Effective Revision Strategies

picture1 led the 15 Minute Forum tonight, as a late replacement, for a member of staff who was ironically leading a Year 11 Revision session. The focus of the session was to share some effective revision strategies which could be used by teachers with their students.

I wanted to start by actually thinking about the word ‘revision’. During my teaching career, revision has always been the word to use when students reach the end of a course or the end of a topic. A quick Google search led to the following definitions of the word revision:

  • to correct faults and make improvements in (a book etc)
  • to study one’s previous work, notes etc in preparation for an examination etc
  • the act of rewriting something

However, should this only happen at the end of a two-year cycle? Actually, what we should be thinking about is reviewing students’ knowledge and understanding on a regular basis. The same quick Google search led to the following definitions:

  • to look over, study, or examine again
  • to look over, study, or examine again
  • to go over or restudy material

In essence, the same meaning, but when I use the word reviewing students see this as a more frequent episode rather than revision at the end of the course.

As a school, we are basing our exam preparation programme around the work of the Learning Scientists and particularly their ‘Six Strategies for Effective Learning’. 1479145004517Each of these strategies have supporting evidence from cognitive psychology to prove that they do help students learn and more information about each strategy can be found here. However, I wanted to focus on techniques that teachers could use within their own teaching, but link them to one of the six strategies.

I started by thinking about ‘elaboration’ and ‘retrieval practice’. This involves providing ways for our students to explain and expand upon their ideas, but also supporting them with practice to bring information into their short-term working memory. I suggested the following:

  • Low stakes quizzes – start your lesson with a quiz which reviews the previous lesson, last weeks’ lesson and last months’ lesson. This helps students to retrieve key facts, figures or vocabulary without the pressure and anxiety of a formal assessment. It also allows teachers the opportunity to probe students’ knowledge further by asking questions which force students to expand upon a one-word answer.
  • Use past exam papers – allow your students to see and practice as many past papers as possible. However, ensure that this is done under timed conditions as much as possible. Again, this helps students retrieve information as they have to think about their answer and make links between different lessons. Importantly, you are also able to complete some meta-cognition with your students, by identifying how students should be answering the question. When you finish, always share the mark scheme – but unpick it with the students. Students need to know how they should write their answer as well as what they should include.
  • Did you get 100%? If not, why not? – If students got an answer wrong do they know why? If they don’t know why something is wrong, then they will not be able to improve their answer on the next attempt. Always ask students to explain why they didn’t get 4/4 on a question, once you have shared the mark scheme with them and then write a full-mark answer.

A second key aspect of reviewing topics or content is using memory aids. This links to the Learning Scientists’ idea of dual coding. Essentially, this is a way of combining words and visuals or representing writing in a different way. picture3Within  my subject (Geography), we have developed a strategy of using case study diagrams to help provide a stimulus for students to remember large amounts of information. However, this can also be achieved through the use of timelines or mnemonics. The key to this approach is that students’ thinking is stimulated by a small amount of information. Through their thinking and elaboration students are then able to expand upon their ideas, make links between concepts and produce a much better answer.

This links into the idea of summarising information, or breaking down large amounts of information into manageable chunks. Mind-maps are a very useful method of summarising whole topics onto one A4 sheet of paper. However, an important teaching point is to always ask questions as the students complete their mind-map.

  • Do students understand why one image links to another?
  • Are students able to explain why one aspect is joined to another aspect?
  • Can students explain why you have started a different strand on the mind-map?

If students are able to answer these questions then they are able to recall the information but also understand the different elements of the topic.

The final part of the session focussed on some more practical aspects of reviewing/revision. The first one was timing; always start the reviewing early. picture4As I mentioned at the start of this blog, reviewing should be an on-going process. It can take place daily, weekly and monthly not just at the end of a topic or two-year cycle and could take the form of a ‘Pause’ lesson. Repetition is vital if students are to become confident and secure in their knowledge and understanding. It is important to remember that a student may achieve full marks in one week, but may not achieve the same amount of marks on the same test, three weeks later. Forgetting is an important aspect of learning, which links to the work of Daniel Willingham and his work on improving students’ memory. It is also important to consider the order that you review things in. I like to review topics in a different order to that which I have originally taught them in. This helps to strengthen students’ understanding as they have to explain links to previous concepts and think harder about their knowledge.

I think it is important that we consider an approach to reviewing knowledge that allows students to recall information quickly and effectively. However, this will only become second-nature to our students if we utilise a range of approaches and above all repeat, repeat, repeat with our students.

Posted by Martyn Simmonds

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