‘How do I write the thing?’
The offer is made. The offer is accepted. Excitement! Then the excitement fades and the thought enters your head – ‘How am I going to write it!’ This is what happened to me when I was first asked to write 100 Ideas for Secondary School Teachers: Revision for Bloomsbury in February 2014. I had to decide on a starting point for my research from which I could structure the book and the 100 ideas around. The inspiration would be what Andy Griffith and Mark Burns would later call their own book – Teaching Backwards – start from the outcome and consider what you want to see from your own students at the end of revision. The best way to find this out, I felt, was to ask my own students. I am lucky that I work with a strong student body who engage in discussing teaching methods and ideas and are articulate in expressing what they want to see in a revision programme. After a number of discussions with a variety of students from different Key Stages and of different abilities, it was clear that there were three common factors students wanted to see in a revision programme. These factors were:
- Engaging and active revision tasks – how can we revise in class?
- Equipping students with revision skills – such as stress management and time management.
- Independence – how can I revise on my own?
I decided that these three factors would inform every section on my book and give teachers a toolkit of easy to implement ideas that would help them develop their students’ revision skills as well as, more importantly, in my view, develop their students as effective independent learners both in school and beyond it.
Engaging and active revision tasks – How can we revise in class?
One common point that emerged from talking with students about revision was what they perceived as an overemphasis on the text book and making notes. Of course, making notes is an important part of the revision process but should be part of a wider diet of revision activities within the classroom. We are all guilty as teachers of sometimes relying on the text book in a sequence of lessons as this is the ‘safe option’ – especially when we are tired and have little energy to invest in constructing outstanding lessons with sparkling resources. Also, it is the safe bet if we are teaching a second subject or content we are unfamiliar with.
However, it does not have to be like this. There are so many activities out there on the internet or in the ever-growing variety of books on teaching activities which are ideal in a revision context. Active tasks must be at the heart of an all-inclusive revision programme which engage and reinforce knowledge giving students the confidence that ‘they know it!’ These activities must be varied and include games, larger main lesson tasks and a variety of note making tasks from which students can choose which style suits them the best. Writing a collection of such ideas was at the heart of my thinking as well as that the vast majority of these ideas must be easy to implement with readers being able to dip in and out of the book and select an idea that they could include in a lesson the very next day. Underneath this the ideas must have real substance too and that a real impact upon students’ progress rather than the ‘bells and whistles’ ideas which look great but may lack meaningful impact upon student development.
Equipping students with revision skills – such as stress management and time management
Revision at any level can cause stress. Whether students are preparing for an internal assessment with the only objective being to check and demonstrate progress or for a public examination which can decide what life-changing options are open to students depending on the results – revision can highlight the need to assist in the development of important life skills, such as time management and stress management. Because I wanted the book to touch on every area of an effective revision programme, it was important not to neglect this potentially decisive and critical area of preparing students for assessments and examinations.
Therefore, the book contains a number of easy to implement ideas that can guide teachers in preparing a holistic revision programme, which equips students with the skills to cope with the stresses and strains of the revision period. In doing this, I felt, that this would give the book a wider appeal and not just for subject teachers. More often than not, subject teachers do not have the time to deal with the wider revision skills that are required, instead this falls to the form tutor or PSHE department. When I was writing this book, I was fortunate to be a form tutor for a group of young people preparing for their GCSEs and as a tutor, I was frequently asked to lead sessions on revision skills. More often than not, I found the resources provided to lead such sessions perhaps lacked depth and were less than engaging. Part of my research was to improve these resources and use them with my students, who would then feedback and discuss. Therefore, my book would have something in it for any teacher involved in helping students to revision skills in a wider context.
Independence – How can I revise on my own?
At the end of the day, students are going to be on their own in that examination room. Teachers will not be there holding their hand, guiding them and giving timely advice on what to do. The end product of any revision programme is to develop a young person with the confidence to be independent and less reliant on the teacher. This is difficult and scary for a young person, stepping back as a teacher can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, especially in times of high stress, like the exam season, when students can need you the most. Therefore, any revision programme must foster students’ independence and the ability for students to conduct revision on their own outside the classroom without direct intervention from the teacher.
A few of the ideas in the book tackle this issue head on. It is an important one for teachers and students to work together on. Indeed, the philosophy of one of my key influences in writing this book, Jim Smith, is for students to become so independent in lessons that you become a ‘Lazy Teacher’. Therefore, many of the ideas which relate to revision games and resources can be easily made by students who can make a whole series of revision aids – whether they are resources for revision card games, visual hexagons or revision totem poles – outside the classroom. This means that a crucial part of a revision programme must be to train your students in making these revision aids which they can bring into lessons and use and share as part of the revision process. You know you have cracked it when near the end of the revision programme and the exams are looming, you are not needed as a teacher and instead become a facilitator while your students are actively revising independently, making more resources, playing revision games and working collaboratively – there is nothing better than the sound of a revision buzz in your classroom!
While this article focuses upon the influences and the ingredients of a revision programme which make up the heart of my book – 100 Ideas for Secondary School Teachers: Revision – a second article which details how the book was written can be found on my blog.