How to prepare for exams

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This is the time that teachers and hopefully students, may start thinking about ‘revision’. Whilst I think it is important to teach things well in the first place, planning revision for an exam is important. Students will have so much to remember, this strategy has been based on what research suggests might be beneficial in this process.

Please feel free to share this with students. There’s an assembly/tutorial powerpoint at the end for teachers to sue.


Preparation

  1. Get a copy of everything that you need to know. Divide it into small chunks – maybe one key concept/skill or 4-6 facts. If appropriate, a copy of the specification may be useful here. Examples of GCSE Edexcel Religious Studies Unit 1 & Unit 8.
  2. Get the date of your exam/s
    1. AQA
    2. OCR  
    3. Edexcel
    4. WJEC/Eduqas
    5. CIE
    6. CEA
  3. Print off a copy of a calendar that covers the time between now and the exam. Lots of templates here (choose one with writing room for each day). Put your exam/exams on the calendar on the correct date.

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Where you are now

  1. Take the copy of everything you need to know and rate it/highlight it with a colour based on the following:
    • If it were an exam question on a paper you did today, would you…
      • be able to answer it fully without any problems?
      • be able to answer some of it, but not all/could attempt an answer?
      • not be able to answer any of it/have no idea what it is?
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Example of RAG rated content

(Teachers – This can be done electronically so you can get a copy of this for your whole class. Example Google form HERE and example responses:

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The following will depend on how long you have until your exam. As per the example above, it is 138 days until the first exam so we will use this as an example:

RED – Decide if you need further help on this. If so, ask a teacher, friend, someone in class, online explanation etc  Once you’re clear on understanding…

Put these topics into your timetable with increasing gaps. Don’t do it every day. It is best to revise it giving time to forget in between. In this model you might re-cover them 4-6 times.

For example, if ‘Humans rights in the UK’ is red add it to your calendar and then from the first time you cover it leave 3 days, 7 days, 21 days, 50 days, 120 days. A rough guess would be that you could cover red topics 5 times before the exam but it depends on a) how long you have til the exam, b) how much content in total you have and c) how many subjects/exams you have.

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ORANGE – Do the same as the red but you may only need 2-3 repeats before the exam Remember to space them out with increasing gaps.

GREEN – Put these into your timetable 1-2 times before the exam. You don’t need to spend hours going over what you already know. Make sure you do know it 100%. If after the first revision you’re not sure. Make it orange and add some revisions to your calendar.

Add the topics to your timetable. They are 5-10 minute activities so if you work out how much time you have in each day, you can allocate in multiples of 5-10 minutes.

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REMEMBER – these will be short activities so can be done in many places. Don’t think you have to sit at a table for hours and hours to revise.

Where else could you do these?

  • On the bus on the way to school
  • During registration time
  • During study periods
  • Whilst the register is being taken (If nothing else given to do – check with teacher)
  • Waiting for a bus
  • At break/lunchtime
  • Sitting on the toilet?! In the bath?!

Choose an activity

These should be kept short (5-10 mins unless it’s a full essay practice). Reading/highlighting your notes is not a useful activity unless you do something with those notes afterwards. Examples of short activities:

  • Create a revision card/s for that ‘chunk’
  • Test yourself using your revision card/s (Don’t turn over until you’ve thought of the correct answer/s or you’re sure you don’t know them
  • Write an exam answer and answer in the time you’d have in the exam
  • Write a quiz on the topic
  • Do a quiz on the topic
  • Create a picture/info graphic that links the key ideas
  • Write 50 words to explain the topic/concept
  • Explain the topic/concept to someone else (then get them to ask you questions to further their understanding)

The best activity you can do will test your memory.  TEST TEST TEST. Then check for the correct answers.

Flexibility

Try and stick to your timetable. Ensure you timetable according to the time you have. Allocating 5 minutes to one topic activity on your birthday isn’t the end of the world. It doesn’t have to be hours every day. If you miss any topics ensure you add them to another day or if you realise you know a topic better than you’d initially recorded, reduce the repetitions.


 

HERE is a powerpoint that can be used in an assembly or school website or shared with students/parents.

Further revision ideas/blogs

 

 

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The Great 2016 Edu-twitter quiz 

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How much of an edu-twitter geek are you? Try our 2016 year of edu-twitter quiz…

In January, Ofsted posted a link to a set of videos that set to bust myths around inspections. What’s the name of the current Ofsted National Director who is active on twitter?

