Revising is like eating an elephant. It is possible if you do it a bit at a time. Students help prepare and present materials for our annual Year 11 GCSE revision evening which provides them and their parents with a range of strategies to help cope with their examinations. It may be something of a cliche, but it is the student's name which will appear on the certificate in spite of all the support they may have received from uncountable friends, parents and teachers throughout their education.
We aim to motivate them to take responsibility for their own success, to engage themselves in learning with head, hands and heart. They have already studied brain-based learning techniques, including learning styles and intelligences, as a module of "additional studies". Other ideas such as Mind Mapping are features of many of their daily lessons.
For the evening itself we try to provide practical and exciting information and activities which will suit every learning style. Previous years have included "Mastermind" challenges on teachers' specialist chosen subjects and games based on "The Generation Game", most notably the conveyor belt, and correctly identifying particular bones and organs.
Students have also rapped their science notes, and created imaginative and vivid stories with associated sounds and music to help them remember key facts. We also use posters, cartoons, Mind Maps and mnemonics to reinforce memory. I can still recall the phrase "Silly Old Harry Chased A Horse Through Our Attic" for remembering the trig ratios. Now I encourage my students to create their own phrases, the stranger the better. Laurie Dodson, a teacher of drama, hopes that the ideas of the Reduced Shakespeare Company can be adapted to allow students to summarise plays, set books and key concepts in other curriculum areas, perhaps using textspeak.
The evening also features advice on motivation, diet, exercise, sleep and relaxation. Students have the chance to hear from successful sixth-formers on how they revised. We constantly emphasise the importance of setting short-term targets and breaking revision down into chunks. And parents and pupils have the chance to discuss some of the inevitable conflicts which can arise as exam pressure mounts and to learn ways of resolving them.
Similar events are under consideration for other year groups, focusing on motivation, transferable skills and thinking skills. The ideas are fundamental to teaching and learning and encourage students to develop the habits of independent and confident learners.
Back in Year 10, Josephine Gurney-Read excelled in a memory test taken by her GCSE mathematics group. This year we intend to use a similar technique to learn some basic Norwegian. Now in Year 12, Josie writes: Simple techniques such as giant posters, mnemonics and straightforward story telling can help you improve your recall enormously. Colourful posters or Mind Maps are useful for visual or spatial learners, while mnemonics, the rhythmic raps or verses we craft to give our brains the connections it needs for more immediate recall, are predominantly useful for auditory learners.
For me, the Robert Winston-inspired storytelling method to link important facts or numbers proved the most successful. The idea is to pick a particularly well known route you take to and from work, and associate the facts that need remembering with different landmarks on your journey. This has the potential to satisfy every kind of learner; movement for the kinaesthetic learners, words for the auditory learners, and images for the visual learners. Having experimented myself, my recollection of 20 out of 20 randomly selected objects in one minute seems to make learning this method worthwhile.
Andrew Eaton is study support co-ordinator at Notre Dame high school, where Josephine Gurney-Read is a Year 12 pupil