Category: Independent learning
Blog of the week – 26th April 2015
This weeks ‘blog of the week’ has another revision theme and goes to Head-teacher John Tomsett – This much I know about… what really works when preparing students for examinations.
In the post John shares his vast experience of preparing student for exams and enlightens us with some tried and tested strategies.
Image by @gapingvoid
I am no expert! I am not basing these ideas of MINE on research/theories (that I have read) but on the data of students that I have taught and the outcomesthey have achieved. (I guess, I have just figured these things out…) If you disagree, please do comment with how I can better my practice for the students I am responsible for.
Time to wrap up our delivery of content, vital information, key facts, formulae, dates, people and so on. It is now time to focus (again/more) on ensuring students know everything and anything they will need in order to secure an excellent grade in the exam.
A-C grades are not the only grade our students need to achieve to be successful. Ensure your students know what their personal targets are?
By definition revision is about updating, revamping, reworking, redrafting, rewriting and so on… It is important to note revision is not LEARNING from scratch. Therefore, the following information and ideas I will be presenting will work best, when some sort of learning has already taken place!
I believe revision is a very personal process. I do not believe generally that one hat fits all. There are many factors to consider in order ensure revision is effective; (This is not a definitive list!).
Picking the right time of day to revise is vital. Knowing when one feels most active and alert is crucial in ensuring the brain functions the best. I liken myself to an OWL or a vampire? I love staying up late to study/write/prepare. I would much rather a lay in then getting up early to revise.
`Ensure your students know what time of day they are most active?’ Let them build on this, if they get up later, they would get to bed later, so in theory they will have the same amount of time in a day.
Knowing how much time to spend on revision is also vital! We must be realistic, students do have OTHER things to do. We need to accept that. Therefore, creating a reasonable, valid, achievable timetable is essential. This might sound easy to us; i.e telling students to write a timetable, however, I have always found it time well spent getting students to do this in class with a template provided.
I always ask my students to write down their essential ‘other‘ tasks in a day, then their non-essentials. Next to these, I ask them to place a count of how long they spend on these. I ask them to then tally up the amount of time they spend on these in total. This is usually enough of an eye opener for students!
The brain is like a muscle, we can not expect our students to revise all day and night. When we workout, our muscles need a rest. However, I do not feel we should be prescriptive with the amount of time we tell our students to revise for and when to take a rest. I personally feel we all have different thresholds and it should be down to the student to decide.
The message however is clear, take regular breaks to refresh and rest your mind.
Do not get ‘junked‘ up with sweets/sugar/caffeine. Eating properly is important, but eating what you like/enjoy is also vital. Otherwise, in my opinion revision gets linked to horrible tastes?! It does get boring, it does get mundane, eyes do get fuzzy, so being able to intersperse these feelings with a little bit of chocolate cake isn’t too bad!? 🙂
@ActionJackson shared this rule with my students…
work, work, work play rest.
3- 1- 1.
See the video here for more info!
Students must be able to work in an adequate environment. Sometimes, some students homes can not provide this. Research for your students their local library opening times, the facilities they have there. What bus stop is nearest? Find out other places students can study?
Can you lend your students and exam desk to work on that can folded away. It is important to de-clutter and focus.
Motivation to be successful this isn’t for a revision post… See my last post regarding this!
How does it all work:
In order for information to remain in our long-term memory, we must understand it, we must link it to already acquired knowledge and then attach meaning to it. Ultimately, we want to then apply it to examination questions.
Therefore all revision sessions/games/lessons should take on board those concepts.
- understanding– do the students know exactly what this concept/idea/topic means? Can they explain it to others?
- Linking to knowledge- can the students link the information to other ideas, areas, concepts?
- meaning– do the students know the reasoning behind the learning?
- applying– will the students be able to applying their knowledge and meaning to the exam?
Do your revision sessions allow for those processes to take place? (Naturally you would hope so, as the above is also applicable to ‘normal’ lessons!)
Often, I worry that revision games become exactly that. A game. The focus on understanding, or linking is lost through the ‘fun’ nature of the game and the objective of winning becomes more important than the learning that should be taking place.
Here are some revision station games/ideas I use. Click HERE.
I have listed under each activity what the focus is. I have also come to realise some students do not like doing a variety of tasks as they know what works well for them. Only believe this feeling/confidence from the students if they have proven this. Meaning, have they achieved good grades previously? Therefore does their style of revision work? Ask them to talk through it with you; how did they revise, what did they do, how did they ensure they achieved a good grade? If they answer well, then allow them to the independent to choose their method of revision. This will motivate them too.
