Using Social Media to Help Pupils’ Prepare for an Exam

An Action Research project by Nicola Osman (English)

Reading time: 8 minutes

Choosing a focus

Teenagers spend an awful lot of time on social media and we wanted to see if we could harness some of this time and energy into encouraging them to revise. It seemed important to me to ensure that I used the sorts of social media that my students were using on a day-to-day basis and tried to respond to their ideas about what would work.

To begin with, I spoke to students in my class about the sort of thing they thought would help them. They gave me a number of ideas. They were keen to have a group on Facebook as they said it would be easier to ‘find’ the stuff, rather than having to scroll through all their feeds. A number of them felt that the Faculty youtube (StBernsEnglish) channel would be a great resource as they could follow links from there to any available information.

Initial actions

With the consent of my Head of Learning/Line Manager I set up a school-based Facebook page with my surname as a first name and my subject as the surname (No other personal information was shared or accessible to pupils).

The first thing that I wanted to help my students to do was to revise Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I was also rereading the book and revising myself. Every evening, I would read a chapter of the book. Then I would put a post on facebook, reminding them of the content of the chapter and making a link to the ebook version of the chapter, a youtube video of someone reading the chapter and a youtube video of someone’s analysis of the chapter. As time went on, I began to make the summary of the chapter that I posted more detailed as I realised that pupils were more likely to read what I had written than to follow the links. Pupils told me that they did not find this particularly helpful – I think there was too much for one evening’s revision for one subject.

Having tried these initial revision strategies, I felt that I had a sense of what the pupils would find useful: they wanted bullet pointed information and not too much to read. Pupils in our school were given a revision schedule for their English Literature exam. There was a key question each week from one of the key texts that they needed to revise as well as one or two poems. Using this schedule, I set out a plan for the posts over the final weeks of revision. Each week, I tried to post ideas that would help the pupils to answer the question posed for their revision or, if they were revising a poem, some of the key revision points from the poem.

The first post of the week was always a reminder of what exactly they were supposed to be revising.

Fig 1

Figure 1: Weekly reminder

I would then try to bullet point a plan for the question in a second post.

Fig 2

Figure 2: Weekly bullet points

In subsequent posts, I would go into more detail about each bullet point, explaining the relevance and including supporting quotations.

Fig 3

Figure 3: Individual bullet points

Fig 4

Figure 4: Quotations example

I tried very hard to bullet point the information and keep posts as succinct as possible, although this was challenging given the scope of the exam questions students can expect.

Fig 5

Figure 5: Theme with bullet points

Other Strategies

In reviewing the facebook page, I found evidence of other strategies I’d tried. Megan Poore in her book ‘Social Media in the Classroom’ said, ‘The trick is to design teaching and learning tasks that demand deep, considered engagement with a topic, as opposed to surface occupation with a technology or tool.’ In order to ensure that pupils were engaged with the posts, I created a closed group intended to provide a safe space for students to comment and engage in the learning.  Access to this was limited to members of my class who had to request membership of the group to join, so that I could ensure that no other person had access to any of the group’s messages or details.   In doing this, I ensured that the e-safety lead in my school had access to this group as well so that, whilst it was a closed group, I was making the conversations available to another member of staff so that there were no ‘private’ conversations between my students and me. Then I posed questions or asked for supporting quotations. The idea being, that pupils would respond and actively contribute to the learning online.

Fig 6

Figure 6: Examples of questions posed for pupils

The difficulty was that students were not prepared to comment, even in a closed group. In the example above, four or five students had read the post (admittedly not many) but none of them replied. My speculation was that they did not want anyone else to see them being the ‘keener’ who replied to the teacher’s post. Another explanation would be that they wanted to be passive users of facebook, to have a look at what I had to say but not wanting to be actively engaged themselves. Retrospectively, I would like to have included some feedback on this particular issue in the closing survey. This dramatically altered the way in which I used the facebook page, however, as there were no opportunities to assess, respond to ideas, share different perspectives or give other constructive feedback – or other good things that happen in a classroom. The model, therefore, became very information or lecture-based.

Analysis of feedback data

In total, I wrote over 200 posts, which amounted to a significant amount of time and effort. My concern was that the amount of time I was spending would not match the impact on pupils.

I surveyed the pupils in an anonymous questionnaire in which I asked them to be honest in their responses.

Year 11 were asked how often they used the page. The majority said they had used it sometimes. Of those who had never accessed the information, one did not have facebook and the other said that they did not know what to search for.

Fig 7

Figure 7: Year 11 Social Media Use

Year 10 were asked how often they used the page. There were a greater number who had only used it once or twice. However, the year 10 group was set up later than the Year 11 group so that might account for this response as pupils were asked to consider their usage across the year. More pupils in this group had never accessed the content – responses showed that they did not use or have access to facebook.

Fig 8

Figure 8: Year 10 Social Media Use

Those Year 11 who had used the page responded strongly to the idea that it helped them to remember details. There were six negative responses – half of these said that it didn’t help them with what to write in the exam.

Fig 9

Figure 9: Year 11 views on the content of the posts

Those Year 10 who had used the page responded strongly to the idea that it helped them with their weekly revision. They also responded strongly to the idea that they got something out of reading the posts. There were no negative responses from this group.

Fig 10

Figure 10: Year 10 views on the content of the posts

Pupils in Year 10 and Year 11 responded strongly to the statements that suggested they had accessed the post – in some way – but had mostly used other resources.

Fig 11

Figure 11: Year 11 Social Media Use of Revision Resources

Other findings

  • Around half of the pupils said that they had followed links shared
  • Around half answered ‘maybe’ to accessing the posts in another format, such as a blog

Further Actions

My second initiative was to summarise the content of the Year 10 lessons as I taught them to help Year 11 revise. Feedback from students was that this was better but when the mock exams came along, this was shelved as students requested more input on An Inspector Calls.

 

Again, I took up the challenge – trying to help them revise an entire text in a fortnight. I divided the text into sections and, using the revision book, began analysing the text. This meant writing four or five posts sometimes as I desperately tried to ‘reteach’ them the entire text. The result was that, whilst I had revised the text very well, the students said that there was too much information for facebook. I had also included links to youtube videos that would help them to revise the poems that they needed to learn. They said that there needed to be less content and suggested that I bullet-point the information and did only one post a day. This has led me to consider using Facebook to give the pupils some simple reminders that will pop up on their phones and have more detailed notes on another platform (i.e. blog).

One advantage of following these processes was that I now have very detailed revision notes on several of the texts, which I can now reuse for Year 10, although I am going to have to think very carefully about how I do this.

See the orignial blogs  at @englishrevisiononsocialmedia

Featured image: ‘Mobile phone’ by geralt on Pixabay.  Licensed under Creative Commons CC0

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