Sunday, 17 March 2013

But Miss, how do I revise for this exam? - Top Tips for Student Revision

With exams looming at school, the air is filled with a heady mix of anxiety and excitement. It is pervading every classroom and corridor. Anxiety about the impending exams and leaving the safety of Year 11 wafts through the building. Excitement about prom, friendships and new ventures in their life ahead echo all around. Teachers go the extra mile, trying their hardest to get the students to where they deserve to be - ready for the exams. Each time we near exam season there is a tangible sense urgency in schools.

Students often act out at this point in their school career. Life becomes a little too difficult. Some are angry that they are not where they thought they would be. Other students begin to panic about the fact that they have not worked as hard as they could have up until this point, and act out because of this. For some, the issues that have always been there from home or outside school become too much to bare on top of school demands. A few have parents that demand the world and they feel themselves crumbling under the pressure. Our job as teachers is to acknowledge these real pressures and try our best to lead them through the quagmire that is Year 11 and get them out the other side in one piece. Job done. No easy feat I can tell you!

In my classroom, I always try to quash the fears and calm the nerves of my students around exam time. The emphasis is very much on me giving them the final push they need to get all they can for the exam, not whipping them up into a panic about what they have not done. They need clear guidance about how and when to revise as well as how to prioritise. If they choose not to take the tips then that is down to them, but most will take on board the advice I give and reap the benefits.

Revision can be a boring and daunting prospect for the most committed of students. We all have different things that help us through periods where we have to work super hard and independently. For some that will be reading over everything they have ever taken notes on, for most it will have to be more innovative that that to keep their interest and help them remember.

So here are some of the tips I have given my students this year to keep their revision fresh. I hope you find them useful.

Revision Timetable:
Create your own revision timetable so that you can divide out your time effectively before the mock exams. You can use the template below or create your own.

On Line Revision Guides:
There are so many high quality online revision guides available that we would be silly not to direct our students to the free resources that already exist out there. Get them reading and searching what is on offer online.

Past Exam Papers:
Good old fashioned practice questions never hurt anyone! Take a look at past question papers from the exam boards website. They are available to all for free, so use them. Plan out your answer to the given question and look at the mark scheme (again available free on the site) to check your answer.

You Tube:
There are loads of really useful revision resources avaiable to you on You Tube. Have a go at searching for your topic and revising that way. There is so much out there, you are spoilt for choice! You could even make your own video on a revision topic of your choice and upload it so others can benefit.

Revision Cards:
Get some A5 cards and create revision cards for every key topic in the exam. Research as you go along. Use your subject text book, revision book, your class book and the internet to help you. Try mixing up using visuals and words to help you summarise the key information. Try sticking them up on your bedroom wall - they are all around you even when you are not purposefully revising.

The very best of us can lose the will to carry on when the pressure is on. Keep yourself motivated when the going gets tough. Get some motivation from the fix up team. Fix up look sharp - get revising! Here is one, but just search them on You tube -

Revising can be exhausting, make if fun to to keep it fresh. There are loads of subject specific games out there that you can use to help you get those key concepts into your head. Here is an English one but there are loads more out there - search the topic and dive in.

This is essentially an online pin board where people pin up related items they find for you to peruse. Firstly, search the pin boards for your particular exam topic. Secondly, try and have a go at creating your own pin board on a topic you are covering in your exam.

Essay Plans:
Create an essay plan, a brief one, for every topic you foresee coming up in the exam. To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail.

Timed Writing:
Look at the exam papers you have seen on the web and write a response to every question in the set time you have for the exam. This is great practise for the real thing. You can use the mark scheme to mark yourself, get a friend to mark it or hand it in to your teacher.

A great tool for collecting revision notes, pictures, web links and whatever else you can think of and linking it all up in a Pearltree. Revision entails looking back over the work you have done and information you have gathered. This is a really easy, visual and clear way of gathering it all together. It is essential to your sanity that all the hard work you put in to your revision now is not all forgotten and can be used again in the summer. This is one great way of keeping it organised. You can use it on a computer, Ipad or Iphone. you can even work on Pearltrees together in groups over the web.

