Tomorrow will mark 42 school days until the first GCSE exam for our current Year 11 cohort. They will have an extended assembly promoting the importance of this period, receive a study skills booklet, a revision programme and a magnet (to easily display the revision schedule on their fridge). However since last year, we have reviewed our revision package for Year 11 in an attempt to make it more effective and sustainable for students and staff.
The key question is “Are lots of extra revision sessions beneficial?”
The immediate answer to this is yes…
There is an increasing amount of evidence to support the importance of students revisiting material. The work of Daniel Willingham has shown how students need to transfer information from their working memory to their long-term memory to enable this information to be retrieved at a later date, rather than be forgotten. Once this information has been stored, a schema can be used to easily retrieve this information. This would take the form of revision sessions, using a range of activities and questions to retrieve the information from the student’s long-term memory.
The work of the Learning Scientists has also shown how a range of strategies can be used to retrieve information from student’s memories. The six strategies suggested by the Learning Scientists are embedded in cognitive science and are easily adapted to a classroom context. The concept of retrieval practice uses exam questions and flashcards to test a student’s knowledge, whilst elaboration encourages students to explain and apply their knowledge in different contexts. All of which would take place in revision sessions in the build up to a student’s GCSE exams.
However, should all of this take place in extra revision sessions?
The problem with extra revision sessions is that they place huge pressures and strains on staff and students. In previous years, Curriculum Leaders have been asked to offer revision sessions for Year 11 students. However, the majority of our students will be taking GCSE exams in 9 subjects so it is impossible for them to attend a revision session in each subject each week after school. This led to many subjects being forced to run revision sessions on more than one day, before school or during lunch times. This was problematic for both staff and students:
- would be forced to choose which subjects to attend;
- would prioritise subjects that they viewed as important to the detriment of others;
- would be able to have a ‘fall back’ option of a different revision session if they didn’t want to attend on that day – often leading to the students not attending at all;
- would be under huge strains by starting their day at 8 a.m. with a revision session, completing 5 hours of lessons, attending revision sessions at lunch and after school and then doing their own revision at home.
- would feel that if they attended lots of revision sessions then they would not need to do any extra work at home.
- would be holding revision sessions on several days during the week;
- would be starting their teaching day earlier or finishing later;
- would be forced to compete with other teachers/subjects;
- would feel disengaged when only a handful of students attended.
Therefore, instead of this free for all approach, we have decided to approach the Year 11 revision programme differently.
Each subject has reserved one after-school session per fortnight. The core subjects have a separate day each, whilst the option subjects have been grouped so that only a handful of students would face clashes. We believe that this will be beneficial because:
- Curriculum leaders will be able to use all of their teachers on one day and provide a range of revision groups – such as A/A* or moving to a C.
- This will enhance and improve the quality of the provision that subjects can offer.
- The number of students in each group will be smaller and therefore a more bespoke revision session can take place.
- Intervention strategies for underachieving students can be used effectively for specific subjects with specific teachers.
- Students will not be forced to choose which subject they should attend and are able to prioritise the subjects where they need extra support.
- Students will know that each subject will only be offering extra revision on one day and therefore will need to be more responsible for attending that session.
- Students will be expected to be more independent in their revision, and not rely on their teachers all of the time.
The added advantage of this revision timetable is that there are extended gaps between each subject revision session. This links to Dunlosky’s research where he highlighted the benefits of distributed practice. The concept of spacing out a student’s revision has been shown to be highly effective in boosting student’s memory and performance in assessments.
The importance of these extra sessions is to provide support for those students who need enhanced provision to achieve the best possible outcomes. The focus of our day-by-day revision programme will be on high quality first teaching in every lesson. Many of our subjects have already developed a curriculum which is interleaved, so our students have had regular retrieval practice of topics and material from the beginning of Year 10. In addition, regular low-stakes quizzes are embedded into lessons and through questioning students are challenged to elaborate on their answers. Therefore, our Year 11 students have been involved in a revision programme for many months in their lessons and will continue to complete revision in their lessons over the next few months. A fundamental message will be that high levels of effort in lessons and with homework tasks is more important that attending lots of extra sessions.
What will happen in our Year 11 revision programme?
These three research informed strategies will definitely be happening in our Year 11 revision programme:
- low stakes quizzing – using flashcards, memory apps such as Ankiapp, or simply a set of 5-10 questions at the beginning of the lesson, so that students transfer as much information as possible from their long-term memory to their working memory;
- practice testing – exposing the students to as many types and styles of exam questions as possible, so that they become familiar with the expectations of the exams;
- elaboration through questioning – asking the students ‘why’ something is the right answer, so that they have to explain their thinking to develop their understanding.
…and three activities which will definitely not be happening, as Dunlosky’s research shows that they are ineffective:
- summarising notes
- highlighting and underlining
- just rereading notes (with no follow-up activity)
42 school days may appear as worryingly close, however we want to maximise the potential of these days without overloading our students and increasing their (and our staffs’) anxiety levels. Actually, we are viewing the 42 school days as a final push with Year 11 to build upon and enhance the revision that has already taken place, rather than a desperate cramming session.
Posted by Martyn Simmonds