A Guide to Excellent Revision

Revising Effectively

“Little Jimmy just isn’t good at revision…”

In an ideal world, we would plan a sequence of lessons, teach it according to the plan, encourage lots of revision and then little Jimmy would demonstrate every last thing you’ve taught him when it came to the examination. Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world and for many reasons we purposefully deviate from our initial plans. Add to this the fact that Jimmy is burdened with huge volumes of information to recall, analyse and evaluate. There’s also a good chance he isn’t doing any independent learning at home. Critically, Jimmy just does not seem to “test well”, even when under less formal conditions he demonstrates deep understanding and applies skills effectively. Houston, we have a revision problem! But is there a solution?

Below I’ve identified the four key factors , in my own teaching experience, which have had the most significant positive impact on revision and consequently on examination success

1. Prioritise key topics 

In any given exam, the question setters want the candidates to demonstrate mastery of particular topics and skills. The questions they have asked in the past are usually* a good guide to what they will expect students to know in the future, so plan accordingly. If for example, an examination board had set out eight topics for students to learn but had only asked questions about seven of them so far, then that might be a trigger to focus particularly on the only unexamined topic as a priority. So, throughout your sequence of lessons, ensure you give extra time to topics/skills that:

  • Cross over into a number of different examination questions
  • Look like they are more likely to come up this time
  • Previous students have struggled with in past examinations.

*Warning: trying to guess the questions in advance is a risky strategy. Sometimes it pays dividends, but it can also lead to damaging outcomes if content is not also revised thoroughly.

2. How to not run out of time 

Timing in examinations is frequently used by students as a reason for underperformance. However in the majority of cases that I’ve witnessed, it doesn’t really stand up to any level of scrutiny. Most of the students who cite “timing” as the reason for not finishing a paper actually spent a lot of their time in the exam writing nothing, because they were struggling to recall information. This is not a timing issue, but a memory issue.

3 methods for memorising key pieces of content include:

  • Peer Q&A – students pair up and test each other using quickfire questions
  • Cue cards – on one side students write out 3-5 bullet points summarising a topic. They do this for a number of topics, then hand them over to someone else, who will test their memory of the key bullet points.
  • Jigsaws – students create a 3×3 grid. On one side of each line, they write out a statement, keyword, case study, scholar, quote, etc. On the other side of each line, they write out a corresponding statement, definition, case study conclusion, theory name, etc. On the outer parts of the grid they can write down some red herrings, so that when it has all been cut out, they will find completing the grid more of a challenge. The higher the level of challenge, the more active the brain will be and consequently the more likely that students will be able to recall the information quickly enough.
Jigsaw Grid (Christian attitudes towards abortion and euthanasia)

3. Practise, practise, practise

Usain Bolt is the 100m world record holder. How did he become this? Clue: he didn’t just spend all of his time reading about running, drawing diagrams about running, creating calendars about when he will run in the future and watching other people run. He practised running. Over and over and over and over. Bolt knew that in order to ensure success on the day when it counted the most, he would have to work just as hard on days when it (seemed like it) counted the least. He will have “failed”, by his own standards, on so many of those practise runs that it would make many runners give up. However, he just saw these failures as another way not to do things on race day. Gradually, he cut out these mistakes and by the end of his training, he didn’t make errors anymore. He trained hard so that the race would be easy. Many of his competitors will have trained easy, but predictably their race was too hard. Students must approach their revision for examinations in exactly the same way.

4. Routine

Top performers in all professions have something in common. They typically have a morning routine during their training, which doesn’t change on the day when they need to perform under pressure at the highest level. This is true for athletes, politicians, soldiers, singers, entrepreneurs, actors, etc, etc.

Far in advance of the examination, give students an opportunity to reflect on their own morning routine and to evaluate its advantages and disadvantages with regards to their performance later in the day. Having students do this on a regular basis will help them find their own routine which works for them. Once they find their routine, encourage students to stick to it as closely as possible, particularly on the day of their examination.

In my own experience, students have benefited from this as they approach examination day. Fear of the unknown is the worst of all. But if we can our get students to reflect about every minute of their day, then some of that fear will dissipate. Some students might even see examination day as just a normal day like any other. After all, they aren’t doing anything differently.

Please share this post with other teachers – this is the “business end” of the academic year and we all need all the help we can get!

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There’s no “I” in iPad

iPad

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Students love using technology in the classroom. Not just because an iPad makes a change from pens and paper and not because it’s “less work” than other traditional methods. They enjoy using an iPad, or other technology because it’s what they do outside of the classroom – they are “digital natives”. Student use iPads, apps, video streaming, social media, etc, 24/7. They know within seconds that a sports star has signed a new contract, that a spoiler for a film has gone public, or that a celebrity has just been photographed doing something exciting.

