Educational research informs us that the two most popular methods amongst students for revision are highlighting and re-reading. The two least effective revision strategies are also highlighting and rereading! Of course, highlighting and re-reading are better than no revision, but when it comes to revising, students need to know how and when to revise, in addition to what they should be revising.
The Learning Scientists
If you haven’t visited the website LearningScientists.org, then I strongly urge you to do so. This is a fantastic website, filled with research informed articles, blogs, videos and resources that are suitable for teachers, students and parents. The Learning Scientists are a team of Cognitive Psychologists based in America and other parts of the world, that all share in common, their interest in research linked to education and how students learn. Their vision is to make scientific research on learning, more accessible to students, teachers, and other educators. They aim to motivate students to study, increase the use of effective study and teaching strategies that are backed by research and also, decrease the commonly held negative views of testing – showing that testing doesn’t need to just be a measuring tool but can also be a tool to support learning. On their website the Learning Scientists focus on six strategies for effective learning which are:
- Spaced practice: This strategy focuses on spreading out revision over a longer period of time.
- Retrieval practice: This involves recalling information from memory.
- Elaboration: Explaining and describing ideas with specific details.
- Interleaving: Switching between ideas whilst studying.
- Concrete examples: Using specific examples to understand abstract ideas.
- Dual Coding: This involves combining words and visuals.
All of the resources on their website are free and will provide a great source of support and inspiration for both teachers and students!
Retrieval Practice Challenge Grid
I recently created the Retrieval Practice Challenge Grid to revisit previous topics and lessons at the start of a lesson, but this can also be used for revision too. The Retrieval Practice Challenge grid was based on a resource I have used with my students for many years – a challenge grid which contains a range of questions covering the topic studied and the questions varied in their level of difficulty. This activity involved recalling subject knowledge but was often based on a week or two weeks’ worth of subject content not further back. There were questions on the challenge grid that all students should be able to access, and other questions would be more challenging and require a more sophisticated or in-depth answer, this was great with my mixed ability classes. Students also created their own challenge grids to swap with their peers. In my previous school, I was a teacher of History, Politics, Religious Education, Welsh and PSHE, so this was a very flexible and adaptable resource across subjects. Although I do use regular multiple choice quizzes, the students don’t have a multiple choice for this task as Professor John Dunlosky states, that, “students will benefit most from tests that require recall from memory and not from tests that merely ask them to recognise the correct answer”. This is an idea that is research informed and inspired, but also shows what educational research can look like in the classroom.
Revision flash cards help to break down information to make a whole subject or topic more manageable for pupils. Other ideas to do this, include revision stations. In your classroom the class can be divided up into different stations with each table having a different focus. The students can rotate around the different revision stations, spending a certain amount of time revising, answering questions or reflecting on that key topic. Students can swap and share ideas from different stations or in groups, being given a specific area to focus on, then present to their peers.
A fantastic resource that I have used, is the Revision Clock, I originally discovered this gem on Twitter. This resource was created by Geography teacher, Becky Russell who teaches in Manchester, UK and can be found on Twitter @TeachGeogBlog where you can download the template for free. The aim of the revision clock is to spend one hour summarising a key topic, spending 5 minutes per section. This is great at the end of a unit or during revision. If it is part of the revision process, then I recommend asking students to complete the revision clock from memory, focusing on retrieval practice and then checking against their notes or textbook, so then they become aware of what they know and are able to recall and what they missed out.
QR codes for revision
I often compile a bibliography or revision list for my students with suggested reading materials, resources and useful websites and links. There are so many revision resources and information available on the internet, all of varying quality and for different exam boards. It can help if we guide our students in the right direction, suggesting what we think are most useful/reliable/relevant websites, because there is so much out there, that it can be overwhelming! QR codes are a great way to do this and very easy to create. I use QR codes in a variety of ways including QR codes bookmarks, revision displays and in revision booklets. Students can then use their own devices in their own time to be directed to a specific website, video, podcast, past paper etc. QR codes are great for when students go on study leave as they access the revision materials independently through the support and suggestions of the teacher.
Best of luck to you and all of your students with their exams. If you are interested in more of my teaching and learning ideas, you can follow me on Twitter @87history.
 Professor John Dunlosky – Strengthening the Student Toolbox. Study Strategies to boost learning.
By: Kate Jones