3 Revision Strategies for Last Minute Lessons

It’s the time of year when exams are looming and workload seems at an all-time high. Revision sessions, extra marking and last minute interventions take their toll on your time and energy. It’s all for the best cause and with the best of intentions, but it can be a lot to deal with.

This year, I am teaching Literature to three year groups. I have loved it, and feel immensely lucky in an age of English Language priority to be able to do so. However, the revision stress and pressure is looming (we have had over 100 students from various years at revision regularly), and I have found myself searching for ideas for revision tasks and lessons that let the students feel they have really made some progress, but are not too laborious to put together. My top three are below.

1. Quote Quilts

Adapted from a History and MFL idea I saw on Twitter, these work really well for essay practice without the write-up (and the resultant written marking). Feedback can be verbal and quick, making students feel they have progressed and learnt in a faster loop than a traditional written response. I have used these as preparation before an exam style write-up, and have also used them to prepare quotes for a competitive ‘quote tennis’ style match, pitching half the room against the other.

The concept is simple: take a grid (4×4 for the whole text, or you could do 2×2 or 3×3 for individual characters) and write a list of themes or essay question topics. Colour code the topic list as a key and fill in the grid with quotes. Then, colour each quote with all the colours you can link it to. The more colourful the quilt, the better your quotes!

quilt inspiration

A history themed inspiration from Karen Knight (@KKNteachlearn) on Twitter)

This has been good to do in groups on big bits of paper, or individually to revise quotes and think critically about them.

2. Revision Clocks

 

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Picture from Slideshare

I discovered these via Twitter (again) and they are brilliant! If you have loads of things students want to cover in a lesson, or you want to cover all the characters or themes in a text, one sheet and five-minute increments make even the rowdiest of classes focus. It’s really clear to see what segments students are confident in and where they need a little more help, and they have a piece of revision they can be really proud of at the end. they can be used in a number of ways, but here are some I have tried:

Student-led (individual): Students are given the timings by the teacher and simply fill each segment in with what they know. They can have a minute at the start of each segment for questions, then it’s them and their individual knowledge. This works best with success criteria (eg. aim for 3 quotes, 3 points and 3 links to context in each segment).

Student-led (group): Using fewer segments (6 instead of twelve) students complete the clock but all start at different points. Every five minutes they swap their work with the person next to them, or around a small group. This means they will have a mixture of their own work and others’ ideas on their sheet at the end. it also encourages them to further others’ ideas and think beyond the obvious.

Teacher-led: The class decide the topics they are unsure about and the teacher delivers notes covering these in five-minute segments, with time for questions in each bit too. This allows for a structured approach, constant motivation due to time constraint, and everyone to have lesson time on something they want to cover.

I’ve found these particularly useful with lower sets, but higher sets have found it good to take home and use in a structured revision hour.

3. Who Am I?

post it notes.jpgI must admit, my penchant for colour coding and stationery has garnered me a bit of a reputation in my department, but I do love a good post-it note. They are just so useful. And that’s all you need for this game (which has saved me on numerous occasions when half the year group has shown up for revision and I’ve planned for 25 students). Students simply write a character name, theme or essay topic on the post-it note, and stick it on another’s head. That student then has to ask questions and guess what their note says, but the only information they will have from others will be in the form of quotes. This has kept students who have finished early amused for a long time, and they ended up writing and guessing things like ‘The Boss’ and ‘Candy’s Dog’ and ‘The girl from Weed’ which was pretty impressive.

So there you have it! My top three newfangled revision methods for this season. What revision methods are you enjoying at the moment? Have you discovered anything new? Let me know, and thanks for stopping by!

 

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Marking with Impact: Highlighters, RAG and Codes

Term is well underway, and finding time to blog is proving difficult. The sheer volume of work can seem overwhelming at times, so finding ways to ‘work smart’ are a must.

As English teachers, marking is a constant mountain we are striving to plough through. We itch to write lengthly comments detailing exactly where students have gone wrong and options to improve, but realistically this is not sustainable or useful. It is truly soul destroying to have spent hours upon hours marking books, only to have students flick lackadaisically through them and then make the same mistakes in the next piece of work.