Students receive the information, evaluate whether they like it or not, share it with others and comment on vital pieces of that information at length. Media outlets and tech companies are streets ahead of many schools in the way they deliver content. If we want to increase engagement and demonstrate relevance to our students, then we must find a vehicle for content delivery that is just as immersive as the student experience beyond the classroom.

To some teachers, this thought can be daunting. Particularly for those who aren’t too tech-savvy. But if you are already reading this blog (and hopefully signed up to the email subscription!) then I’m probably preaching to the choir. There are devices and apps for everything you can imagine, with more and more being released every week.

Online Collaboration

Here is a practical guide to using iPad apps, to enhance your existing teaching methods.

1. Content Delivery

YouTube: Film an explanation or demonstration. Students can use this to learn key information at the beginning of a topic, revise for a test, evaluate their own work or the work of others. May require more than one take – but fantastic as a permanent revision resource for students to use at home!

Explain Everything: Copy text and images into the templates in the Explain Everything iPad app and let it create an animated presentation to show to students. Easy!

2. Presenting

iMovie: Students can research information about a whole topic and create a movie trailer based on their research. My students created a disaster movie trailer, based on research they had done on the causes and effects of global warming and humanity’s response to it. They loved watching each other’s and can still remember a great deal.

WordPress: I’ve already posted about my (not so secret) love of blogging, but I’ll keep doing it until we’ve all had a go! Seriously, why not? (Top tip: post a link to an article, then tell students that their homework is to submit a short response – but they can’t repeat anything another student has already mentioned. They will all try to complete their homework as soon as possible, rather than leaving it to the last-minute!)

3. Collaboration

Dropbox: Students can work remotely from each other and drop files into the same shared space. It syncs in real-time too, so they can see how each other is editing their project. Brilliant if students are all contributing via mobile devices with limited access to a hard-drive.

Twitter: Write a tweet (a comment no longer than 140 characters), include a # (hashtag for those of you still living in 2006) and tell your students to follow (search for) that # and tweet their reply, making sure to include the # within their reply. Excellent for sharing online content and debating it beyond the classroom.

Apps

What do these technologies have in common?

The clue is in the Vanilla Ice quote at the top of the post – collaborate. Students collaborate on social media, when it comes to sharing links to a funny video, to comment on a photo, to react to a shocking news headline. They engage each other in a debate – sometimes to further their own agenda, sometimes to follow someone else’s. Collaboration is the most fun and engaging part of many lessons – are our traditional teaching methods set up to provide opportunities for this? The apps above definitely are. They enable collaboration to happen with ease – they are a central feature. So…

Your iPad mission (should you choose to accept it):

Ok folks, it’s that time again – have a look at what you can try out THIS WEEK (be honest – if you say you’ll do it next week then you probably won’t ever do it). Borrow an iPad or even a set of them so students can make a movie trailer, create a walk-through of an experiment and upload it to YouTube, set up a Twitter account and start a conversation.

As always, let me know how it goes!

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Using WordPress to Teach Students

 Blogging with WordPress

Why should you use WordPress to teach students?

In order to teach effectively, you must have the following three things in place:

  1. Excellent source material for students to gather research from
  2. The right questions asked at the right time and in the right way (Read my post on Asking the Right Questions)
  3. A good space to debate the answers to those questions in depth – THE BLOG!

Too often, established teachers, or newly qualified teachers with little experience of creating online media, shy away from tasks like building a website. It looks like it will be too difficult. However, there are many tools and templates available to make this easy. I’ve found many simple walk-throughs on YouTube, and on WordPress itself. My only regret is that I didn’t start blogging earlier – it’s so much easier than it looks. In fact, the last blog I created took less than five minutes to create from scratch! Read this post for a step-by-step guide to creating your first class blog in five minutes.

What exactly is WordPress?

Well a blog is just a vehicle for delivering online content, only it is incredibly easy to self-publish and there are very few (if any) barriers to entry. I have used blogs for around six years now, on and off and students love them. For teaching, Iuse www.wordpress.com – they host the blog I use with my A Level Law students and it’s FREE!

However, if like me, you want even more functionality for your blog, then I would recommend using www.wordpress.org. WordPress can host the blog for you, but I would recommend using a hosting service like SiteGround. This host is the one I use for www.teachingandlearningguru.com. SiteGround offer absolutely fantastic 24/7 customer service (there is always someone on the end of the phone to answer any questions you have) and they were the cheapest and most reliable hosting service that I was willing to use for my first ‘paid’ website.

