A lot of leadership courses and books are heavy on vision, ethos and values but light on the day-to-day business of making things work when they could very easily turn into a chaotic, disorganised free-for-all. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for mission statements and inspirational speeches, but if your department doesn’t run smoothly then it’s all hot air. Quizlet is a really strong tool to support key areas for a well-run department.
I believe that a department should be organised around the teaching and curriculum, and not vice versa. Quizlet allows you to have a crystal-clear, accessible framework for your curriculum and it is perfectly suited to the demands of the new science GCSEs. What’s more, it provides an engaging resource for students to use for their own independent learning to strengthen their retrieval of content learned in lessons, allowing you to plan more teaching of high-level material across the department.
Every unit we teach in science has a clear set of questions and answers that students need to know before they can access more applied and synoptic questions. With Quizlet you have a central and explicit store of these questions. There are a number of options here: firstly, you can create your own study set; for example for Physics GCSE Unit 1 Energy. Alternatively, you can create a folder with the unit title, and then add study sets to that folder. The beauty of this is that you can find and add study sets made by other teachers, slashing your workload. This also allows smaller sets to be set as homework after individual lessons, rather than requiring the whole unit to have been taught before homework is set.
These study sets can be used like a more explicit version of the specification so that staff can see exactly what needs to be taught in a unit. By putting a link to the relevant study set in your curriculum map, you can give staff instant access to a highly visible list of everything they should be including in their lessons. Specifications can be a bit dense and inaccessible, especially for busy teachers who need to fit their planning in along with all the other responsibilities of teaching. A Quizlet study set takes all the substance of the specification and transforms it into a user-friendly and readable format.
We have a department policy of “Teach the top; build from the bottom”. I don’t think there’s a science department in the country that hasn’t raised an eyebrow at the challenge inherent in the new GCSEs, due to both the sheer volume of content and the intrinsic difficulty of many of the topics and questions. My department is embracing this challenge as a wonderful opportunity for our students to learn more about their world – but it is, nonetheless, daunting. We have a departmental policy of practising and quizzing foundational knowledge so that higher level material can be planned for lesson time. Quizlet is perfectly suited for this.
A lot of things from the specification aren’t complicated, but students struggle to remember them: circuit symbols, specialised cells, the reactivity series. Quizlet allows these to be mastered so that they can be applied in new and synoptic contexts in preparation for the exams. The “Diagrams” function is absolutely brilliant for learning the features of the required practicals, another key area that students struggle to remember. Again, many excellent study sets are already available, and if you create a new one it can then be used by everyone in your department.
3. Independent learning
As a department, we are seeking to give students accountability for their own progress by providing them with resources and tools that they are motivated to use. Quizlet works really well for this – the platform is appealing to students. They can see the value of the study sets and, crucially, they can see the progress they make in just a short space of time.
With the standard account you can share study sets and assign them to your classes: you “create a class” and are given a link that students can use to join that class. You can then either email this link to the class or share it through your school website or VLE. Students are able to create their own user account (for free), click on the link and are added to the class. After that, any study sets you add to that class will appear on that student’s list of study sets.
For a small monthly fee, the “Teacher” package allows teachers to gain an overview of the class’s general needs, and plan targeted lessons accordingly: this is a great starting point for dialogue around progress and planning.
4. Formative assessments
A well-run department needs well-planned assessments that give you a good picture of what students know and can do. Quizlet isn’t itself an assessment tool, but the content of the study sets can be used for formative assessment. We like to supplement the exam-style questions with a front sheet of factual recall. This encourages our students to really revise using the study sets, since they have a guarantee of what the questions will be. Once you have a study set for a unit, it is a matter of seconds to copy and paste the questions on to a page in Word to give you a recall front sheet for every test. You can also print directly from the Quizlet website. We can then add this to our department tracking as a separate score that, while independent of the exam-style questions, gives us an important broad picture of what students do and don’t know.
As a department, we are constantly seeking to improve and it’s a wonderful place to work because of this mindset. Of course, you need great people and great curriculum to do this but Quizlet can play a significant role in this journey, too. If you’re not using Quizlet already in your science department then give it a go: it’s easy, quick, students love it and it gives great results.
Ruth Ashbee is lead practioner and teacher of physics at the Telford Priory School, Shropshire