As such, we have been using a new system over the last few weeks which seems to be working really well. Time will tell if it has true impact, but the initial outlook seems very positive. We have adopted two colour highlighters for marking: green and orange. Green is for any strengths in the work; orange is for any issues, errors or weaknesses in the work. When we mark books, we simply turn to a key task we wish to mark and attack it with the highlighters.

This works for all task types, and allows detailed and focused marking for a task. Alongside this, we have our Top 10 list in the front of students’ books covering common errors.

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It took a while to ‘let go’ of lengthly comments, and I still do write a lot on KS5 essays, but using this method means I can get through a class of books in about 2 hours. That’s a major improvement on my usual time, and their feedback is more specific because I don’t get marking fatigue in the same way.

I use this in conjunction with a whole class feedback sheet. These have been popular on Twitter for a while and take many different forms, but a basic template for me would look something like this:

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I share this on students’ iPads, then we have a STAR (like DIRT) lesson where students spend the whole hour working through the list of tasks and responding to the highlighter in their books. IMG_7055.JPG

As you can see, they complete it (often at length) in green pen. This forces them to look at each piece of feedback and complete a relevant task to address it. There are also extension tasks on the slide for students who have fewer targets. They also have digital target trackers they can update and document their reflections using their iPads.

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The final stage is to check students have made the effort to respond. This can be done in the feedback lesson or subsequent lesson, and takes very little time and effort. I stick a red, amber or green dot on the front page of books to clearly mark how well a student has responded:

 

GREEN: Getting it and reflecting effectively

AMBER: Reflecting but still some issues/errors

RED: Little/no effort with reflection

I then have a clear way of deciding a marking order next time around, and can monitor students depending on their colour. It’s also easy for them to see how they are doing!

Feedback from students has been really positive: lots ask for more time and the quality of talk from them is more driven and focused. We complete this feedback cycle for one piece of exercise book marking and one assessment piece every half term, so twelve pieces from each student in each academic year. This allows us to cover each strand in detail and to assess progress over time, without losing all life outside of work during the academic year.

How do you cope with your marking load? Do you use any of these strategies? What do you find particularly effective? Let me know on Twitter or down below, and thanks for stopping by!

Updates and Links

It’s been a while since I have posted. There’s no easy way to get around that, so sorry. My faculty have recently set up a blog, a Twitter feed and a Youtube channel, so my efforts are currently being directed there. I will be doing some personal reflections towards the end of the term here, along with ensuring all my pedagogy posts are duplicated here, but in the meantime please check out the links below for my posts and subscribe to the blogs if you haven’t already. That way, you get all my awesome colleagues and their posts as well as mine!

Thanks for stopping by!

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Friday 5: Alternative Feedback Methods

Being an English Teacher is tough for many reasons, but among the teaching community the primary source of contention is the marking. The never ending ever growing truly relentless marking.

Exam season seems to bring out the sadism of the job. Just how much red penning can you handle before you crack? It isn’t just English, but from my personal experience the constant correcting of repetitive mistakes and hours writing developed feedback can take its toll: especially when students get books or papers back and all they look at is the number, or the letter, or nothing at all. Certainly not your carefully crafted comments.

As I teach a lot of KS3 and my priority has to be shifted to examination classes this term, I have spent some time collating methods which reduce the teacher workload when it comes to marking books, exams or other forms of student work. These are not new or groundbreaking but they are things I didn’t think of until someone mentioned them or I discovered them online. I am still hunting for more ideas, so if you use something which works well please let me know through Twitter or by commenting below!