<a href=”http://www.siteground.com” onClick=”this.href=’https://www.siteground.com/web-hosting.htm?afbannercode=1a4de7fd3648d62d78af76eb1554a898′” ><img src=”https://ua.siteground.co.uk/img/banners/general/dynamic-price/pounds/120×600.jpg” alt=”Web Hosting” width=”120″ height=”600″ border=”0″>

I chose WordPress because someone (a fellow teacher) recommended it to me and when I had my first go, I found it very intuitive and it took no time at all to publish my first piece of content. Other popular blogging sites include Weebly, Blogger, Tumblr and Wix, amongst many others, but in my opinion, WordPress wins hands down. There’s a reason why over 27% of websites in the entire world use WordPress!

How could I use WordPress to teach?

The short answer is any way you like. You can simply use it to publish articles for students to read. It could be used to provide an online homework space for students to discuss and debate via the comments section (where you can approve or not approve comments with the click of a button). You could just do what I did initially, which was to publish the link to a press article and invite the students to leave comments below (moderated by me of course). Click here for an example. You could even encourage students to write their own articles to be posted and commented on, following their own independent learning.

Blogging with WordPress

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using WordPress?

Have you ever had a group of students look at you with misery in their eyes as you reach for a dusty stack of textbooks? Next time, tell the class that they will instead be on their very own website debating with each other! Engagement goes through the roof every time I’ve used a blog – although I do have a love of certain textbooks – you can’t beat the smell of print on paper! To build excitement about using a blog to teach, get the students to come up with the blog name themselves and have them vote for the most popular.

Blogs are easy to write, edit, or delete if needed. For the blog’s author, you, everything you need is contained in a “dashboard”. Here you can click once to add a page, create a comments section, add social media links, etc. Below is an example of the dashboard I see when creating or editing posts for my students. It’s incredibly intuitive and easy to learn the very simple functions.

Using WordPress to Teach Students

You don’t even need any programming experience or knowledge of how the internet works – thankfully for me!

Students might forget an inspirational but throwaway comment during a classroom debate. That comment could change the direction of an essay. It could be the crucial foundation of their evaluation of a scientific process. It could make the difference to the technical movements in a physical sporting activity. By using a blog, there is less chance that students will miss or forget the information they’ve explored. This is because blogs are available to students and to yourself, twenty-four hours a day. They can even download an app to their mobile or tablet, which notifies them anytime you add a post or when someone posts a comment.

Disadvantages are the same as they are for every new method of delivery. It’s new to you. You will have to take a little time to learn some new skills, but they are basic skills that you already have if you use word-processing or presentation software. The systems you use in your school to analyse exam results or track attendance will be much harder to use than blogging sites like WordPress!

My challenge to you…

Try it. Go on. Spend 20 minutes creating your first blog, for you to use with one of your classes next week. Your students will love it (and they might even think that you are cool). Students still say “cool” right? Click here to begin creating your blog now.

Leave a comment and tell me all about your adventures in blogging – don’t be shy about leaving a link to your blog below – the more we see, the more we learn!

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How Flipped Learning Works

How to use flipped learning

What is Flipped Learning?

Flipped Learning is how we should all teach, all of the time. This is a bold claim, but I mean it sincerely. Not because I know it all (I really don’t!) and not because other methods don’t work (they do!). The simple aim of Flipped Learning is to ‘flip’ delivery of content, creating more independent students. Less challenging tasks are completed outside of the classroom, where there is less support available from the teacher. More challenging tasks are completed within the classroom, where there is more support available from the teacher. Independent learning becomes more embedded, student engagement increases and progress over time speeds up. Oh, and the best part is that it reduces teacher workload.

Flipped Learning has been around for a long time, but many of us haven’t thought to utilise it properly. Instead, we focus on a more traditional method of teaching. Teachers often deliver basic-level content then set a more complex task for homework that builds upon the activity from that lesson. The homework task is often difficult, pushing the students to their limits. After all, we do want our students to be challenged! However, little Jimmy returns the next day and says he hasn’t completed his homework as it was too hard. Weeks go on and the gap widens between those who are more-able and those who are less-able.

So, back to little Jimmy…

Solution 1: Provide little Jimmy with a more detailed set of instructions for each homework task?

Solution 2: Provide little Jimmy with a different task to the rest of the class?

Solution 3: Assume little Jimmy was lazy, tell him off and don’t change your homework policy?

Question: Which of the above solutions is the right one here?

Answer: ALL of them.

