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History Blog

Active Revision - 1
By Donald Cumming
09 Feb

It is that time of year when nervous students finally get round to focusing on revision.  They've no doubt purchased revision books, perhaps splashed out on helpful revision apps, and may even be constructing beautifully-coloured revision schedules...  But how do you engage them with revision in an active way?  What approaches can you take that get them beyond reading/taking pages of notes without ever processing the information or feeling overwhelmed by it?  My next few blog posts will hopefully add a few new ideas to your revision-activity toolkit, alongside reminding you of a few old classics it is always worth using.

My first suggestion is to simply stop calling it revision.  The very word has negative connotations and conjurs up a mental image of dull, tedious inactivity.  It is hardly going to inspire the students who need revision the most... However, those very same students may well spend hour and hours of their free time attending training sessions for the sports they love.  The practise the things they cannot do repeatedly.  They do monotonous activities (often in the rain and wind) without complaint.  They get out of bed early to attend the training sessions.  There must be a lesson to be learned here!

So the simplest thing you can do is to change the language you use from 'revision' to 'training'.  It isn't going to work magic on your 3 or 4 levels of progress figures overnight - but it might be the start of changing your students' perceptions and motivation to start learning all that knowledge.  Raise spirits by playing the theme from Rocky before you begin; you could also be creative and run some sessions in the sports hall, getting the blood pumping and the oxygen levels up whilst peer assessing model answers...  This is fun to do and a healthy alternative to providing biscuits or pizza to a revision session.

While you're busy changing perceptions of the exam process, why not change the names of your exams?  I am sure you will already have students who shudder at the mention of 'paper one' and are having sleepless nights thinking about a difficult 'paper two'.  Why keep using the same terminology if it is causing stress?  If you give the two exams a silly name (I like to call paper two 'Rodney' for example) it diffuses the unhelpful stress levels and allows students to focus on the main business of getting prepared to do well in the exam.  It won't work for all students but you might be surprised by the impact it has.

Hopefully these two strategies are both simple and effective - perhaps not for all, but as long as they work for your key students then they are worth giving them a go.

Donald is Assistant Headteacher at Holmfirth High School, and has set up a local network of Yorkshire-based History teachers.  He is also a Fellow of the Schools History Project.  Follow him on Twitter @northernhistory or the Northern History Network blog.


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