Ditch revision. Teach it well.

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Today during my form time silent reading I read this .

It’s not the first thing I’ve read about spaced learning or interleaving but it got me thinking again about how subjects structure their GCSE course.

Option 1 – Should we race through content to leave lots of time for ‘revision’?

Or Option 2 – take time over topics with little/no time for revision?

Or Option 3 – plan the content following the spaced learning model?

I’ve long been a hater of the word ‘revision’, mostly because it usually means ‘groans’ from students and doing extra work e.g extra revision session after school or God forbid in the holidays. 

Most teachers and students don’t actually know what effective revision is and people confuse learning something you didn’t know with going over something you already know; both seemed to be classed as ‘revision’.

If you as a teacher are relying on a student doing a large amount of ‘revising’ to remember things are you doing them a disservice in now you’ve taught them?

Why don’t we ditch revision and focus on embedding learning in a more logical, structured way? And if you think that option 3 would take longer than the other two options, might this prove otherwise?

I know that there are teachers/schools that are working on a spaced learning model and those that ban all ‘revision’ sessions out of lesson time but reading this has reminded me of how effective it might be to choose option 3. 

In particular this diagram was interesting: 

It made me think about the length of the gap to leave between the spacing. The forgetting curve (Ebbinghaus 1885) that has been shared many times shows how repetition early on impacts memory but this reminds us that widely spaced repetition is also important;getting students to recall in the next couple of lessons and then using widely spaced repetition in a longer time frame.

This is the time of year where leaders and year 11 teachers suddenly start to feel an urgency around year 11s’ learning. But is it actually too late? Revision sessions that ‘catch up’ to learn unlearnt content may be a waste of time. The best use of time would be to ‘test test test’ but for some it’s not seen as revision. Too many people don’t check the learning at the point something is taught; leaving it to the last couple of months probably won’t work. 

This model (option 3) requires the hard work to be done throughout key stage 4. What are you doing NOW for year 9/10 GCSE students that means they can remember, long term? Do you know what they remember since September? 

So, if we design our GCSE course to the greatest benefit for long term memory, can we ditch anything ever referred to as ‘revision’ including Easter revision and ‘catch up sessions’ and just call it ‘effective learning’? Or is your school too scared not to do these things?  There’s a fine line focussing on real learning and focussing on making ourselves feel better by ‘doing’ something.

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8 thoughts on “Ditch revision. Teach it well.

  1. Thanks for this post. I think the problem with ‘revision’ is that often it’s not revision but first- time learning which didn’t happen in the original lessons. Working towards more time for AfL, then revision time later to reinforce, extend and practice helps enormously.

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