Revision is more effective when it comes in small chunks, writes Gerald Haigh
The BBC's Bitesize series aims to support pupils revising for their GCSE exams. The programmes work, too. Durham University researchers have found that pupils who use Bitesize programmes come out with GCSE results a grade higher than predicted by value-added calculations.
As well as the TV programmes there are books and a website. Monkseaton students have full access to all three. But, says Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton High School, Whitley Bay, which worked with the researchers: "Of the three, they prefer the TV programmes."
The religious studies programme is new for 1999. It follows the established format over two hours, giving generic guidance which can be applied to examinations of the various boards. Like the others, too, it has a running digital clock, and is divided into "bite-sized" sections.
The religious studies programme impressively combines businesslike and serious exam-focused exhortations with explorations of spirituality and religious practice. The programme starts by pointing out that success in GCSE religious studies rests on several fundamentals - knowledge of the basic beliefs of the religions being studied and the ability to explain their effects on people's lives, to discuss major religious issues, and to evaluate religious beliefs.
The emphasis at the start is on knowledge - the narrator points out that discussing a religion's effects and principles is impossible without a knowledge of what the people of that faith believe.
The programme illustrates this with 10 minutes of clips showing a variety of Christian services in a wide range of formal and informal settings. The student is then invited to explain what Christians actually believe. The points are summarised in text on the screen.
Another useful on-screen device is the "grade guide" - a sample question appears, followed by three specimen answers, at three grade levels.
These frequent on-screen text interludes are there to keep the student focused on the examination requirements.
The programme visits several major religions. Christianity, Sikhism, Judaism and Islam, for example, are covered in some depth, usually with a young adherent of the faith talking to camera, and with film of acts of worship.
As the programme goes on, it becomes clear that nothing important has been left out. The importance of holy books is covered, as is the need to learn (and spell correctly) the various religions' vocabulary.
Significantly, the issues in which religious believers become involved are also well-covered. We visit the family of a young boy murdered by racists. We hear both sides of the abortion debate - an interview that starts, uncompromisingly, with a doctor who is dressed and ready to perform an abortion.
Throughout, celebrities (former athletes Roger Black and Sally Gunnell, for example) pop up with encouraging words. And towards the end, in a moving sequence, boxer Chris Eubank walks on Brighton beach (the sea of faith metaphor strong here) talking quietly and reflectively about his spiritual beliefs.
This is an impressive resource which proves that challenging exam work and revision can be stimulating, interesting and filled with lively debate.
Website http:www.bbc.co.uk educationrevisionBook, pound;4.99. Tel: 01937 541001