How Star Wars can teach students to master exams

As part of the Revision Special Issue in the 18 March issue of TES, Alex Quigley – director of research at Huntington School in York – details how you can use Star Wars to help your students maximise their revision sessions. Here, he gives a sneak preview of his article, revealing four of his eight Jedi mind tricks

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I’m a Star Wars fan. I admit it. But considering the latest Star Wars film became the highest grossing film of all time, I am going to assume I am far from the only one. And, therefore, I feel comfortable using Han Solo and friends to frame what I hope will be a successful mission into the complicated world of getting students to revise. Yes, I am going to teach you how to use the Force.

Jedi mind trick 1

‘Revision is the “in” thing’

We know that the urge to revise lacks the gravitational pull of having fun with your friends or watching cat videos on YouTube. The teenage brain naturally struggles with planning and students exhibit a strong desire to fit in with their peers – revising hard is not usually considered the best way to fit in and flourish with friends.

But what if we found a way of using that desire to fit in to get these students revising? Our first revision mind trick is to positively frame revision as the “done” thing in the class. Instead of spending all our time railing at those who have failed to revise, we should celebrate individuals who exhibit the revision behaviours we desire, making every student thinks this is the norm. As every teacher knows instinctively, “Fear is the path to the dark side.” What our students want and need is to feel like they belong.

Jedi mind trick 2

‘You will achieve’

Our second revision mind trick involves that now familiar buzz phrase: cultivating a growth mindset in our students. As a prosthetic little green philosopher once said: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

It is too easy for our students to give up and believe that they can’t revise or that they aren’t ‘naturally’ academic – as Yoda would have said, “That is why you fail.” The now well-known idea of growth mindset, based on Carol Dweck’s research, can surely help here. The self-control and application required of revision sessions is aided by the belief that failure, difficulty and struggle, provide what Dweck describes as “opportunities for learning”. We need to focus on failure and celebrate it as an opportunity to get better, alongside communicating the message that exam success is within students’ control.

 

 

Jedi mind trick 3

‘This is the route to that job you have always wanted’

While students are no doubt influenced and motivated by revision success stories, a great exam grade is just an outcome and it doesn’t feel tangible to students. Their prospective future career is still in a galaxy far, far away to them. Our students need to understand how these seemingly interminable revision sessions relate to their future goals – how bullseying womp rats in their T-16 now can help them take down an empire later. 

Jedi mind trick 4

‘You want to turn that music off and enjoy silence’

Other revision myths need razing from our students minds, like nameless stormtroopers being smashed by a fearless Jedi. For example, the seductive belief in multi-tasking? IT’S A TRAP. School them like Obi-wan with the knowledge that multi-tasking is a myth and the reality is that they are task switching – an ineffective way to learn and remember. Our seventh revision mind trick, then, will be to convince our students of the following: switch off your music, put away your phone and focus. Attractive, it is not; effective it will be.

 

 

Alex Quigley is director of research at Huntington School in York. His book, The Confident Teacher, is out in May He tweets @HuntingEnglish

This is an edited version of an article in the 18 March edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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