Revision in Secondary schools is usually perceived as something that is either done before a test or towards the end of year 11. Both of these can be considered as cramming or ‘massed practice’; doing all the revision at one time. Annoyingly, it does has an effect on results and it’s this last minute ‘hit’ that people attribute to success in exams.
I have argued for a long time that we need to ditch this idea and teach well from day 1. I have blogged on this here but essentially it means that subject material is reviewed and tested on from day 1, in order to remember things long term. This is known as ‘spaced’ or ‘distributed’ practice. Research suggests that this far outweighs massed practice yet schools around the country continue to spend hours in teacher’s lunch times, after school and holidays to complete massed practice. Safe in the knowledge it will make a difference.
I strongly believe that telling the majority of students to do this themselves is nonsense. Telling students to ‘revise’ is as effective as telling children to ‘behave’ ; they can’t, they need structures and modelling. Most adults wouldn’t have the discipline to organise it. We need to do it for the students, whilst modelling it for them to do independently. Which leads me to our current trial…..
Independent retrieval practice
I think we’re probably now sorted on doing everything we can in GCSE RS including curriculum design, the things we do in lessons and how we structure the homework to ensure that retrieval is distributed. This alone will have impact. However we also want students to do some of this themselves, so we are in the process of setting up a system for independent retrieval practice.
Retrieval checklist card
These cards will be issued to GCSE students from year 9. They have the specification (and more) on them and then a set of possible tasks to complete that require retrieval or processing of content.
We will probably add to these cards the page number for each topic. They then can go to the page and read the content and/or read their own notes. However this isn’t enough, they must process it in some way. We will make suggestions, for example create a mindmap or bullet notes.
They will need to quiz themselves. This will mostly be using our in house created quizzes which are online marked on google forms. They access these via our subject website. If not they can also use Seneca Learning as it specifically has AQA GCSE.
These are GCSE exam questions. They need to complete a question on the topic. This helps them to transfers the knowledge into a specific type of skilled question.
There will be several ways to access exam questions. The revision guides have suggested exam questions for each topic on each page. Secondly, we will have an exam questions area in classrooms where they can come and take a paper which has several optional questions on it for that topic, and choose one to complete. Finally, we have these questions on our subject website.
I think students will need some accountability on these. What stops them from just ticking everything? Firstly, we will be very clear that the reward here is learning itself. Extrinsic rewards can undermine learning.
If they complete a quiz I get an email. We can then sign the card if needed. If they complete an exam question we can mark it and check the card. If they create notes from reading+ we can check these. I think we’ll give them a small retrieval exercise book to use to keep these safe.
It will be light touch. A public ‘well done’ or an email home is all it takes. This is supposed to be independent and not create much work for us teachers. We’re supporting their independence and self-regulation. We need to praise completion for the sole reason it will benefit them and the reward will be on results day and well beyond. This structure can be used beyond their time with us. If we show them the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, they can use these strategies in all further study.
The year 9 card will have highlighted the topics we cover in year 9 so they can focus on those. They also will only have certain exam questions covered in year 9 so their card won’t have them all.
This will increase with the year 10 card and finally the year 11 card is everything.
I’m adamant we will not be running Year 11 ‘revision’ sessions; these are often just re-teaching with pizza. However we will provide students the space needed for this independent study. Thursday and Friday lunchtimes they can come to a quiet room, with their lunch and choose to do any of these or their RS homework.
However this isn’t just for year 11, it’s for all GCSE students. They need to realise it starts from day one. This is a structured system from the start of their GCSE study. We need them to understand that the best learning happens over time. We need them to appreciate that every single lesson counts, so does homework. We’ve put in retrieval for them and now it’s time for them to try it out themselves.
So this is our trial. We will tweak the cards etc as we go along. We will ask the students what works and what doesn’t. All we need now is a name for it. Independent revision? Retrieval practice? Suggestions welcome.