Thursday, 25 January 2018

Revision skills - assume nothing

With the mock speaking exams for Year 11s and annual exams for Year 10 just around the corner, the issue of revision skills has loomed large recently. Both my Year 10s and, more worryingly, some of my Year 11s have been resistant to the revision techniques I've introduced to them to help them learn for the speaking exams, and they have struggled to choose the right tool for the right situation. I see them clinging to the methods that worked for them at Key Stage 3, which don't fit the brave new world of the new GCSE that they find themselves in. The phrase which has echoed through recent times is "never assume".

 Here's what I've learned:

Never assume that demonstrating revision skills will be enough. Showing them the success of a technique doesn't necessarily mean that they have made the connection with when and why to use it. We need time in class to have those learning conversations where you can get the students to think about why certain strategies are effective for which reason. My experience in the last few months is that my students use certain techniques blindly without knowing why, meaning they make bad choices. Beyond the old chestnuts of "reading through" or "writing it out again and again", I've come across some new variations. 
Never assume they know the difference between different techniques. We've had success with memrise.com for promoting regular vocabulary learning, but some students now think that will also see them through the speaking exam!!?! 
Never assume they've got it. Once is not enough - the revision skills have to be practised on a very regular basis, and be integrated into the schemes of learning.
Never assume you can leave these techniques to KS4. Bad habits picked up in KS3 take an age to unlearn. 

Key Stage 3
Never assume they'll make the link between learning words in French with how they learnt spellings in primary school unless you make it for them. Look-Say-Cover-Write-Check needs reminders at the beginning of September at the very least. Talk to them about how they learnt in primary.
Never assume (and this I learnt again to my cost this week) they will understand how to make their own flashcards for revising for speaking assessments. 
And, of course, never assume they know how best to use them.

This week I wanted to do a revision lesson with my Year 7 French middle set.  I decided we would make our own flashcards for the key questions from the module we had just finished.  A nice, easy lesson, I thought.  Oh, how wrong I was. Everything seemed to throw up misunderstandings. Despite showing them a model on the board, some seemed genuinely mystified by the whole concept. For others, putting the question on one side and your own personal answer on the other seemed new.  Not cramming too much onto one card was another skill quite a few needed to learn. That was before we even got round to using them.

I wanted them to use the cards in 3 steps.
1. Ask the question and let your partner see the full answer.
2. Get the partner to answer the question but this time only revealing the starter words on the flashcard.
3. This time the partner has no help.
After a few minutes of pairwork, I heard several choruses of "j'ai fini". A closer questioning showed that they had done the task in order to get it over and done with, rather than with the deliberate aim of using the different stages to actually learn their answers.  A lot of conversations and coaching was needed to get the penny to drop.  I finished that lesson with a headache.

I was determined to get them to understand it more carefully, so I came back next lesson for a second go. Example cards, another explanation. More time. The second half of the lesson, the class was transformed.  I had a class that worked happily quizzing each other and coaching each other. A real taste of independent learning. I say "a taste", because if I don't do this again next time, they will forget all about it, apart from a few diligent students.

And for the students: never assume that you've learnt it just because you've spent time learning.  In the last 10 minutes, I got them to write out what they could remember, then use their green pens to see where they needed to focus their efforts. 

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