A. Ofsted? Ofsted? Why would I follow Ofsted?

B.  Don’t trust them.

C. @harfordsean Sean Harford

In February (actually it was January but it was still discussed beyond), which edu-tweeter & blogger posted a blog on his assembly on creationism following a debate about this tweet?

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A. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Leave them alone.

B. Well it includes evidence. That’s all people want on Twitter.

C. @Headguruteacher (Tom Sherrington)

 

March was the deadline for the TES awards nominations. Which twitter edu-blogger went on to win the Teacher Blogger award?

A. How do people have time to blog? All I do is plan and mark.

B. What’s a blog?

C. @nataliehscott Natalie Scott

In April, (it was March but there was already something happening in March) edu-twitter was discussing #postergate. What was it about?

A.  This is exactly why I’m not on twitter.

B. I love posters. I can put my feet up and watch the kids busy colouring in for an hour.

C. It questioned the learning value of students making posters

In May, as the most followed teacher on Twitter, @TeacherToolkit announced he had how many followers? 

A. The number of followers don’t matter. It’s quality not quantity.

B. It’s not about how many people follow you, it’s about how many you follow.

C. 135,000

In June, if Brexit had followed edu-Twitter, what would the outcome have been?

A. Either. As long as children are learning.

B. Leave.

C. Remain.

In July, #lunchgate caused much debate. What was it about?

A. Free meals for all primary students

B. A teacher shared a picture of their lunch

C. A newspaper published an article on a school that seemingly made a child eat their lunch away from the rest of the school due to an unpaid bill

In August, whilst most teachers were on school holidays,sitting on a beach or walking in the hills, some tweeters continued to argue about the prog/trad divide. What do this mean?

A. Clearly there’s not a simple dichotomy and anyone that argues there is is ‘diluded’

B. They’re saddos.

C. They are ways of teaching (traditional/progressive)


Some edu-tweeters spend time arguing debating research. In September, the 4th national ResearchEd conference took place. Which edu-twitter ‘czar’, along with Helene Galdin-O’Shea founded this movement?

A. Conferences on a Saturday? Get a life.

B. Czar? Another government initiative run by people who haven’t ever taught and know nothing about teaching……

C. Tom Bennett

In October, which long time blogger,echo chamber boss and infamous ‘filer’ celebrated his 10 year blogging anniversary?

A. He’s blocked me.

B. I don’t follow trads

C. @oldandrewuk

In November, Michaela School held a conference. One of their mantras was ‘Just tell ’em’. What does that mean?

A. Why were teachers in school on a Saturday, again?

B. Teachers should tell students which learning style they are.

C. Teachers should tell students what they need to know instead of making them find it out

In December, #Didau was popular. What happened?

A. Who knows? Who cares?

B. There was a campaign to support ginger teachers

C. David Didau was mysteriously removed by Twitter.



Mostly As

You’re clearly inadequate in the edu-Twitter sphere. Give up any normal life out of education, download the Twitter app, turn on notifications and follow the edu-twitter elite immediately.

Mostly Bs

Requires improvement. You’re not passionate enough about teaching and the benefits of Twitter. Get yourself following Tom Bennett ASAP and write a blog.

Mostly Cs

Outstanding. You’ll soon be ready for instant promotion to one of the national Multi Academy Trusts as a very important person. You’ll be asked to speak at a Saturday conferences. And finally, you will write an edu-book that all your followers will buy. Congratulations.

How I ‘mark’ regularly but I’m not a marking martyr 

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In case you’re interested, this is what I think and what I do.

Thoughts on where I think some schools/leaders/teachers go wrong:

  • Thinking more writing = more learning.
  • Every lesson, students must write X amount.
  • A teacher needs to write on a piece of work
  • ‘Teaching’ lessons to cover content is more important than reflecting, redrafting and improving on prior work/learning
  • Every piece of student writing has to be marked in the same way to the same depth
  • All student work (including homework) must result in some sort of recordable result
  • Conflating marking with assessment/reading work/feedback
  • Having the same policy for all subjects including frequency and methods
  • Believing the colour of pens matter beyond being different colours

My classes

To give some context I teach 18 classes. 3 are GCSE groups, the rest are core RE with lessons ranging from 1-3 times a fortnight. They use 3 different formats for their work: GCSE use folders, KS3 core have A4 books and KS4 core use paper (usually A3 blank).

What I call ‘marking’ 

I also need to clarify my definition of ‘marking’ as many schools see this differently and I think this is where people’s claims of not marking may be explained.

