Evaluation of 2 years quizzing, testing & learning

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Today I asked my year 11s about their learning over the past two years. They’ve finished their GCSE religious studies exams so we’re now awaiting the results (which are issued towards the end of August).

I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing with them for two years and their perceptions of how this may have contributed to their learning. Apologies to the real researchers out there, this is what I call reflective research; no control groups, no scientific processes, no effect sizes, just a teacher trying stuff out and trying to find out if it works.(And a questionnaire I wrote in 5 minutes at break time!)

I have already blogged on the strategies I’ve been using .

Keyword quizzes

My group actually asked if we could increase these towards the end of year 10. So one week we do the current topic’s words and the alternate week we do a random mix of some of the previous topics. They have had these throughout year 11.

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Conclusions

The students could see the benefits of the tests very quickly and were reflective enough to ask for more. In the past students have told me they are boring but necessary, none have said this this time. They could also see how those that hadn’t done these quizzes were at a disadvantage. They could see that these quizzes supported their long term memory. One student said to me ‘ If you asked me these keywords in a year’s time I think I’d remember them all, that’s not true for all my subjects’.

I have and will continue to use the keyword quizzes.

‘Revision’ lessons

In my rush I forgot to add questions about the specially designed revision lessons that I did with them. I have previously blogged on what the structure of these were here. My questions about revision were to find out what impact these may have had but because I didn’t specifically ask about the class sessions only a couple of them mentioned them.

Did you feel prepared for your exam? Why?

Yes because we practised a lot in class

Yes especially from all the revision in all our lessons before exams

Yes because we had looked at past papers

Yes I did because we had done so much revision

Yes because we did a lot of revision in class meaning I felt more prepared than I would if we didn’t

Yes because of the work over the 2 years and revision

Conclusions

Students have told me that the structured revision classes really helped. I saw this myself when students answered questions in their 2nd mock with confidence that previously I don’t think would have.

In the past I’ve been sceptical about ‘revision’ classes and totally disagree with holiday classes but I will definitely be using this system again. I think that this is part of the long term learning process and have since read some research that says whizzing through all topics at the end of the learning period is a benefit to learning.

Mixed testing

Previously ( mainly due to circumstances) I only tested on the last topic that students had studied. For this class I changed to this model:

interleaving

It meant much more marking but forced students to recall from previous topics. I didn’t ask students about this in the questionnaire ( another reason not to do it last minute!) but I feel it has benefited them. When their results come out I will analyse each unit and see how they do in each topic to see if there are any patterns. The students have told me they found it useful so I am continuing this, this year.

Revision is learning

I really want to train students to understand that revision isn’t something you leave to the end of a course but something that is done throughout to help embed their learning into long term memory.

I asked them “Did you feel that you progressed between year 10 and year 11? Why?”

Yes because I became better at doing questions and remembering things

Yes because my knowledge grew further

Yes as I felt confident with the topics

Conclusions

I think the strategies used are based on developing confidence. I admittedly teach to the test but as part of an overall strategy to embed good habits for learning. I hope my students will go on in their education and be able to use,not just the subject knowledge and skills, but the learning and revision strategies I’ve shown them.

Of course, this may all be nonsense when the results come out but I truly believe these strategies have impacted their learning for the better.

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It’s too late….

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If students are telling you they ‘don’t know anything’ and it’s just before the exam, something has gone wrong. There’s only one thing for it, cramming. 

But if students are saying this, might it be a good idea to consider why it is that they’ve sat in your classroom for 2 years and remember nothing? 

Just think, current year 10 is next year’s year 11. Current year 7 is year 11 in four years.

 Forget progress in 20 minutes, we can all play that game. 

How about some long term learning? 

What are you doing as a teacher, leader, manager to ensure that children are really learning?

Maybe it’s time to change what you’ve always done and do something that ensures last minute cramming isn’t needed.

Why RE teachers should not tell students their religion

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I’ve discussed this with many colleagues before but for some reason never blogged. I have a clear view on this which refers to non-faith schools. There’s a real divide on this amongst teachers so I’m well aware that people will disagree.

Reasons why we shouldn’t tell students our religion

1.RE is the study of religions

It’s not about the teacher or the students in the room as such. It’s an academic study of religions. Don’t confuse it with SMSC which all subjects have a responsibility to develop. The old GCSEs have blurred this boundary by asking students their opinion or religious views on moral issues. Studying religions is about taking account of different interpretations of beliefs & teachings and critiquing them. Are all teachers able to do this when they’ve clearly stated their own position? (whether you agree or not I have experienced this many times over my career, I can admit I’m biased in my teaching, is it realistic to think everyone isn’t?)