Spice of life:
Revision to me is also ensuring that students know about a variety of ways they can revise. I often go on and on and on about the importance of taking information and linking it to your knowledge, transforming the information to help understand it and applying it to examination questions.
Reading and highlighting notes is the pre-cursor to revision, those are the tasks that are carried out in lessons or completed at home. All students revision notes should already be annotated/highlighted BEFORE revision begins? Those elements are learning. Therefore, hand out revision guides well in advance, give your personally created booklet of advice before the holidays, before the course may have even finished.
A great way of ensuring students do not become too complacent, thinking they understand information because they have simply over familiarised themselves with it by reading it constantly, is to apply the magenta principles to text/information.
Students should aim to do one of the above to the information they must learn/understand. This will help link to knowledge, show meaning and apply to examination questions…
I have compiled a list of over 40 different ways to revise here. (Some are for revision sessions/methods for teachers, some are revision methods/ideas for students.) Share these with your colleagues? Students? Parents? Use the hashtag#EXAMS14 to search out great posts by other teachers.
Show students there is a multitude of ways to revise, but make sure they are sticking to the core principles.
Some top tips: (In no particular order!)
- Download and share this literacy/command word wheel. This helps break down for students exactly what each question is asking the student to do. Understanding the subtle differences is paramount.
- Revision should be on ongoing process checking for understanding throughout the course, (marking and feedback,) Know your students understand the meaning and are able to apply concepts in exams. I have always shown exam past papers and mark schemes to students from thevery first week of my lessons. I have ensured students are familiar with the layout, the way the questions appear, the style of the questions. I have ensured students read examiner reports, know where to download past papers. Check out my GCSE RE blog- www.cheneyre.edublogs.org where I have shared this info.
- Content Dependent Learning- try this really useful idea by Sir Tim Brighouse. Click here. Includes a 2 minute video presentation explaining this concept.
- Remind students how long they have until their exam. Remind students how many lessons they have, how many school days they have, how many hours this totals up to. I do this often. At the start of a lesson, I may just simply put a countdown timer up on the board as they enter…
- Running revision sessions is excellent; however ask the students BEFORE hand what they want to revise, add a Padlet to an email? To your class blog? Ask students to fill in a piece of paper…however you do it, ask students to tell you what they need most help UNDERSTANDING, knowing the MEANING of and how to APPLY.
- Involve students in the revision process as much as possible. Get them to create the revision guides for the year below, ask them to run the sessions. See here for a student based lesson. Get the students to create google drive revision questionnaires on a topic each. Get the students to then complete each others quizzes. Click here for an example.
- Ask students to tweet (run a subject twitter account for themselves. The teacher doesn’t need to get involved.) Get students to create a Facebook group? Teacher could set up an Edmodo page. Students should email (maybe more like FaceTime/Skype/snapchat/bbm) each other to remind each other to revise.
- Practice…practice…practice… in the real conditions in the real environment. Give students past papers, photocopied and stapled as they would in the real exam. Get students to write in the examination booklets. Get them used to it. Familiar with the obstacle.
- Collective approach to revision; Ask subject leaders to coordinate their approaches. Check teachers are giving the same/similar message? Check what the revision catch up schedules are of other subjects. Ensure they do not clash. Here at my school we have a designated day for Eng, Maths, Science. To help alleviate the problem of students having to chose which subject they will miss.
- Link examination grades with outcomes. Why would it benefit the student to do well in your exam. Why is it important? What is the end goal?
- Use Youtube/Websites/APPs- videos (We have a revision channel on our school Youtube channel) and online quizzes (Such as Getrevising.co.uk or tutor2u.com) can be an essential ‘extra’ to revision. Don’t forget the core websites- such as Mymaths.com SamLearning BBC Bitesize and so on.
- Posts such as these can really help focus students on examination questions; Revision Mats, Concentric Squares/ Rotation Squares/Overlays. Check out bit.ly/agilitytoolkit for many more.
I do not have all the answers… I imagine this post will be constantly edited/updated when I remember more ideas!
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Feedback. Please let us know how ‘Revision’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
#TMNSL 20/03/2014 – Workshop resources: ‘Differentiated homework’
Differentiated homework by Sharon Porter (@sporteredu) & Tom Leahy (@MrTLeahy)
The workshop on Differentiated Homework came about due to us considering the differentiated lesson. “We differentiate in lessons so we should differentiate homework…right?” Right!
