Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Revision: 5 tips for using quick classroom quizzes

5 Revision TipsRevision is never a particularly enjoyable period of the academic term for many students, regardless of whether they’re at the top of their class or are underperforming. Mock exams are a useful way to gauge student performance levels before their final accredited exam, but do these really help revision?

Examinations are regarded by many as a necessary evil: the pressure on students to perform in a two- or three-hour formal assessment places immense pressure on individuals and goes against empirical research on optimising performance. Some children, for example, are not good at recalling information or memorising particular dates and names; others feel anxious at the prospect of taking an end-of-year test. So what are the options?

The debate around whether school exams should be replaced with different ways of assessing skills and knowledge is ongoing. At the same time, there are many options we as educators can introduce to support revision and exam preparation that tests students’ understanding and recall without adding to the already mounting pressure.

Tests − whether paper-based or as part of an online resource − are a useful tool but for students they can be seen as a pain or a tedious exercise. One of the reasons for this could be that tests are a generic precursor for their final exams, or possibly because they’re unsure of what they should study or what they’ll be tested on, despite the guidance you have given them.

For a teacher, tests take time to plan, design, deliver and then mark and feedback – without being sure of how reflective they are on a student’s actual level of understanding and knowledge.

In the UK, whether it’s due to the curriculum structure, pressure on league tables and performance or our own teaching preferences, we’ve become fixated with tests and preparatory exams, but what if we could engage students in the revision process, making it easy to follow and adding more fun and interaction?

While many of you may be sceptical, in the USA quizzes are one of the most effective ways of encouraging revision and they could be a simple way of innovating revision here in the UK. These short, often informal assessment structures remove the element of the unknown and essentially repackage the formality of a test with a fun, interactive lesson activity.

How to create your own online quiz

GCSE revision videos
You don’t need me to tell you that students today are permanently connected to their smartphones and, with the rise in tablets, young people are accustomed to accessing information online. Whether it’s to google a definition, youtube a new music video or to connect with friends and family on a social networking site, young people are digital natives and the use of smart devices is a consistent part of their life.

So while the hints to creating your own class quizzes below can be applied in both paper-based and online formats, I’d recommend designing and delivering this online to further differentiate from a generic test and also to further encourage the use of technology in learning and revision.

1. Key characters, dates and concepts
What’s the difference between endothermic and exothermic? Whether you’re teaching GCSE Chemistry or A Level Maths, short comparative questions are a useful way of highlighting key facts. This guides students to the essential parts of the curriculum and will hopefully aid recall in their exam. Designing questions in this way will help students to prioritise the content they’re revising.

2. Chapter summaries
Are your students finding it difficult to timeline and recall events in order? Try ordering questions as an event unfolds, a theory has been built upon or a hypothesis has been debated. Use sub-headings to clearly identify which unit this relates to, what era, stage or point in the textbook chapter. This will help students revise information in a succinct way, making the chapter more manageable and creating bite-size answers that they can use as notes on flash cards or knowledge-diagrams.

3. Knowing the difference and visualising it
As I’ve mentioned, quizzes can be used to compare and contrast differences between key terms, theories and characters. Try using blank tables with the two terms above adjacent columns for students to enter their answers in. A visual stimulus such as a table, bubble diagram or word cloud will often encourage better recall, particularly from those who find that information ‘clicks’ when it is explained or displayed with the aid of a chart or picture.

4. Making revision mobile
Studies have shown us that students study for longer and more effectively using mobile learning applications on their smart devices. Regardless of whether your quizzes are delivered on paper or online, why not align questions with content in an online resource? The Khan Academy and Ted Ed and exam-tailored alternatives such as LearnersCloud’s GCSE revision videos offer free online tutorials. These present information found in students’ textbooks in a more engaging way and also enables them to watch, pause and replay at their own convenience and on a device that they have with them at most times of the day.

5. Get students active
Collaborative, group exercises are a great application of online quizzes as they encourage participation from all students, even those that tend to shy away from putting their hands up and contributing to full class discussions. By setting group activities in which each student has a role, station or responsibility – students will need to communicate with others and work together to achieve their group goal or task objective.

Kagan structures are a useful example of how effective cooperative learning can be, creating comfortable environments in which all students contribute and reinforce their understanding and learning.

These are just a few hints to get you started using quizzes as an informal guide for revision and a way of assessing students’ knowledge gaps.

But this is just one way of innovating revision. I’m sure you’ve developed your own unique methods so please do share below: