I have decided to design my students’ revision resources. Here’s why:
One of, if not the most important aspects of teaching, is that students have the requisite knowledge with which to engage in discussions. In English, in order for our students to be able to write essays in exams with aplomb, we need to ensure that they walk into the exam with sufficient knowledge to be able to negotiate what amounts to being one of their most important summative assessments. Unfortunately, many students, even those who have revised, open the exam booklet without that key knowledge.
How could that be?
In previous years, after spending two years teaching the English GCSE course and ensuring students had the knowledge of the necessary content, I would throw it all over to the students and expect them to revise. I had little understanding of what the most efficient method of revision was, and my students had less. Nowadays we have lots more cognisance thanks to research and its promotion by leading lights such as The Learning Scientists and Retrievalpractice.org, but even with such perspicacity of the most efficient way to retain what they’ve designed as revision, there exists a large issue: many students are not designing the right revision.
So, I have decided to design my students’ revision resources.
From my experience, flash cards are the best method for revising content. But there’s an art to their design, an art that many of my students haven’t mastered yet. In a time poor environment, I want my students to get more bang for their buck with their flashcards; I don’t want them to waste a card by asking who wrote a poem. And so I design cards that contain two pieces of knowledge in one.
Each card then pushes students to think of two things, which will certainly not produce cognitive overload, and ultimately saves time. I try to contain the number of cards for each aspect of a text to 7-10. This means that for poetry, 7-10 per poem; for Lord of the Flies, 7-10 per theme; similarly for A Christmas Carol, and for Macbeth. So for these latter texts there may be up to 40 cards, but because they are organised into chunks, students will not face cognitive overload.
Students are encouraged to add more cards to their repertoire (separating into further chunks), as what I have created serves only as the minimum requirement, but for those students who I know are still hovering around the novice level, and realistically won’t produce more cards, I want to control how they are writing them.
Students are directed to the online cards via the revision website I’ve created (which I’m slowly but surely adding resources to – hence the unlinked poems).
I design the cards on Quizlet.com, which is intuitive in its design, and makes creation of the cards easy. The platform also allows for students to engage in the testing of their knowledge on the bus or at home in quite interactive ways, interleaved into the 20+ hours a day they are on their phones ;). Again, i don’t want to leave to chance students using existing quizzes already on the site as I want to ensure quality control – I don’t want any confusion with content that students may not have covered, or worse, is wrong.
The importance of physical cards
The expectation is that students will have physical copies of all the cards that I’ve designed on Quizlet. Having the physical cards in their hands helps to avoid any possible distractions that undoubtedly arise when the phones are being used. Students can then use the cards with each other, with their family, or by themselves. Actively telling students that this is how they should use the cards is important – so many of my students have told me that they didn’t realise it would be so useful and bonding to get their parents to help test them with the cards – now that’s a massive bonus!!
I will ask one of our academic coaches to transfer the information on the online app onto cards (copy and paste), and then duplicate them for the number of students in year 11. It’s a bit of expense for the school to print out cards for each student, but it will be worth it. The other option is for students to write out their own cards as a homework task – which could serve as revision in itself.
Keeping things organised is crucial: each text has a title, and for longer texts like Macbeth, is separated into thematic discussions based around my knowledge/retrieval organiser.
Below is the Quizlet app which is hyperlinked to my class, and is simple for students to join.
Don’t leave revision to chance. You are the expert. You know what you want your students to remember, and you know how to help them be as efficient as possible with their scarce revision time.
I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog if you are interested in English resources, and general educational observations.