 

1. Whole Class Feedback Sheets

This gem of an idea came from @RSillmanEnglish, a fab colleague and fiend of mine. She saw it on Twitter and decided to try it with her GCSE exam class. I looked into it and became hooked. It gives you the opportunity to provide detailed feedback, praise and address concerns without writing the same thing fifteen times. I designed my own class feedback sheets with STAR (Solo Time for Achievement through Reflection. DIRT for most people) tasks so the next lesson I had with the students was already planned and differentiated accordingly. I love them so much, I even developed a student feedback and reflection sheet for my exam classes. You can download any of this stuff for free on TES

2. Stamping Approach

This has worked pretty well for my younger classes, but requires a bit of set up. My students have written the writing success criteria for any piece of work in their books, using their two hands as a key for the two main aspects of writing: content and accuracy. I have a stamp with two hands on it. All I need to do now is to skim read their drafts and RAG each of the fingers of the hand. Students can then look back at the hands and work out what they need to work on. Quick but detailed, and students love having little hands stamped on their work (for some weird reason).

3. Highlighting

This is a tried and tested method which works well with lower attaining classes as it focuses them a little more. It was first brought to my attention by my Head of Faculty and I have been using it ever since. We use an orange highlighter (colours are, of course, interchangeable) to run through work and highlight any errors. This can be done when books are collected or, more conveniently, can be done whilst students are drafting. Students then need to address each highlighted word/mark/area and tick when they have done so. This can then be verified by the teacher. As well as this, we use a green highlighter to identify some great moments in the work. A confidence boosting DIRT/STAR task can then be to get the student to justify why we have highlighted the particular line.

4. Student Selector

This is not a feedback method as such, but feeds into one nicely. It’s as simple as it sounds: select three to five students at random at the end of each lesson. I do it on a fortnightly cycle so I end up marking everyone’s book in a fortnight. I then highlight or do a simple book check checklist to see if they are on track. The fact it is random means it keeps everyone on their toes, but it also means you are not taking in 30 books to mark in an evening. Instead you have a maximum of 25 and, if you keep up the routine, a maximum of two weeks’ work to check through. On busy weeks, I simply stick a red, yellow or green dot on the front of the book to indicate how the student is getting on. I then have a DIRT/STAR card which corresponds to the colours, getting the student to reflect on work and presentation and improve them. This is often set as a homework or starter task.

5. Kaizena

This is another fabulous discovery from the wonderful @RSillmanEnglish and is a really exciting way to give feedback. It is a web and downloadable app and allows you to leave comments on student work, which is uploaded from a digital document or a photograph. But here’s the really exciting bit. It allows you to leave voice annotations and links to video tutorials. This means you can explain corrections, rather than having that frantic feedback lesson. You know, where you feel pulled in all directions by students who cannot be bothered to read you comments, or who don’t understand your illegible scrawl. Considering we make video tutorials for students already, it also makes sense to be able to link them to work where the content is needed and will directly help the student to improve. Best of all, it syncs with Google Classroom. Winner!

 

These are the methods I am trialling and experimenting with so far. I hope to update this post with pictures once I am back in school and can get hold of some good examples. I hope this is useful and you can take something away from it – what do you do to alleviate marking workload? What methods work best for yoU? Let me know, and, as always, thanks for stopping by!

Spotlight on…Integrating Literacy

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Literacy and numeracy has become a huge focus in the UK at the moment . Particularly in Wales, the LNF provides stages of literacy and numeracy expected for each school year up to GCSE, with an expectation these should be mapped across the whole of the curriculum. The focus is clear in England too, with Ofsted starting to scrutinize whole school approaches to these skills. Continue reading “Spotlight on…Integrating Literacy”

Three Ways to Avoid Classroom RSI

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When you join the teaching profession, you have this blue sky vision of preaching knowledge to enthralled young people who take everything in straight away and love you from the moment you step in the room. Within your first week, you find this is not the case. Having been used to university halls and people either wanting to learn or not being present, it is a sharp shock back to reality to discover some students struggle to grasp tasks, stay on task, and in many cases don’t have the attention span to pick up instructions in the first place. Continue reading “Three Ways to Avoid Classroom RSI”

Friday 5: Resources for Teaching Shakespeare

ShakespeareTragedyI’ll be making a video to go with this at some point, but as I am teaching Shakespeare to two classes I thought I would share now some of the resources I have come across that have really helped with bringing the plays to life. Continue reading “Friday 5: Resources for Teaching Shakespeare”