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Concentrated effort

Jane Christopher shares her school's approach to giving all Year 11 students valuable revision skills and practice

Three years ago, we changed revision in the school. We wanted to streamline and co-ordinate what we were offering to make it more effective and we wanted to teach students how to revise and take some of the mystery out of the process.

Three initiatives have helped to achieve this. All students in Year 11 are given a timetable of the content of their lessons so they can plan and revise for what will be coming up, including deadlines and homework.

Revision sessions have been formalised: they are offered by departments, not by staff, and most of them are by invitation only, with a letter sent to parents. This has helped us to target specific needs more effectively and to be more consistent in our delivery.

The third initiative is the revision day. All Year 11 students are taken off timetable for a day and taught revision skills and learning styles.

There is a considerable lead-up to this day in order for it to be supported and effective, starting just after the mock exams. An extended assembly (one hour) takes place, during which they are taken through the mock exam experience and given advice on how to use it. I outline what is going to happen next in terms of support, starting with a questionnaire which students complete after the mock exams. It covers how they revised, whether they were pleased with their results, what their targets need to be and so on. I then create a summary of their responses and share them with the year group through assembly.

Our experience has been that many students will comment that they find revising difficult, they can't stick to a revision timetable, they didn't do enough revision for the mocks and they are worried about the summer exams. This leads seamlessly (!) into explaining how the revision day will work, our reason behind running it for them and what they will have achieved by the end of the day.

The tutors work with their form groups on the day itself, so in preparation for this we spend time working through the materials as a team and tutors can add their own ideas and ask questions. A lot relies on their delivery so it is important to ensure that they have ownership of the event, and share enthusiasm for it and belief in its relevance.

Tutors are delivering four out of the five lessons. We provide them with lunch in a quiet environment as a form of respite. What struck me particularly last year was the buzz in the room at lunchtime - not just because of the lunch, but they were enthused by what they had been doing and excited by it. You just know that this is being passed to the students, which makes for an invigorating day.

* The day itself: lesson one, they are with me in the theatre. They learn about the brain - the way it works; the history of scientific and medical knowledge about it (how Phineas Gage was still alive but his personality changed after he had an accident with a metal pole which pierced right through his head); the different philosophies about the brain (radiator to cool the heart was one); and learning styles. This is marked with a quiz where students identify their preferred learning style. Examples are given of the impact this can have on revision.

Students then return to tutor bases and experiment with different note-making techniques such as mind mapping and linear methods; they take notes from sample texts and are tested as a result; they try aural methods of revising, with storytelling to connect key words and concepts, and visual methods with images and picture referencing.

Students work in small groups as well as independently. They learn how to summarise bulk information into key concepts and then present this to each other and explain their thinking. All of this leads towards creating a revision timetable and revising some of their own work.

A week before revision day, students are told they must bring their exam timetable and some material they would like to revise from. Once they have learnt and experimented with different note-making skills and other techniques, they discuss scenarios relating to time organisation and efficiency. This helps them to create their own revision timetable, with slots for recapping, homework and breaks - and a start date - tomorrow!

During the weeks leading up to study leave, tutors are able to refer back to this and check on how students are progressing with their timetables.

Students can then put into practice some of what they have learnt by revising the material they have brought with them, tested by a partner to see how effective their learning has been.

Towards the end of the day, the group returns to the theatre where they are tested on what they remember from the morning presentation about the brain -points can be made on short-term memory here, and on where they go next.

The day will be evaluated so we know what other support they might need. We tell them that mentoring will be available from sixth-form volunteers and that they need to follow their revision timetables to be successful.

Jane Christopher is deputy headteacher of Droitwich Spa High School

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