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The Methodology of Revision

A former colleague told me on hearing I was pregnant with my first son, that being a parent doesn’t make you a better teacher but makes you a more understanding one. Sixteen years later I continue to echo his thoughts and as my children advance towards public examinations, nevermore have I been more appreciative of the challenges our young people face. Faced with the prospect of 26 examinations this summer that same son has finally succumbed to the fact that his mother might be able to help him with revision.

In my current role as deputy head teacher of a large comprehensive in Norwich it can at times be easy to get diverted away from the very purpose of a teacher’s role in supporting student need. With an aim to keep myself grounded and remember that I am first and foremost a teacher, I ensure I teach history and mentor students in order to support them through this challenging time. Mentoring year 11, 12 and 13 students has revealed to me at common gap in their ability to work and revise independently; this is their ability to plan an effective schedule of revision and then know what revision actually means in its broadest terms. I try to address this whole school by leading student and parent/carer assemblies in methodology of revision. Much of my thinking and the ideas I present to both students and their parents is based upon SHP models. This blog therefore seems the most appropriate vehicle to share this thinking with you at a time when all students, including two of my sons, need to be thinking about the demands of revision.

Stage one – Plan it!
Medium-term planning is for me one of the most intrinsically interesting aspects of my job. SHP conferences taught me at a very early stage in my career to follow a backwards planning model. As SHP devotees reading this blog you will be clear on what that means in terms of thinking of your endpoint and then working backwards from that point as to how you hope to achieve it. This principle can be applied to any form of planning and becomes particularly pertinent when considering a revision schedule; map the exams on the timeline and work backwards from this point as to how many sessions of revision these particular areas will demand. Students repeatedly quote that history and science are the most demanding of their revision subjects and building a macro and micro knowledge of the history units examined at GCSE requires resilience but most of all allocation of time. The timetable should be flexible but not lenient and allow for some downtime in an incredibly stressful period of the young person’s life.

Stage two – Learn it!
Yet again, SHP conference and text books spring to mind with the many different learning styles demonstrated by some of the best teachers in the country. Pick up any of the SHP GCSE textbooks and you will find a wide range of learning approaches including that of mind mapping, factor diagrams, keywords, timelines, practice questions and more active approaches to learning all of which make fantastic methods the revision. Follow the links to Dale Banham and Russell Hall’s excellent work on raising attainment at GCSE and A’ level for further research and ideas on methodology and strategies to promote independence and motivation.

Stage three – Test it!

In the classroom many teachers will differentiate essential knowledge from desirable knowledge when supporting their students in revision. Do your students know the difference that they know what is absolutely necessary to learn inside out in order to achieve the very best they can on that paper and what is the extra knowledge that  will cloud some students them rather than support them in their learning? As a parent I can make use of my son’s stage two revision techniques when testing him on the knowledge that he requires; a less supported student can find this difficult and will need some help in achieving this. At school we allocate peer mentors to students in order to support them through these ‘testing’ times when they don’t have the adult support at home. Again SHP textbooks and resources help with this, by demonstrating model examination answers so that students can use their own approaches and then check them against the exemplar answers; both the surgery and protest unit three books do this particularly well.

Stage four – Reflect upon it!
This stage is really tough and demands a huge level of maturity from any student, though I have found that year 12 and 13 students become increasingly adept at it during the journey through their A-levels. Self, peer and teacher marking can allow students to see where their weaknesses are thus allowing the student to return to stage one to work on their identified gaps. This is often the weakest link in effective revision as it requires honesty and a high level of resilience to return to the beginning. Sixth form students often fall fowl here as they have managed to do stages one to three effectively at GCSE but do not recognise that stage four is the deal-breaker when it comes to that desired A-level grade.

So will my son listen to this SHP disciple/ teacher/parent advice? Well, he has got the mock exam timetable on the wall, there are mind maps littered all over the dining room table, I even did some GCSE food tech testing with him yesterday but he has just announced is going out to play football and is unlikely to back until teatime with a promise that he will make up the time tomorrow! I need to remember my own words ‘…flexible but not lenient and allow for some downtime’ and that I am after all his mum.

Please share your history revision strategies and ideas below.

Jo Philpott
SHP Fellow
Deputy Headteacher City of Norwich School