How can we as teachers insist upon differentiating our classwork but then feel justified in giving the entire class the same piece of homework? It can become boring for the more able, consistently annoying for those who are finding the work challenging and it can be boring for the teacher too! To an outsider, it may seem strange that we are not differentiating homework, so what’s happening? Why are we all giving our students the same homework? Let’s consider the “Why? How? & What?” of this homework scenario
Why do you want students to complete homework?
o Practice? 10000 hrs makes perfect (Malcolm Gladwell)
o To cover more content? The flipped classroom (Bergmann & Sams)
How do you want them do it?
o Paper based or On-line?
o Weekly, Bi-Weekly?
What are the next steps?
o How can you maintain this level of homework?
o How much effort are you putting in when setting and marking the homework?
o How can you ensure that your students learn from the homework and not end up with lots of pretty displays? What level of feedback/marking is the most effective (#Takeawayhmk – how can you fairly assess the homework… S. Porter is currently researching this.)
Knowing the current approaches that are taken with homework and the completion rates, the following is a list of different homework that can be tried with classes – Differentiated Homework
- Two sided worksheet / laminated card
o Basic questions on one side and an extension of the concept or a problem solving task on the other side.
- On line homework (SAM Learning, MyMaths, ShowMyHomework, etc)
- Concept Cards – some staff made their own in the workshop
- Choice Boards
Alternatives to Traditional HW
- Suggestions by the students of Kathleen Cushman “Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery
- Takeaway HW (from “100 teaching ideas for Secondary Teachers” Ross Morrison McGill aka @TeacherToolkit)
@sporteredu & @MrTLeahy on Twitter.
‘Quick wins’ #14 – Walking dictation – Team work, communication and accuracy.
Why? Proof reading – self assessment. I am forever correcting the same mistakes which arise from a lack of proof reading. As soon as I question a student they know how to correct their work, but they don’t seem to do it!
Possible solution. Walking dictation. Students work in group of three – one student is the scribe and the other two are runners. Differentiated texts, images or sound files are placed across the classroom from where the groups are based.
One runner from each group at a time ‘walks’ to their allocated text, reads part of it and returns back to the group where they dictate to the scribe what they read. The other runner hears how far their team mate read and goes up to the text to read and then return to relay the next part of the text to the team. The scribe is using listening and writing skills and the runners are using listening, reading and speaking skills.
All members are working on their communication and team work skills.
What’s the carrot? Well there has to be a success criteria and I use the least amount of points win. Winners win one point, second place two etc. However, points are incurred for misspelt words, or indeed missed words.
Walking Dictation – How to – editable
Outcome. Challenge and drive for accuracy. It is an engaging task where students realise the importance of accuracy and to check over their work to eliminate avoidable errors.
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Head of MFL
Feedback. Please let us know how ‘Walking dictation’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
Hardwiring learning and effort = success
I try to lead by challenging preconceived notions that people are born talented or lucky. In Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born it’s Grown he argues that talent is grown through purposeful practice…deep practice. Below I give a specific example of how this can be seen in students’ learning.
“We all have the ability to profoundly change our levels of talent, our level of skill. Where clusters of great talent emerge there has been a culture created where individuals are constantly reaching and repeating, making mistakes, receiving feedback, building better brains, faster more fluent brains…inside the brain myelin acts like insulation on the pathways and connections in the brain – each time we reach and repeat we earn another layer – signal speeds in the brain start to increase from 2 mph to 200 mph – neuro broadband – (or the difference between normal and great).” (Dan Coyle)
What he is describing is the hardwiring of the brain – through repeated efforts, mistakes and improvement, until the action (or learning) becomes as natural as riding a bike. That is how talent is created.
This recently became really evident to me during a lesson observation of my Y12 Sociology class: one observer sat next to a student and asked her to deconstruct the exam question we were looking at (having heard me used the word ‘deconstruct’ in my instructions). I was amazed, and pleased, to hear her deconstruct the question effortlessly, without hesitation and to depth, drawing on prior knowledge, pulling out command words, key subject-specific words and implied meaning behind the question in a thorough analysis that was no less deep than if I had done it. I realised then that her success in that skill (which she hadn’t been able to do at the start of the year) came from the fact that this was how we started every topic that we studied: with an exam question that we deconstruct thoroughly. Essentially, us practising this skill at the start of every topic had resulted in it becoming ‘hardwired’ in her brain so that she could effortlessly pull it out no matter what the topic or question. Deconstructing an exam question is a transferable skill so I hope that she is able to make use of it in her other subjects as well.