Happy revising and all the best for results day.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Targeting Teacher Training - The Importance of Good CPD

Someone said to me recently, "the best training you can have is experience on the job." While I don't deny the essential and huge benefits of experience on the job, I feel that great quality training gives you the time and space to reflect on what you are doing currently, hone the skills you are using at present and develop new skills. The right training given to the right teacher can ignite a level of passion they did not know was there - it did with me.  The benefits of good quality CPD far outweighs the monetary cost.  That training will look very different for each individual mind you - different strokes for different folks.  It is the job of senior leadership teams to seek out what might fit.  It is our duty to develop the aspirations of great teaching or great leading in our schools

I have been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to have some great training in my time as a teacher and leader so far. I have had bosses that have looked at me, seen potential and allowed me to develop. it is the best gift you can give a professional. I know how powerful a good course can be. I have been on many great courses, a few of which changed me forever. Every line manager I have ever had has been great at encouraging me to go on great CPD courses.  I have been lucky in this aspect of my job and for that I will be forever grateful.

Being new to my school and role this year, my current line manager was more than happy to sign me up for some CPD. He actually found the course I'm about to go on and thought I would love it - shows how well he knows me already - I do! This course runs on a flipped model where the participants read up and watch videos in preparation for each session to discuss them when we meet. Our meetings are held at four outstanding schools across the country where we get to see each topic in practise. Plus we get to work with teachers from all over the UK. This course looks to be something very different for a lover of CPD and a self-confessed nerd.  They asked me to blog about my thoughts before starting - happily I did.

As an NQT, many moons ago, I was given freedom to choose a course I liked.  I chose one called 'Excellent English Teaching'. I remember sitting round the table, looking at all the others on the course and feeling very inexperienced indeed. There was a neat, serious looking lady with a laptop and then there was me with my tatty note pad and messy hair. Despite my initial fears, the day was brilliant.  Everyone was friendly, the trainer was fun and made every thing really interactive and we came away from the day with a book full of activities we could use the very next day. I was hooked. The training was inspiring and invigorated the frazzled NQT that was me. It opened my eyes to active learning and making lessons fun and away I went.

Another significant training session I was asked to go on was a day course called 'Creating a Literacy Community' hosted by a wonderful Head Teacher, Graham Tyrer. He had started the Literacy Leaders scheme in his school, allowing students to take charge of their learning by becoming experts and teaching one element of literacy to whole classes across the school. He was a great speaker - passionate, knowledgeable and inspiring. There were so many things I took away from that day and developed upon in every role I have taken since. I was so excited by the idea of independent, student lead learning that I had a been shown that I never looked back.

A year into my time as a middle leader, I was sent on a course called 'New to Middle Leadership' that was invaluable to me. The course was run by two effervescent women from the Institute of Education who really knew their stuff. There were six sessions over the year, covering everything from coaching to data analysis, creating a vision to having difficult conversations. The actual sessions were run by very experienced and passionate practitioners, which is always a winner. Over the course I really started to appreciate something I had always known but never really put my finger on properly. I learnt a huge amount from working with people in different roles, above and below me in the school structure. On the course I worked with aspirant middle leaders as well as very experienced ones and we all learnt so much from one another. That is something I am always mindful of now in my job. An NQT to a Head Teacher, we all have things we can learn from one another.

My most recent training was my most intensive course yet. I was chosen by my previous school to apply for the Teaching Leaders course. This is a two year, full-on, brilliant course. The interview process was similar to a job interview and only the most committed, some may say obsessive, middle leaders get through.  This means that everyone on the course loves their job, is enthusiastic and will do whatever they can to make a difference - recipe for success.  The course stared with a week residential with the full cohort of teachers on a university campus in our summer holiday. Horrific idea to some - I loved it.  The best training, experiential learning events and lectures I could possibly have imagined ensued. Exhausting, enthralling and great fun. The teachers were all completely committed, enthusiastic and went the extra mile in their job. A great bunch to meet. The course guided you to oversee an improvement initiative in your school and attend evening and weekend sessions regularly. Not for the feint hearted that's for sure. You were given a mentor / coach - mine was the wonderful Peg Hulse and I miss her terribly. I saw just what a powerful force a group of teacher who are all enthused about their job can be. Life long friends were made and real development in myself as a teacher and leader were evident.

The strange thing was, once I was no longer on the Teaching Leaders course I missed the focus and extra curricular sessions they provided. So I looked for my own CPD to fill the Teaching Leaders shaped hole in my life.  I found Twitter and Teachmeets - but that's a story for another time. I love furthering myself as a leader and teacher and don't think that is going away any time soon.

So here I am. The next exciting course has begun, SSATs School Leaders for the Future.  I can't wait.