Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Forget Me Not: New GCSE Planning

The new GCSE courses gives us an opportunity to implement more of what we know about how memory works. Even last year, the homework I set for Y11 were tests on Y10 material. A colleague commented that I never set homework based on the work they were doing currently. I asked how they proposed, that a student doing a two year course, would have frequently revisited the material covered 18+ months ago. Her reply was, "I've never thought about it like that."

The Traditional Syllabus (8 units like old and new GCSE in RS)

Study topic A
Test topic A - Give a Working At Grade (WAG) based on study and then immediate test of A
Study topic B
Test topic B - Give a new WAG based on study and then test then immediate test of B, possibly somewhat averaged with A
Study topic C 
Test topic C- Give a new WAG based on study and then test then immediate test of C, possibly somewhat averaged with A/B
Study topic D
Test topic D- Give a new WAG based on study and then test then immediate test of D, possibly somewhat averaged with A/B/C
Y10 Mock - Wonder why student grade doesn't really fit with others WAGs... especially as their results were inconsistent across topics?

Study topic E
Test topic E
Study topic F
Test topic F
Y11 Mock - Often result well below other WAGs... it's the mock what do you expect?
Study topic G
Test topic G
Study topic H
Test topic H
Actual GCSE exam

Topic A was studied in September/October 2015. It was tested in October 2015, June 2016, December 2016 and then in the final GCSE. In many respects this is a reasonable number of revisits.

A New System (2016 onwards)

Study topic A
Test topic A
Study topic B
Test topic A
Study topic C
Test topic A and B
Study topic D
Test topic B and C
Y10 Mock - Test A/B/C/D

Study topic E
Test topic A and D
Study topic F
Test topic B and E
Y11 Mock 
Study topic G
Test topic C and F
Study topic H
Test topic G and H
Actual GCSE exam

Topic A was studied in September/October 2016. It was revisited (via testing) 6 times in the lead up to the actual GCSE (the 7th test).


All units are worth equal marks in the exam, however, some units are worth more in their value to answering other questions. For exam, the key concepts in Topic A (Catholic Beliefs and Teachings) underpin everything else - there is no way I want students to not be familiar with Imago Dei, Creation, Trinity, Incarnation, eschatology. If there is something I want revisiting 6 or 7 times, it is this.


All units are not equally difficult for students. For example, our current students have not studied Judaism since Year 8 (now moved to Year 9) and never at the level we are expecting at GCSE, I feel we need to revisit Judaism more regularly in order they learn key new terminology. 


The above proposed model is flexible. I need to pinpoint which topics need greater revisits. This will determine what is tested when.

Is that it?

No. I am creating multiple choice quizzes (see <here>) and encouraging - with prizes! - for students to do these regularly. GoogleForms also allows me to see where common misconceptions and gaps in knowledge are... for individuals, classes, the year group. The Learning Scientist principles are also being shared with students (see <here>). I am also looking at ways of sharing my understanding of memory with my department. 

How about A-Level?

The huge volume of content at A-Level also demands differing teaching techniques in RS. I have MCQ for 6th form which we do regularly via Socrative and GoogleForms. I admit there is much more work to do here!


While acknowledging learning and progress are not neat, tidy and linear this requires adaptive planning. We can plan for a test, but I will need to adapt that test to our needs. It may be that I need to redo tests next year. It may be that different classes need different tests. I also aim to create a full mark scheme for all tests so the following lesson is dedicated to redrafting, 'green pen work' and covering any gaps.

There is a real danger that you create excessive marking. In an ideal world, you could test all content at every test opportunity and it make assessments genuinely cumulative - but this is far too much marking. Selecting key things to test, knowing that review work will be done, will be vital.


The reason I am implementing this to my department is:

  1. More accurate WAGs  - although who knows if our grade boundaries are in any way accurate
  2. Greater use of the principles of spaced learning
  3. Allowing more 'forgetting time' (not testing topic just studied where content may have only be taught the previous lesson!)
  4. Increased learning, not just 'doing' - what is the point of ensuring you cover the content but not ensure the students have learnt key concepts?
  5. Knowledge to underpin skills - the most common reason for not being able to attempt longer essay questions is a lack of knowledge. The quizzes focus on this.
I welcome feedback.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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