Marking for me is divided into these main areas:

  1. Reading/looking at what a student has done compared to what I told/expected them to do.
  2. Checking any SPAG errors using the school notation system
  3. Looking at the ‘quality’ of their work based on the criteria of that work
  4. Notating work based on any of the above using pen, stampers or pre made criteria sheets
  5. Checking students have made improvements

Note it’s only number 4 that involves me making any sort of ‘mark’ on student work. Those that say they don’t mark student work are still doing 1-3 but don’t put their pen onto the students’ work. Anything that I ‘write’ for number 4 means that the student has something to do on the work the next time they see it.

I am of the firm belief that the most time spent on a piece of work should belong to the student, not the teacher.

I think that some people call number 5 ‘triple marking’ which is commonly vilified but I don’t re-mark the work, I check they’ve attempted improvements as per the expectation (this is for 7 of my 18 classes only). As I don’t stay at school for hours and hours and don’t bring marking home this isn’t onerous.

When I mark

I mark at any time I am sitting at a desk with nothing else that needs doing first. This includes before school, break, lunch and after school. I mark whilst students are working; either at my desk or I mark around the room as they are working. I also mark when students are watching a medium/long video clip.

I very rarely take marking home.

Why I mark

I have different reasons for marking, it depends on the class and piece of work:

  1. Checking they’ve done what I’ve asked
  2. Ensuring their books meet my high expectations including presentation, organisation & effort
  3. Checking for understanding
  4. Checking against set criteria
  5. Checking they’ve made improvements (links to 1-4)
  6. To show them that their work is important, that SPAG is important and to be proud of their work.

Our school policy means that I (RE) only mark work for all of these once a half term for core and twice a half term for GCSE.

How I mark

I use a pink pen first time of marking. I chose pink as it is bright and stands out; no deep psychological reason.

I use stampers that are mostly personalised. Contrary to some opinions it doesn’t take ages to find the right stamper; depending on the type of marking it is for, I know I only need certain stamps.

Types of marking

Depending on the work/class I will use different types of marking:

SPAG marking – using the school system (squiggle then CP/SP/GR/P) I check mainly for religious keywords and for common literacy errors e.g. There/their/they’re. I don’t correct any. I use the stamper and indicate there’s something for them to do. They just need to find the pink and change their work (ask someone else, use a dictionary, ask me, common words on board).

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Expectation marking – I check the student has done the thing I asked them to in the way I asked them to including presentation. If they haven’t I don’t write a long monologue that they will ignore. Either they get a message to come at the next break time to complete or  I keep their work separate and at the start of the next lesson I speak to them about expectations and make them do it then. I know that I’ve done this by using the stamp below; no comments, no time spent writing. They also know that I’ve read their work and it’s OK. It’s not for anyone else.

Homework marking

Homework marking is restricted to certain activities. Key stage 3 students are given an Attitude to Homework number (1-4) based on set criteria. The lesson it’s due in, I give out red pens (to stand out) and they write “I think my A to HW is __ because…..” they must then use the criteria to justify their level. I then check their work that they’ve accurately justified their number and use this stamper by writing the number in the centre.

They then put this number in their HW tracker at the start of their books. This means when I write their report with an A to HW number all I need do is look at the tracker rather than go through their entire book.

Key stage 4 core aren’t given homework. GCSE are given homework once a week. This will either be learning keywords which are then tested weekly in class and peer marked (no marking for me), writing multiple choice questions (using the stamp above; they either wrote the questions as asked or they didn’t) or online quizzes that self mark (no marking for me).

Note marking – they write these independently. I check that all is accurate and spelt correctly. No comment, no grades just a stamper…

Criteria/skills marking – when students complete longer pieces of work that are designed to show their knowledge, understanding of the topic and to show their written skills I use criteria. This is always evolving and we are particularly tweaking things as we understand them for the new GCSEs. I won’t claim we have KS3 sorted but I am proud that we haven’t rehashed levels but focused on key skills students need to write about religion. The most that this marking is, is ticking boxes and an additional question/task for students to improvement their work.

For exams I only ever use stampers and the criteria sheets. Once students are used to the system I don’t even fill out the sheets, they do. I then tell them a couple of things to improve on.

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GCSE tick sheets

 

 

 

 

 

 

No marking – at KS3 students do a multiple choice quiz 3 times per topic; at the start, middle and end. It’s marked online. We just record their score.

GCSE have regular quizzes from current and previous topics in an interleaved style. They’re all marked online. All I have to do is check they’ve done them.


Once I’ve marked…

Students use green pens to improve all the SPAG and respond to any pink. Green, so I can see they’ve improved their work.

