Ok, admittedly my students don’t directly ask me to do their revision for them, but year on year there’s quite a number who ask:
“Will you be giving us summary notes for the whole course so that we can revise?”
And the answer is no. No I won’t.
Writing summaries of any course you study is an essential part of the revision process. It forces you to revisit all the material, remind yourself of the full content of the course, and to consciously process the content and distil it into a useful summary. Useful for me? No, useful for you. If I write it then (a) you probably won’t read it anyway, and (b) I might not be summarising the points that you struggle with in a way that you can make sense of them.
I also showed them an example of a Statistics 1 summary that I found online, deliberately concentrating on the technique of interpolation to find the median of grouped data. Did it look anything like the way we approach it? No. Would that confuse them? Yes.
DIY – Modelling the process
In a way I’m slightly surprised by the success I’ve had with my AS Further Maths class this week. On Monday, I gave them each three pieces of A3 paper and asked them to fold them into eighths. No reason why, just do it! And then we had a brief discussion about the revision process, the value of writing a summary, and how everyone in the room is likely to have a different end-product.
What we could look at together was the fact that we have covered three modules (FP1, M1, M2) and that is why they had 3 ‘big bits of paper’. (A3 paper always seems rather exciting to students, so I do capitalise on that every now and again!) One eighth of each poster could be dedicated to a title: the bubble letters, the felt tips, the creativity. I gave them 5 minutes to create the 3 titles, while I prepared the whiteboard with this simple template:
We then discussed the content of FP1 and how it broke down into 6 ‘chapters’. We allocated a title to each of six sections on the FP1 sheet (modelled by my writing on the whiteboard template), leaving the final one empty. I suggested the last one could be used for, e.g., things that are/are not on the formula sheet.
I emphasised once again that different people will structure the content of each box in their own way (and I think that was an essential part of reassuring them of the freedom they have in this process). But clearly, we have all studied the same content.
To continue modelling the process, I asked them to choose a chapter (Matrices – what a surprise!). I projected the eBook version of that chapter and took them through the process of skimming a chapter, taking note of sub-headings, vocabulary and other important points. As we went, I showed them on the whiteboard how my own summary would look.
DIY – Over to you
At this point, the students’ approaches could diverge. They asked some questions: Can we mind map instead of bullet points? (Yes!) Can we make the sheet into a booklet rather than a poster? (Yes!) Can we put some extra things on that you didn’t? (Yes!) Can I borrow some scissors and glue so that… (Yes!)
They had the rest of that lesson to complete the matrices section and, potentially, move on to another chapter of their choice.
For our following lesson the next day, I was worried they would lose momentum. Rightly or wrongly, I doubted their ability to just ‘keep at it’ for a full hour and produce valuable output. So, as you would in this situation, I offered them a bribe. My students sit a test every week (school policy), and this week’s test will be a mixture of FP1 revision questions. I told them I would allow them to bring and use their revision sheet for that test. At least half of the class were then fully focussed and productive for the whole lesson, eagerly producing their own summaries. I emphasised to them that, while it’s not my job to do revision for them, it is my job to answer all their questions and points about which they are unsure.
It is worth noting that not all students did immerse themselves into this project. A number of mine are rather self-assured in their understanding of the material and thus opted to work through a mixed sheet of examination-style problems. However, again they were beavering away for the full lesson, asking about occasional details. Happy teacher.
I did learn one thing that was rather a surprise to me. I took it for granted that my students could continue the process I modelled of looking for key points and summarising them in meaningful ways. However, I have a student who, somewhat surprisingly, could not manage this quite so independently. But with the rest of the class well-focussed I was able to spend more one-to-one time addressing this and picking out a number of misconceptions, both about mathematics and about revision in general.
I think at the end of the test this week, I will ask the students to rate the usefulness of their revision summaries: Were they missing some information that would have helped them? Were they missing the deeper details of a topic that would help them tackle a problem? When their tests are returned with feedback, they can add more to the summary posters.
Think, Pair, Share
- I’ve often had difficulty making a real success of revision lessons with AS and A2 students. How do you go about them? Can you share examples of activities that work well?
- What is your philosophy on providing revision notes or summaries? Do you find ways to ensure your students really work through them?
- I will try and upload some photos of the sheets they bring to tomorrow’s test!
Update – The Results
Here are several images of the sheets created by my students. There were three who didn’t make a summary sheet (three of the four boys in the class). At the end of their test, I included a very short questionnaire and so here is also an example response from one student.