students looking at the different types of exam questions to enable them to practise these throughout the year. These questions will include mark schemes and suggested sentence starters so students are clearer about what is required for that particular question. This can again be recorded and students can be guided to practise certain questions that they are weaker on.

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The aim will be to ensure that at the end of the course students are clear what knowledge they need to revise, what questions they need to practice and will have the revision materials (learning mat, revision guides) to complete independent revision.

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