However, we’ve tried all of these and had mixed results. Not only that, but you might even be tempted to dismiss the third solution, viewing it as too hard to implement, or even a ‘waste of time’ if it doesn’t work. Either that or you are afraid of making changes that you and your colleagues view as adding further unmanageable workload. But I can tell you from experience that there is a way to implement a Flipped Classroom approach without increasing workload. In fact, when used properly, you actually reduce your workload over time, something we should all aspire towards. You can read this post for more tips on reducing workload.

Encouraging and guiding independent learning is the key to success

Mastering independent learning is what will ultimately make you students more resilient and less likely to give excuses for missing deadlines and failing to complete work. Furthermore, it will enable the students to go beyond what you as the teacher are able to achieve, in the limited number of hours that you see them in the classroom.

In reality, the Flipped Learning method of delivery, when approached sensibly, reduces the incidence of missed deadlines, challenges students further within a sequence of lessons and REDUCES WORKLOAD! That’s right – it’s that magic wand we’ve been searching for. You can click here to read my Seven Ways To Reduce Teaching Workload.

Why is Flipped Learning important?

In order for students to make outstanding progress, they must be able to move through Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, from the basics of remembering information, to being able to deploy that information is a meaningful and complex way. To achieve such a feat in lesson-time alone is almost impossible today. However, the Flipped Learning approach leverages time outside of the lesson, in order to move through the stages at a quicker pace whilst supporting students during the most complex parts. All you are doing is re-ordering activities, so that students are supported when they need it.

Bloom's Taxonomy for Flipped Learning

How can I use Flipped Learning in my lessons?

Lesson 1: Introduce students to the course you are teaching – give out information on the basic outline and discuss future issues to be studied further. This allows students to read ahead if they wish. Your more engaged students will do this if you open the door for them.

Homework task 1: Students research information from a book/watch a YouTube tutorial/listen to a podcast/etc, then answer a set of questions based on comprehension or evaluation of the material.

Lesson 2: Spend a little time on checking comprehension is completed to the standard required, then focus the rest of the lesson on applying that research to a problem-solving activity, an evaluative task, a scientific experiment, creating a product, or demonstrating a skill within a sport. Higher-order thinking skills are best studied and practised with you in the room to support the students. Many of them may not have this support at home.

Homework task 2: By this point, your students have established a basic understanding of the topic, have practised skills of analysis and evaluation and have seen model answers in class. The timing should now be perfect for students to tackle much more challenging tasks which synthesise their knowledge and understanding of the basics, with more complex material. The complex material that you add here should form a bridge from the topic which has just been taught, to the topic that you will cover in the next lesson.

Repeat this sequence until you have completed the course.

Examples of Flipped Learning resources to get you started

  • Podcasts – I often direct my students to iTunes as there is pretty much a podcast for anything you can imagine. Also, Audiopi has developed an extensive range of podcasts, created with GCSE and A Level students in mind. Read my post on Why Podcasts Improve Learning.
  • Video clips – As with podcasts, there are videos on everything. Youtube and Vimeo have an excellent range.
  • Books – Good old-fashioned words on pages. You can find books everywhere.
  • Market research – send students out to gather research on a topic from people they know. A simple Google Form can be created in minutes and emailed to anyone.
  • Blogs – You can find blogs on most topics, but make sure you thoroughly vet them first before directing students to them!

Nowhere in the Flipped Learning model has the teacher delivered basic-level content

Students can gather this information on their own. Obviously, don’t hand a ten-year-old an undergraduate textbook, or use a grainy video with a monotonous voice-over. The material must not only be accessible, it must also be engaging. Otherwise, students will ‘switch off’ and claim they couldn’t complete the task when in fact they just didn’t want to attempt it.

There are times where you, the teacher, as a subject-expert, needs to act “the sage on the stage”, but just not as often as previously thought. You can let go of the reins a little! Independent learning conducted frequently by the students relieves a lot of the pressure on you to deliver a high volume of content. The students are fully able to complete lower-intensity research tasks in their own time, freeing up lesson time for you to develop more advanced skills of analysis and evaluation and to deepen their understanding of key issues.

Congratulations!

You have saved time on delivering content, students have managed to do this for themselves! You have spent a higher proportion of classroom time on higher-order learning activities (see Bloom’s Taxonomy for details), challenging students to use information in a range of practical ways. Less time and energy has been spent chasing students for missed homework deadlines, as students now find homework tasks easier to do – they have fewer excuses!

But more importantly, your (previously sceptical) colleagues now want to know your secret to having more free time, happier students and higher exam results. You don’t have to “sell” Flipped Learning to them anymore!

My challenge to you

Dive in. Have a go. Try it. PLEASE! (You can thank me later!) And then use those extra hours you’ve freed up each week to have a rest.

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