Put them to the test

4th April 2008 at 01:00

Make revision interactive by encouraging children to teach and quiz each other


It's often said that true understanding is brought about by explaining something to someone else. This adage is at the core of my attempts to use interactive whiteboard technology for pupils to teach their peers.

The lessons provide clear opportunities to link ICT to the teaching of communication skills in mathematics. It's also a useful way for pupils to revise.

I ask pupils to identify one of the skills they have learnt during the year, and to work in pairs and think about how they would teach this to a friend. They use a storyboard approach, identifying each step of the process, and noting how they would explain it. In my Year 7 class, ideas have included circle circumference and area calculations, solving simple equations and enlargement.

Once the pupils have prepared a storyboard for their presentation, I help them create a flipchart using ActivStudio. This contains the basic elements of their presentation, leaving space for them to write in calculations as they go.

ActivStudio and ActivPrimary software from Promethean include a screen recorder that can be set either to take a snapshot of the whiteboard at each stage of calculation, or to record continuous footage with an accompanying soundtrack.

After a few trial runs, the children are ready to go. With the screen recorder tool in ActivStudio, they use a microphone headset to present their learning. The software records their voice and everything that takes place on the screen, from drawings to calculations. Pupils present their work to a class of their peers, or alone to produce just a recording. Sometimes, just the discussions within the pairs as they prepare their presentation have brought about a greater understanding of a skill they already thought they knew.

Eventually, the pupils have the opportunity to view the resulting videos - and of course, they will make great teaching resources for other groups in the future.

In time, as groups improve the scope and quality of the presentations, it will be possible to build a library. And because no pupils actually appear on screen, they make a useful addition to resources within school and via virtual learning environments and school websites

- Michael Tidd teaches at Thomas A Becket Middle School in Worthing, West Sussex


There are many ways to revise languages. Spend lesson time working together using parts of the BBC Bitesize website (www.bbc.co.ukschoolsgcsebitesize) so that pupils realise how much it has to offer in terms of usefulness.

There are good revision sections for the main curriculum subjects, and for languages, there's a wealth of material for all four skill areas and the main topics. Or try www.bbc.co.uklanguages, with its wide variety of material and levels, or www.languagesonline.org.uk, where the grammar and games sections are particularly helpful.

Browse to find pages that will be useful, show them to your pupils and then send them off to use their initiative.

Run a session designing a group vocabulary mind map, get them to work through a topic and sub-headings provided by you, then ask each pupil to create a different mind map to bring and share next lesson.

Ask pupils to prepare a short presentation on a grammar point of their choice, learnt from devising and listening to talks on topics as varied as irregular past participles and "big, bigger, biggest".

When I asked my pupils to try different vocabulary learning strategies for four lists of words, they voted testing in pairs as the most successful. But trying different approaches gave variety and kept their interest up for longer

- Marian Jones is a part-time teacher and textbook writer


Getting started is the hardest part, says George Turnbull, QCA exams doctor. Too many pupils spend hours in their room, playing with the cat, texting their friends or staring blankly into space while panic mounts. "No use at all," he says. Far better to start small and gradually increase the amount you do. Teachers should advise pupils to:

- Start with 10 minutes. Then have a break for 10 minutes, then work for 10 more.

- Gradually extend periods to 30 minutes or so, but the breaks stay fixed at 10.

- Cover two or three subjects each evening, starting with the least popular subject and finishing with the most popular one.

- Encourage them to ask you if they're stuck - but don't push it.

Many pupils like to work with a friend or friends, testing each other on their knowledge.

This approach is supported by recent research from the United States by Jeffrey D. Karpicke et al, summarised in The TES newspaper this week. It shows that repeated testing, currently thought to be at best a neutral process in learning, is in fact crucial to consolidating it.

This is because the active retrieval of facts from the memory that occurs during testing is far more helpful than passive studying in promoting the long-term recall of information. So, contrary to current wisdom, keep on testing - and encourage pupils to test each other, and themselves.

The QCA's exams doctor can be contacted at examsdoctor@qca.org.uk.

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