2.Students/parents may accuse you of bias

If they know what religion you are, then when you teach that religion there is more chance they will then question your neutrality in your teaching. In challenging circumstances it will be used against you. Again I’ve seen it happen many times.

3. It’s not needed

Decent RE happens without it. RE isn’t ‘better’ for a teacher sharing their beliefs.

4. You’re one example

Regardless of looking at other denominations/schools, they will associate you as representative of that religion. Is that what is needed in an RE classroom?

5. You can share your view without telling them it’s yours

Most of my lessons I use ‘I’ but I’m referring to whichever religion I’m teaching. For example “If I had to pray five times a day what might be difficult?”. If you feel your view on something adds to the content it doesn’t have to be identified as your view but can still be included.

6. The mystery helps dispel stereotyping

I’m a white, British, female teacher teaching RE. I tell them I could be any of the religions we study. It helps them to understand that members of religions don’t look one way or another or come from one place or another. It helps to dispel stereotypes, especially in my context.

7. We’re role models

Some students struggle to separate us being role models of behaviour & attitude with what we believe. In younger years they may lack the critical thinking skills to be able to understand that what a teacher says they believe in terms of religion is a personal opinion and a choice, not a ‘fact’.

Responses to counter arguments

1.”If I’m asking them to say what they believe I should be prepared to say what I believe”

We need to move away from RE being what students think about things. It’s an academic subject that requires academic critical thinking skills. This involves looking at different arguments. Developing these skills is far more important than sharing our own views. I rarely ask a student directly what they believe. I ask for possible opinions and interpretations but certainly don’t openly ask them in class if they have a religion or believe in God. It’s really not necessary.

2.”It’s dishonest”

Really?!

My RE colleague Neil McKain has written a response to my thoughts. Read it here and join the discussion on Twitter and SAVE RE.

Teaching RE: back to the basics of text & interpretation

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My teaching in RE has mostly been trying to squeeze in all the ‘stuff’ in a limited amount of time. I’ve taught short course GCSE on one lesson a fortnight; you don’t have time to do anything other than skim learn. This leads to teaching superficially in teaching the what and how but not the why. (See my other recent post for how this links to our own teacher practice)

Now two things have changed. I am blessed to work in a school that values RE and gives it a great amount of time on the timetable and the new GCSE specifications are starting. Both of these have changed the way I’m teaching RE.

Using texts

If we really want to get down to the core beliefs and reasoning behind religious practices time needs to be spent on the original texts. In key stage 3 I’ve begun to collate appropriate quotes from holy texts that link to the topic.

For example, whilst studying Sikhism I’ve presented students with references from the Guru Granth Sahib that link to our work on equality. We spend a lesson going through them and working out what they mean. I often start with simpler texts to interpret and go on to more complex texts.

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The fascinating thing is that some of my lower attaining students have been able to interpret them much more easily than others. One girl in particular just rewords the text and seems to grasp them so quickly. It’s a real strength yet she struggles with her written work. She loves it.

I’ve also bought a set of Qur’ans. I felt that if students at GCSE are to engage with Islam at a deeper level then they should have direct access to the text itself. I haven’t used them yet. I want to set out a protocol for them and indeed Bible usage so students have a set routine.

Using quotes and references to texts are also part of our key stage 3 assessment skills. Encouraging students to engage with this from the start of year 7 will make GCSE much smoother.

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This student hadn’t used textual sources initially but then added a relevant quote & explained it.

 

Asking a believer

I work in a mainly mono-faith, mono-ethnic area. Students rarely engage with people with faith or at least those that aren’t Christian. I really need to get them engaging with believers to see how they interpret their own religion. So, I’ve tried to use social media to collect real views of believers relating to the topic we’re studying. I’ve asked people for short clips and quotes and the response has been fantastic.

For our studies on the Jewish mitzvot we had a Rabbi  create a video of how the mitzvot are kept in his house and two RE teachers explained what the mitzvot mean to them.

Last week I asked for Muslim colleagues to share why Muhammad is important to them. The response was immense and I now have a fantastic resource to use with the students.

The beauty of these is that these are each individual’s interpretations and therefore they differ. It’s easy to teach students one common interpretation but this variety gives students the chance to engage with real life differences.

It also makes religion and believers come alive to students. It’s not from a book but it’s from people I know, other teachers, people who live in the same country as them; it is no longer ‘otherness’ it’s ‘us’.

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Examples of colleagues explaining what Muhammad means to them