Research Spotlight – March

Research Focus – Revision

With exams looming the minds of teachers, leader, parents and pupils turn to revision. This is unfortunate as waiting for the approach of the exams to start revision is highly ineffective – we need pupils to be revising and reviewing what they have learnt throughout the year (and over the years) not just in the last few weeks and months. This takes advantage of the spacing effect – where things are returned to at intervals with the gap between first study and restudy allowing the important process of forgetting and retrieval. For a thorough, and practical, look at the spacing effect and other important revision considerations see Teaching the Science of Learning by Yana Weinstein.

The great Dawn Cox goes so far as to call on us to Ditch Revision. Teach it Well. In this post she discusses 3 options for teaching the GCSE course: rushing it and leaving lots of time for revision, taking time over each element and not having time to revise, plan the course using a spaced learning model. She went, of course, for Option 3. In this model there is time built into the scheme of work to revisit previous topics and pause and reflect on what is being learnt. In this post for TES I argue that we can also look to interweave topics – whereby we find natural opportunities for synoptic links where material is naturally revisited and built on. When they retrieve information from their long term memory they have the opportunity to change that memory in light of what they now know. This theme is also picked up on by Michael Chiles in his post What if we Told Pupils NOT to Revise? In which he also suggests opportunities for retrieval and review be built into schemes of work rather than left to the end of the course.

One thing we need to consider for this approach to work is when it is best to restudy or retrieve what has already been learnt. In other words, how much of a gap should we leave? In his post Optimal Time for Spacing Gaps, Mr Benney considers the research evidence and concludes that the gap left depends on the time between when the material is first learnt and the date of the final test. The longer the gap, the longer we want to make the period for revisiting. However, even with a long lag between learning and test we don’t want to make the gap too long or too much will be forgotten and the retrieval won’t work. Around 3 weeks between study and first retrieval seems like a good bet for a test several months hence.

Even when we have taught well and built in spacing and retrieval into our schemes of work, there are still going to be times when we need pupils to revise at home and this expectation grows towards the exams. The problem is, as Jamie Thom identifies in this in depth post Teaching the Secrets of Effective Revision most pupils, and parents (and dare I say, teachers) are pretty clueless on how to revise effectively. Jamie’s post explains several revision techniques that we really need to teach our pupils. These include:

  • Self testing
  • Concept mapping
  • Spaced testing
  • Test exam questions
  • Flashcards
  • Repetition
  • Paired revision

Paul Moss takes things a step further. In Revision Roulette: Not On My Watch he argues that he can’t leave revision up to his pupils and creates the revision materials that they will use at home. These focus on creating detailed flash cards for pupils to use at home in self-quizzing. On the other hand Andy Lewis spends time teaching his sixth form classes how to revise effectively and creates clear resources to enable this to happen. You can read about his techniques, and steal his resources, in his post Top 5 Tips for Exam Success.

In conclusion, the consensus seems to point to two complementary ideas.

  1. Revision shouldn’t be something that happens at the end of the course and we shouldn’t rush teaching our subjects to create more revision time. We would be better off building this time into our schemes of work so that revision/review/retrieval is part of the course and so takes advantage of the spacing effect.
  2. Where we do want pupils to be revising at home, we first need to teach them how. The way we intuitively revise (restudy, highlighting, making notes) is unlikely to be effective. We need to give pupils the tools with which to be successful. Independent study is an outcome, it is not a starting point.

Education Conferences

There are now FourResearchEd Conferences in our area.

Durrington’s event is on April 27th – tickets here

London (national conference) is September 7th – tickets here

Surrey event is October 19th – tickets here

Kent event – November 30th – tickets tbc.

For those who like a more informal Teach Meet style event – BrewEd (teachers meeting in pubs for a chat and sharing of ideas) is coming to Tunbridge Wells on the 8th of June! Tickets available here. Ticket price includes a buffet lunch and a drink.

Research at Heathfield CC

As ever we are busy running small scale, and slightly larger scale, research projects here at the college.

We are looking at:

  • How academic transition can be improved between KS2 and KS3 through using learning journals in Year 6 science lessons.
  • How effective teachers are at identifying pupils in need of wave one intervention, and whether that intervention is then effective.
  • Whether retrieval quizzes have an impact on pupil outcomes in Year 8 Geography and History.
  • The use of interleaving during homework tasks in science.
  • How exemplar pieces can be used in assessment in the arts.
  • Comparative judgement as a way of making assessment more reliable in English.
  • The way assessments, and revision lessons, are carried out in Maths.
  • The use of rank order assessment in Geography.

We also have people working on the Assessment Lead Programme and Assessment Essentials courses run by Evidence Based Education.

If you would like to know more about any of these trials, and would like to get involved yourself, get in touch. Please also let me know of any I am missing.

Journal Club

This month’s reading is Dunlosky et al’s (2013) Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology.

It is a bit of a long one but well worth the effort. You can also dip in and out and spend more time looking at strategies you are interested in.

Mark Enser

Head of Geography and Research Lead

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