This message of repeating to hardwire your brain is exactly what I’m trying to get across to Y8 in my assemblies, preparing them for their mid-year exams, and reminding them that determined and deliberate effort = success.
Here’s another useful resource, Dan Coyle’s TED talk…
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Feedback. Please let us know how ‘Hardwiring learning and effort = success’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
‘Quick wins’ #5 – Clear homework deadlines
‘Quick wins’ #3 – ‘Roll a plenary’
Why? Plenaries should be one of the most important parts of a lesson where the teacher assesses the progress students have made during the lesson and begins to plan the direction of future lessons. Sometimes we just run out of time and plenaries end up being a quick round of questioning before the bell goes. How do teachers plan for more rigorous plenaries that examine the learning that has taken place whilst empowering students to work independently and lead their learning?
Possible solution? ‘Roll a plenary’ grid:
A grid of different plenary activities that students select by rolling dice. All you need to do is…
1. Get a class set laminated.
2. Get some dice.
3. Ask students to roll dice over grid to select a personalised plenary.
roll a plenary (PDF)
roll a plenary editable (docx)
Outcome. Allows students to take ownership and feel empowered to show what they have learnt during a lesson. This grid can be further developed to include differentiated tasks using blooms stems/solo levels. The grid supplied is generic but the editable version can be tailored to any subject.
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@ASTsupportAAli & @tombrush1982
Feedback. Please let us know how ‘Roll a plenary’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
‘Quick wins’ #2 – Engaging starters
Why? The start of a lesson is extremely important for engaging students and getting them ‘hooked’ on the learning that is about to take place. It’s tough to do on a consistent basis. It needs lots of creativity from the teacher when planning the lesson and requires the teacher to know their students.
Below is a summary of a #UKEdChat hosted on Twitter earlier this year with contributions by teachers from around the UK.
Date of UKEdChat: Thursday 5th September 2013
Host: Jon Tait @TeamTait
What is your number 1 starter activity for engaging students as soon as they walk through your door?
What is the 1 routine in your classroom that you couldn’t live without?
Which top tip from tonight’s discussion are you going to use tomorrow?
@teachertonytips Engaging question on a slip of paper given to kids in the queue outside classroom.
@gceyre A Mystery – keep the students guessing and wanting to find out more.
@with_ict Must work harder after assembly. Kids hold it together during and are often in need of an active exciting task afterwards.
@with_ict After lunch register, response is giving a number out of 10 to show mood/feeling. It gives a good indication of playground drama.
@georgeEblack After lunch, sympathise with them (who isn’t sleepy after lunch) have shorter tasks prepared, plan accordingly, build in down time.
Tweet of the Week:
@ReachPsychology Be mindful that some Friday afternoon non-engagement behaviours are not about your lesson. Not every pupil loves the weekend!
Engaging starter tweets – Archive supplied by @ukedchat. Contains lots of ideas for engaging starters!!
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Feedback. Please let us know how any of these engaging starters worked for you and your students. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.
‘Quick wins’ #1 – Question tokens.
First in a series of posts about quick wins in the classroom. The aim of these posts is to provide teachers with ideas that can be tried in their classroom with minimal preparation time.
Why? I wanted students to become more independent and rely less on me for help. Quite often I see students giving up too easily and going to the teacher for help rather than persevering with a problem. I’ve also noticed that students ask a lot of lazy questions (when they can ask an unlimited amount of questions) without any real thought behind them.
Possible solution? Question tokens. I gave each student three question tokens and set 2 rules for the entirety of the lesson:
1. You can only ask the teacher 3 questions throughout today’s lesson.
2. You can ask each other as many questions as you like.
Question tokens (Download for free – please share with colleagues)
Outcome. I tried this with a year 11 GCSE Computing class who were working through some programming challenges. The question tokens encouraged students to seek advice from their peers and if this led to a dead end, they had to research a possible answer using the Internet or come up with a well thought out question to ask me. I witnessed the students demonstrating more GRIT then in previous lessons as they appeared to be quite precious of the question tokens – they would rather struggle through a problem and find a solution themselves then ask me for help. Quite remarkable!
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Feedback. Please let us know how ‘question tokens’ worked for you. Leave a comment on this post or tweet us at @nslhub.