‘Your revision time is precious. Don’t waste it’

I was recently asked to take a year 11 assembly during the last week of term, with the focus being on maths revision (English and science having had their go during the weeks before). After a few discussions, particularly with Andy Lewis (@ITeachRE) I thought that rather doing an assembly on what to revise, I would focus on the how of revision. Revision time is precious after all, it shouldn’t be wasted. Here are some thoughts and reflections on what I told them:

1: Know the domain

I asked students to try and split their subjects (in particluar maths) into 4 areas:

Known/Easy (the things they know they can do – also what they are most likely to revise)

Known/Hard (the tough things they know they struggle with)

Unknown/Easy (the basics that they know they slip up on or are not confident on)

Unknown/Hard (the things that they either have no idea on, or aren’t aware of being on the course)

The message was simple. Don’t spend too much time on the first section. The middle 2 should be revised a lot, and the last section needs to be identified and discussed with a teacher ASAP!

2: Revise in ways that are effective

I don’t think telling students ‘do what you think works best for you’ is very helpful. Most won’t know what works best, as they won’t have done or read any research into it – why should they? We are the professionals and are paid to be aware of things that will and won’t work. Lots of students will also do things that are ‘fun’ (easy) or spend time revising things they are good at (we all love being good at things and getting them right). Not a great use of their precious revision time.

To this end, I explained and told them to: Interleave their maths revision, test themselves regularly and to distribute their revision of skills (and to revise the skills 3 times at least). I also told them that just highlighting their books, and reading notes/revision guides without doing questions wasn’t a good use of their precious time. Thanks to Andy here for pointing me towards Dunlosky et al.

3: What to use to revise

As ever with maths, I pointed them towards http://www.corbettmaths.com, http://www.hegartymaths.com, SAM Learning and a host of printed resources that we have in school (some of which are excellent collations of practice questions made by my HOD).

We then ended with this.

Revision time is precious. Help your students use it effectively!

‘Your students won’t be the same as my students’

A brief blog post, but one on an attitude that I find at times frustrating, at times annoying, and at times worrying.

I’ve been involved in a bit of an argument this evening over the benefits (or otherwise) of using De Bono’s hats in the (specifically RE) classroom. I’m not a fan, others are, but I’m not going to dwell on either position (read Andy Lewis, David Didau or Debra Kidd if you’d like more on this issue!)

During the discussion, I was offered the counter-argument to my opinions which took the form of: ‘*I* find it useful to teach *my* students’ (emphasis NOT mine) and ‘students being people not machines some of what works with one group is not what does with others’.

This sort of attitude concerns me. It basically says that we don’t need to concern ourselves with the combined wisdom of the teaching profession, the huge amounts of research that exist, the must up-to-date pedagogical thinking, because there is no way that we can understand the students that are in any given classroom outside of our own.

Now, of course an individual teacher will know their students far better than a colleague from another school. This much is obvious. What is not obvious, though, is why any group of students would be radically different to any other group of students of the same age, in terms of what works for ensuring the best progress in the classroom. This doesn’t mean students won’t have different interests, experiences, cultural references and so on, but if there is a piece(s) of research that suggests certain pedagogical techniques are going to be beneficial, or not, ignoring it simply because ‘your students won’t be the same as my students’ seems bloody-minded, and also to not appreciate the nature of high-quality research.

If we are to be taken seriously as a profession, we cannot simply be lone wolves, each doing what we think is best for our students as only we can know them well enough to know what works. We must seek to engage with research, expertise and experience both in our own schools, and (perhaps more importantly) outside of our schools.

None of this means we shouldn’t know our students as individuals, build up positive, professional relationships with them, and come to know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. We can, however, do this whilst taking account of the wealth of information which is at our fingertips. In fact, I would say we are obliged to do so to give our students the best chance possible of achieving as much as they can.

#REchatuk – How do we teach pupils to be literate about Christianity?

In advance of this evening’s #REchatuk discussion, I thought I would (briefly) pen my ideas on what we need to deliver to students so that they can be literate when studying and writing about Christianity. As ever, this is with secondary school students in mind.

Broadly speaking, I would make the study of Christianity much more knowledge-based that it is currently. I would have the following as a bare minimum:

1) Teachings and history

– Nature of God, including the Trinity and the characteristics attributed to God

– Creation, including an understanding of the Biblical account, and interpretations of this

– Jesus Christ, including key features of his life (as a minimum, birth, miracles, Sermon on the Mount, some knowledge of parables, death and resurrection)

– Importance of salvation, and the role of Jesus in this

– Importance of resurrection and the links to views on what happens after death

– The Bible and its contents (clearly not all of it, but some idea of the composition and contents)

– Split in Christianity, including formation of the Church of England

– Shared history with Judaism

2) Practice of Christianity

– Knowledge of forms of worship used by Christians

– The sacraments

– Role and importance of prayer (including the Lord’s prayer)

– The way in which belief can inform action, particularly linked to social justice and charity

– Use of the Bible/Church as sources of authority and guidance

3) Christianity in the modern world

– How core teachings inform attitudes towards issues (via a detailed case study or two, not a whistle-stop tour of many ethical issues)

– Major Christian churches, and differences between them

– Role of women in Christianity, controversy over female bishops

4) Philosophical/controversial issues (possibly, although this could be a bit of a luxury)

– Problem of evil and suffering, responses

– Science and religion, including evolution and creation

– Attitudes towards marriage

I am sure that there is a lot more that could be included, but this is what I would put into a KS3-4 curriculum were I to be starting from scratch!