GCSEs taught in 60 minutes

30th January 2009 at 00:00
Pupils succeed at science module after one high-speed lesson plus exercise breaks

Pupils have passed a GCSE module after just an hour of teaching using an approach that could revolutionise classroom practice, The TES can reveal.

Students at Monkseaton High in North Tyneside scored up to 90 per cent in a GCSE science paper after one session involving three 20-minute bursts of intensive teaching with slides, interspersed with 10-minute breaks for physical exercise.

The "spaced learning" technique produced better results for more than a quarter of students after an hour than they achieved in traditional classes after four months.

Monkseaton has gained publicity for its trials of the approach but had never before asked pupils to sit a public exam after a single session.

The school will extend the approach to all age groups and all subjects from this September. It is also drawing up pilot schemes with primaries to use it to teach languages.

Paul Kelley, head of Monkseaton, said the technique was based on neuroscientific research into how the brain creates memories.

"This is hard-nosed scientific research that we have done to help improve learning for everyone in every year," he said. "Results appear to show that it is a very powerful tool for learning a lot very quickly.

"It is an exciting development, and other schools should trial it."

In the experiment, 48 Year 9 pupils, who had not covered any part of the GCSE science syllabus, were given a spaced learning session for an hour and a half.

They were presented with the syllabus of the entire biology module in 70 rapid-fire slides in 20 minutes. This was then repeated twice after 10- minute breaks for physical exercise such as juggling and basketball.

Pupils took the multiple-choice exam a week later, a year earlier than normal: some gained A grades, 40 per cent achieved at least a C and 80 per cent at least a D.

In Year 10, the same students sat a different module after four months of conventional teaching, revision and exam practice.

On average, pupils scored 58 per cent on the first paper. On the second, students averaged 68 per cent, but 13 of them - more than one in four - achieved worse results, despite the months of preparation.

Monkseaton is the country's first trust school. With partners including the Open University and Microsoft, it has gained a reputation for innovative education experiments.

Mr Kelley said: "I have been a teacher for more than 30 years and I know there is no magic bullet, but there are answers and techniques you never thought of before that are coming from science."

The spaced learning trial, using modules from AQA's science GCSE, is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. There are six modules in the science GCSE.

Monkseaton pupils had used the technique as a revision aid, but this is the first time it has been used in isolation at the start of a course.

Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of London University's Institute of Education, applauded schools that try new approaches to teaching.

"This is an encouraging experiment but we need to be careful," he said. "This result may be because this type of learning was particularly suited to the technique, it could be teacher effect, or it could be they just got lucky."

A spokesman for the AQA exam board said: "We have complete confidence in the specification and the rigour of our courses."

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