The Science of Learning – What you need to know.

This morning Bradley Busch ran a CPD session at my college. Usually with CPD events it falls under one of these categories: loads of ideas that never actually become reality, some ideas that you have already been doing for years, fads or an opportunity to write your to-do lists whilst you wait for it to finish! Today was very different.

For me, Bradley Busch is the best speaker I have come across since Dylan William. Maybe the reason for this is that he is not a teacher by trade but a psychologist. Maybe it is because he worked with athletes for years rather than teachers. Maybe it is because he focuses upon educational research rather than teaching ideas. At the end of the day it is the research that helps us formulate new ideas, since we are all professionals in our fields after all. So here are the highlights:

Busch started the morning by presenting the question: “why do some students learn20191002_091200.jpg faster and more effectively than others?” Is it ability, motivation, resilience, hard work or is it the way they are storing their learning? He represented the research using a grid that questions: Am I aware of it (the learning)? and Do I really know it? Students who don’t know and are not aware are just ‘clueless’. Students who know the answer but not how they know it are working from ‘gut feeling’. Students that are aware and are confident with their answers sometimes leads to ‘blind spots'(over familiarity). We need students to fall into the final box = Deep Knowledge. Testing the confidence leading to ‘blind spots’, rocking the boat of familiarity and moving the learning into deep knowledge.

So how do we do this? The answers lie in the memory and what works…

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Revision Must-Do: Blank Sheet Summary

Last week when attending a conference fea38478898-stock-vector-light-bulb-character-in-moment-of-insight-turing a talk on short and long term memory, I had a lightbulb moment. I realised that the revision I am doing with my students focuses upon developing impressive revision resources such as posters, cards and notes with coveralls and motivating my students to read and memorise the material but then I started to ask ‘how do students actually check that this information is being registered in their memories?’

So for the past few lessons I have trialled a very simple way to test memory recall – the blank sheet summary. After stude59707158_2378210682460170_830716807567376384_nnts completed a ppt or coverall sheet, I gave them 5 minutes to read through, highlight, make notes (whatever it is that students do when revising) and then on a blank sheet of A4 paper they had 5 minutes to write everything they could remember from that topic – no structure necessary just a summary of brain on paper. Once finished, the students then shared with a partner what they had remembered and added in any missing information in a different colour.60258585_2378210719126833_1699873284671143936_n

The students found it extremely useful as a method to consolidate what they could and could not remember. The A4 sheets were filled with information within minutes, demonstrating short term memory was on point. In two days we will do the same test again to see if the information revised is embedded in longer term memory…

This strategy is by no means ground breaking but sometimes the simplest changes can have the biggest impact. An extra ten minutes per topic to consolidate learning and enhance memory recall might make all the difference in the exam. Fingers crossed!


If you would like your own copy of the Consolidation Packs for first and second years, just click on the image below to add it to your shopping cart.


Update (October 2019): The Consolidation Packs and Lessons are off to a flying start:

“Where do I start?”: Revising New Spec

How is it that time already!! With a whirlwind new spec approaching the finish line, impending final exams and just not enough time to feel in control, it all feels a little too much!

I receive a lot of emails asking for advice and help with revision. In short there is no 1.pngquick fix or easy answer. Revision is hard work and takes a long time. I often describe revising like going to the gym (it’s about as fun!!), you need to go to the gym consistently, regularly and with a healthy approach, in order to change your physical fitness. This is exactly the same for your brain, you need to revise regularly and consistently and follow a healthy approach – regular breaks, plenty of sleep, no distractions etc.

So here is some advice that might help:

What to revise?:

This might seem a really silly question but the answer of all 32 topics is just so daunting it needs to be broken down into more manageable chunks:

      • Learning key words
      • Answering short content based questions
      • Planning potential essay answers (e.g. “An argument based on reason is more reliable than an argument based on senses.” Discuss or ‘Critically compare Plato’s Form of the Good and Aristotle’s Prime Mover’ or “Evolution logically explains design without the need of God.” Discuss)
      • Making textbook/ wider reading notes
      • Analyzing the spec requirements

These cover all the main elements needed. If students know their key words and spec requirements = C grade, if they can plan potential answers this will help ease the pressure off the exam and if they do a little wider reading this will support higher grades.

Where to start my revision?:

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Revision Guides: Which ones are worth your money?

The Revision Guides I purchased where Libby Ahluwalia’s Oxford A Level Religious Studies (one book) and Chris Eyre and Julian Waterfield’s My Revision Notes for Religious Studies (separated into three books).

I have to admit straight away I am biased towards both books, so when ordering them I knew it was a done deal as far as quality. Ahluwalia’s text books have been an invaluable support over the last two years in preparing and teaching the new spec material. I trust Ahluwalia’s experience with OCR and her keen yet fair eye when it comes to assessment. I have also worked closely with Julian Waterfield over the years, so I know first hand his love for the subject, his honed skills for marking essays and his understanding of the reality of teaching. Neither of the Revision Guides let me down!

However I know with tight budgets purchasing a class set for both guides is unrealistic. Also bombarding students with lots of different books can sometimes over complicate revision rather than make it easier. Therefore as I am not a fence sitter, here is a rundown of my views of both guides:review 1

So my overall verdict:

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Revision ‘Secret’ Weapon: The Coverall!

I have to admit I spend a lot of time thinking about different methods to help my students learn. I also have to admit that some of my ideas are more successful than others (cutting up a 3 page exam answer and having my students put it into the right order did not go down well!). Occasionally I have a brain wave: this is one of them.

Let me put it into context: when I was a student I remember spending a lot of my time revising, pounding the pavements going over my rewritten class notes in my head. Whenever I forgot a name or argument I could still picture where it was written in my notes – just not what it said. Reflecting on this as a teacher I thought that maybe some of my students may think like me – that is, remember ideas based on the placement of them on a sheet of paper. And what’s more, I started to think, wouldn’t it be great if everything they needed to achieve the A* could be found all on one organised sheet. (See post Going for Gold: Achieving that A* for more tips on how to achieve top marks).

Voilà….The Coverall

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“How do I revise?” Top Revision Strategies

Revision will haunt you throughout your life (sorry to tell you this!) You will have to revise for your A levels and then your degree but more than likely you will also be examined and tested in your employment. So hopefully I can provide you with a few efficient and successful ways to revise.tumblr_n5szlraEzv1qhejy8o1_500

But before I do, I think it is important for you to recognise that everyone revises, stores and recalls information differently. It is about trying lots of different methods, testing yourself and finding which works best for your brain.

Recommended options:

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