Like most schools we provide Y11 with a range of support, outside of lessons, in the run up to the final exams – assemblies, revision sessions, parental workshops etc. However, we all know that the people who will make the real difference between now and the exams are the teachers that see Y11, day in and day out. So, what can us teachers of Y11 be doing in our lessons, over the next 47 school days to maximise their performance? A few thoughts:
Refocus with a new seating plan
After the mock exams in December, the science department came up with a new seating plan for every Y11 class. This has been hugely effective. Seating plans are such a useful tool for teachers – and it always amazes me when they are not used. How you arrange your seating plan is up to you, but a few tried and tested principles would be:
- Don’t allow them to sit with their friends – friends like to talk!
- Stick with it – don’t enter any negotiations such as ‘If we’re good, can we sit next to our friends?’
- Boy/girl seems to work.
- Separate the ‘challenging’ students by as much distance as possible.
- Sit the most challenging student/s where you can have easy access to them!
- Set the desks up so that you can circulate easily.
- Avoid ‘group tables’ – this encourages students to socialise and lose focus.
- Sitting high achieving students next to those who are struggling can raise aspiration and model a good work ethic.
Plan your revision
Plan the number of weeks left until your exam and draw up a plan:
- When will you finish teaching the content?
- When are their exams – all papers?
- How many weeks/lessons of revision does this give you?
- What are the hard topics/topics they have struggled with in their mocks, that you need to cover in your revision?
Use this to come up with a lesson by lesson plan, and share this with your students. Be prepared to be flexible though – other ‘needy’ topics will crop up as you go.
When you are going through answers to exam questions, especially longer answers, close down your powerpoint and get out your board pen! Model how to answer the question on the board, by writing it out on the board – stopping periodically to explain/question students on your thinking e.g. Why did I start that paragraph in that way? Why did I include that point? As well as focusing on what needs to go into the answer, discuss your thinking process whilst tackling the question. Annotating an exam paper is a great way to do this. John Tomsett writes about this brilliantly here.
When sharing exemplar answers, don’t just show them a great example – show them a poor one too. This will allow them to see what makes the great one so good.
As time runs away, it becomes critical that students know how to improve their written responses – there and then as they are doing it. So, whilst they are working on a question, look over their shoulder, read what they are doing and then write a question on their work for them to respond to, to improve their work. It’s not feasible, or sensible, to do this with every point that you want to make for every student, but worth doing for big errors/gaps. And if it’s written down in their book, it’s a good reminder for them not to repeat the mistake next time.
Promote Elaborate Interrogation
When students are answering questions in class, get them to think hard at every opportunity and develop their responses by simply asking ‘why?’ to their responses:
- In science, increasing the temperature can increase the rate of a chemical reaction….why?
- In geography, the leisure industry in British seaside towns like Porthcawl in South Wales has deteriorated in the last 4 decades….why?
- In history, the 1929 American stock exchange collapsed. This supported Hitler’s rise to power….why?
Provide opportunities for students to practise exam questions – the more they do, the more confident they should feel when tackling them. Doing single exam questions is useful, as it allows you to discuss and explain how to tackle specific questions – how to maximise the marks gained for that style of question. However, don’t forget that students also need to practise exam papers in ‘real conditions’. So for example, do single questions – but give them the allocated time to answer it e.g. there is no point giving students 20 minutes to answer a 3 mark question; put aside time to do a whole paper – they need to think about the timing required to answer a paper efficiently e.g. ‘after 35 minutes, I should be on to section 2’.
Trigger their lesson memories
Get them to think back to the lesson you are revising. Show them a bit of the powerpoint you used during the original lesson; refer them back to their exercise books; trigger a memory e.g. ‘Can you remember that lesson, where John’s hair stood on end, with the Van De Graaf generator?
Help them to remember things
As our knowledge of cognitive science grows, we are learning more about how we can support memory retention and recall. Daniel Willingham summarises this, by encouraging us to consider three principles:
Read more on this here.
Something new….but potentially useful. The geography team are in the process of trying this out, this year. They are going to film themselves talking through and drawing their ‘case study diagrams’ that they use to condense a large amount of knowledge and act as a memory trigger (read more about this here).
These videos will then be uploaded to their ‘YouTube’ Channel, so the students can access and use them at any time – and on their smartphones.
The language of exams
Make sure students know the language of the exams they are going to sit e.g. do they know what to do if a question asks them to describe, explain, compare etc? Are they aware of the style of questions they are going to be asked e.g. 2 mark/6 mark questions? Link this to your modelling of exam answers e.g. show them how to answer a describe and and explain question. Steph Temple discusses this and more here.
Research Informed Revision
Make sure you encourage students to use revision techniques that actually work. This blog explains more, but to summarise the strategies:
- Practice testing: Use low-stakes tests, quizzes or reviews on a regular basis. Encourage students to test themselves frequently as part of their revision. The ‘Flashcards by Chegg’ app is great for this, as are revision guides…or their exercise book!
- Distributed practice: Revision over time leads to better recall than cramming. Help students to do this by spacing their revision for all subjects over time, using their revision planner.
- Interleaving: Consider encouraging students to alternate their practice of different kinds of items or problems when revising rather than sticking to one single topic.
- Elaborative interrogation: Consider encouraging explanatory questioning to promote learning; for example by asking students “Why?” when they tell you information about things they know.
- Self-explanation: Consider encouraging students to explain to you how new information is related to known information, or the steps required to solve a problem.
Other useful apps/websites that you can encourage students to use:
You could share a revision tip every week, using a powerpoint like this:
Provide students with a checklist of topics that will be in their exams. This will enable them to:
a) Feel confident that they have covered everything and are well prepared for their exam.
b) Identify their weak areas and focus their revision there.
If they are going to do well, they need to know what they don’t know!
Target revision sessions
If we’re going to do after-school revision sessions, let’s make them work. So:
a) Get the right students to attend – all too often ‘the nice ones’ turn up i.e. the students who probably don’t need to be there. What we want, is our ‘at risk’ students to attend, as they are the ones who will benefit the most. So, the best way to do this is to liaise with parents and pastoral leaders to help get them there.
b) Revise the right stuff – look at their mock exams, but also examiners reports, to find out common mistakes and misconceptions that students often demonstrate. Use this information to plan the content of your revision sessions.
At the end of each revision session, get students to carry out a task that will allow them to demonstrate what they have understood today e.g. write 3 facts about…..write a paragraph about…..answer this exam question…..define these terms….
Then have an honest discussion about what they have struggled with – and use this to inform your planning for next lesson.
Don’t just presume that revising a topic once will be enough – it won’t. In fact in order to embed things in our memory, we need to come across them at least 4 or 5 times. So, think of manageable ways to address this e.g. spend the first 5-10 minutes going back over topics that you revised a week or so ago – or re-do one of the tasks above, that they did at the end of the last lesson e.g. write 3 facts about…..write a paragraph about…..answer this exam question…..define these terms… This is likely to demonstrate to students that just because they could do something at the end of one lesson, it doesn’t mean that they have learnt it – they need to do it again and again.
Class time is limited, so use your homework time wisely:
- Exam question practice.
- Memorise knowledge for a given topic at home using knowledge organisers, and then test them at the start of the next lesson.
- A targeted revision activity, based on the strategies (above) that work e.g. summarise a piece of text into a table.
- Produce an ‘answer plan’ for an extended answer question at home, that they will then answer/review next lesson.