Revision and Research

This post  is really a thank you to Mr. John Tomsett (@JohnTomsett) for recognizing and encouraging others to engage with research. 

I don’t have much time to read blog posts anymore. I’m not sure I ever did but even less now I have made a conscious effort to ensure life comes before work and tend to book up my weekends! I’m not sure how that’s working out either… but this week, I am very  grateful that I chose to read John’s latest blog posts. 
John’s post is here: Meta-cognition and self-regulation. As John’s post suggests you can see what The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation says about Meta-cognition and its impact on students here: The Sutton Trust Meta-cognition

My use of this information started at the end of a tough two years with my loveable rogues I sometimes call year 11, I had run out of ideas of what to do and how to revise in the final week before their IGCSE exam. The exam is skills based and there is no content to cover (another debate entirely) and we had reached the point where we had done many a skills based lesson, completed a walking talking (and a few almost silent) mock exam and we had 7 hours left to fill. More importantly, this time last week, I was far from confident that I had totally prepared my students for this exam the best I could. In other words, I felt like something was missing.

There are a great array of strategies we pull out of the bag at this time of year to ensure students’ revision is valuable and engaging. In the past, I have used many of these; I probably will use a few in my literature revision classes to consolidate their knowledge of plays and poetry. The T&L team at my school have just produced a wonderful guide to revision strategies. More of which can be found @TLMountbatten. The image below is one great example. Having trailed some of these techniques I know they work well with revision of content and knowledge and this has many ideas to try. Yet, on Sunday, I found I needed something else, something different to truly help my students revise the key exam skills – hopefully this is something we can add to the revision guide next year! 


An image from the @TLmountbatten revision tips guide 

So, when I read John’s post about meta-cognition and self-regulation, I thought it was worth a shot. I have certainly modeled answers for these students before – on their papers, on the whiteboard and verbally. Indeed, I have shown the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ answers; I have asked them to use the mark schemes to identify what they need to do; I have said aloud what they should be doing but I have never explicitly recognized or told them what I would think if this was my exam.

Something I found particularly appealing was how the Trust believed that “The evidence indicates that teaching these strategies can be particularly effective for low achieving and older pupils.”. Although a GCSE group, I felt this was worth a go with my students in the final countdown towards their exams next week. All students are predicted either D or C grades in English Language. 

How I used this approach:

Using a similar approach to John and with a bit of guidance from the man himself, I spent Sunday night scribbling my thoughts on to an exam paper. It was quite enlightening process. Instead of answering the questions, I wrote down only what I would think in an exam. The photos below show some places where I did this. 

The next day, once I had annotated some of the exam paper, I used my visualizer to show this paper to students. I asked them to write down exactly what I had thought on an identical exam. At first, they were reluctant as this meant writing but eventually they settled down and accepted my thoughts. I think many were relieved to see I didn’t jump straight to the answer and get full marks by just existing. Then, once we had been through the instructions page and first question, I attempted to answer the first question in front of them. I verbally explained my thought process making notes along the way.

Students copied down everything I wrote exactly. The front cover is below. I realize it looks quite busy but some parts were added afterwards.


As the Sutton Trust explain, one possibly issue is students relying on the prompts. They call the approach “Scaffolding” saying it ‘provides a useful metaphor: a teacher would provide support (scaffolding) when first introducing a pupil to a concept, then remove the scaffolding to ensure that the pupil continues to manage their learning autonomously.’ Although not a perfect approach, to address this, once I had completed the question, students attempted a question in another paper. They were allowed to have their notes about my thoughts in front of them (something I would change over time) and I tried to reinforce the idea of thinking  in the same way I had before answering.

It quickly became clear that this was having an impact of some kind as my class settled quickly and only a few began to complete it in the same way they had previously (ignoring the question, reading the text first etc.). After a bit of jostling and reassuring them I wasn’t losing my mind they too gave ‘thinking’ a go!

Next lesson, once students had completed their answer and I had time to look at them, I asked a student to come up to the front and explain their thought process to the others using a new copy of the exam question and their own answer. This was the best part as the peer-to-peer dialogue seemed to have most impact. Students were evidently in awe of anyone brave enough to not only explain an answer but to explain their own thoughts. They realized that it wasn’t just a teacher who could think concisely in an exam  and they began to come on board.  

Overall, we completed the exact same process for all 3 questions. Today, at the end of the explanation I asked the student sharing their answer on the visualizer to give her top three tips for the question. All students wrote these down and one said “I’ll try and think like Holly in the exam”! Thankfully, the way Holly was thinking about the question was right!

Another student later said to me that she would normally  listen to me but also liked listening to the other students because she knew what they were saying wouldn’t be “complicated in anyway” and that sometimes she thinks “adults over complicate things”.

The outcome and impact may not yet be something I can yet measure and as I write this I have little proof aside from a few annotated papers and a video of a student explaining her thoughts to others. 



A student’s scribbles on their own paper. 

The impact is not yet and maybe won’t be measurable, yet when marking their papers last night at least 5 of my students who previously scored 2-3 on a 9 mark question scored 8-9 instead. For all this was a huge improvement.

I feel like this approach to learning and heightening an awareness of this meta-cognitive process is beneficial to both students and teachers and I’m glad I gave it a go. 

Thank you to John and his team and of course to the ever useful Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Learning Toolkit!


6 Replies to “Revision and Research”

  1. There was a Class Teaching post from Durrington High School about this kind of idea recently too
    I really like the point about demonstrating to children that answers don’t magically appear in the head of teachers and the talented – it’s that fixed-mindset problem again of thinking that English, maths, science, or whatever is something you can either do, or cannot do.
    I blame Yoda!

    1. Thanks for this! This looks really similar in technique and aim. I found it helpful to make clear to the students this is what I think and this is almost one step on from finding out the key bits of a question. It’s great to see it done in different subjects. It’s actually quite a hard thing to do in case we do get it wrong but really necessary!

  2. Really like these ideas! Am going to try with GCSE Spanish reading and A level Spanish translation to focus students on the really key aspects of the question. Recently walked/talked through a question as we marked it and I saw the penny drop with so many students! Thank you for sharing.

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