If I am checking improvements and something isn’t done I start to get annoyed with students so I put a ‘tab’ on their  work. My expectation is that every single occurrence of pink will be followed with some sort of correction/addition by the students. I’m not wasting my time marking their work for them to do nothing about it. As far as possible I challenge students to ensure everything in their book is perfect. My students often comment how proud they are of their books. I promote the importance of presentation, pride and value of their work and I expect them to gradually take responsibility for this.

My strategies for managing the workload

  • Don’t make students write for the sake of writing. Keep it to a minimum except for focus pieces.
  • Do it as soon as possible; I don’t let marking stack up
  • Decide which type of marking the work needs and don’t do anything more than needed
  • My students don’t take books/folders home. It means I can always mark a set and  have a full set of work.
  • Use paper for homework/assessed pieces. A pile of 30 pieces of paper is much more manageable than a huge pile of 30 books
  • Go in ‘harsh’ with new classes to set the expectation early. They  soon get sick of coming in at break to underline a title…..
  • I rarely write a comment on work. If I do it’s specific. Anyone who writes ‘Good work’ or ‘This is fantastic’ is wasting their own time and is probably the type of person that moans about having so much marking to do.

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I do all of this because I think it is what is best for the students and for me. If I can see something is wasting time I won’t do it. I’m always looking for ways to keep things focused on learning not on what things look like for other people.

Most importantly this system is manageable and meaningful but it’s not perfect; it can always be tweaked to save time and contribute more efficiently to learning.

Don’t waste time on cross curricular projects or wedging in other subjects into your lessons

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Several times in my career I’ve been told that subjects need to work together to make projects that are cross curricular; that include aspects from many subjects under one title, such as ‘water’. Teachers then spend valuable time squeezing in their curriculum content to match this topic.

Or teachers are told they must plan for numeracy and literacy in their lessons. On teaching forums teachers are spending valuable planning time looking for ‘ideas’ on how to wedge in some maths into their current scheme or find a poem that links to their topic.

I think this is all superficial nonsense and wastes teacher time. Instead, subject teachers should be spending time planning a deep and rich scheme of learning that ensures students get as much as a ‘full view’ of a topic as possible in order for them to fully understand the wider context of what they are learning.
My current year 8 scheme has been on Hinduism. We keep things simple but try to go into depth rather than covering every aspect of Hinduism. Throughout they have learnt about some of the key concepts of Hinduism that continue to be applied as we look at different aspects of belief and practice. For example, once they understand the concept of rebirth, samsara and its connection to Brahman they then could understand the importance of the burning ghats at Varanasi, the ashramas, why someone may become a Sadhu and how Gandhi lived his life.

At no point did I plan to cover any cross curricular content but as I reflect on the term’s learning I can see that my students have had a sound introduction to Hindu beliefs and practices, and a good scattering of general knowledge that supports its context. The amount will vary depending on the topic but that’s not a problem. Here are some of the things they’ve learnt that you might argue aren’t RE but without them their depth of understanding might be limited:

History/Politics/Law– partition of India & Pakistan, Caste system & impact on society in India, the Amritsar massacre, the British Raj, peaceful protest (Gandhi), laws that changed South Africa/India

Geography – the location of India, poverty in India, the social class divide, the size of the country, the Indus River & civilisation, the river Ganges, Varanasi, living conditions

Sociology – class systems, social equality, the education system, free health service here compared to India

Literacy – spellings, introduction of new vocabulary including their etymology e.g Barrister, monotheism, polytheism

Language – Sanskrit (break down of the meaning of Ahimsa), Ohm, derivation of Hindu from Indus, new subject vocabulary

Numeracy – understanding different currency and exchange rates, converting rupees to pounds, dates, links to mathematical language ‘tri’murti, monotheism, polytheism,

SMSC/PSHE – different lifestyles, class, poverty, racism, how we behave in our lives, responsibilities, relationships, the NHS, how we treat others…..


All of this will provide a good foundation when they go on to study Sikhism so they understand the context in which it developed and further into the year, Buddhism, where some of these concepts are similar  but different, giving a foundation to contrast.

But I didn’t spend hours deliberately planning this all to occur and I certainly didn’t spend more time teaching ‘other subjects’ in my lessons. These aren’t even specifically highlighted in our schemes. All of this was needed for students to develop their knowledge and understanding of Hinduism. I didn’t need to spend time with any other departments to do this. It’s all part of what students need to know. I’m not sure how you could have taught the topic without referencing these things.

Don’t get teachers planning cross curricular topics or wedging in ideas, get them planning their own subject in detail and it should come naturally.