Monday, 26 March 2018

How to be a success at A Level

As we embarked on the second cycle of teaching the A Level in Religious Studies, it became apparent that I needed to do more work with my students on the skills that they need to note take, write, learn, review and test. We simply don't do enough of this lower down, and then just expect sixth formers to have some kind of magical transformation over the summer, whereby they somehow can. I feel it has been time well spent, and transferable across other subject areas... 

How to note take

I have introduced, and insisted upon, the Cornell Note Taking system:

See below for how it is used in the reviewing of work. Download Slides <here>. On average it takes 66 days to form a habit... <source> - someone asked what the disadvantage is, I can't work out one. 

How to write

The literacy demands of the new A Level (and GCSE) are far tougher than previously. For Edexcel RS, there are now a variety of different questions types rather than just a 'standard essay' form to learn. As such, I spent a lot of time 'magpie-ing' the best of what I could find to produce a literacy booklet. I get students to read the relevant section before writing an essay - it seems to have helped: 

Download <here>

Charlotte Vardy has also put together a video for RS essays, which can be watched <here>. It is really important to help students know the academic writing forms you want them to produce. Last year I left this too much to chance, or had to try and modify students writing style after they had already formed habits. 

How to learn

We watched this together in class, made notes on each one. We then looked on the Learning Scientists website - <here>. We've also added various resources to our department website <here>. We also have shared resources with parents to make it clear what their son / daughter should be doing - I gave each parent a copy of 10 Rules of Good and Bad studying by Barbara Oakley (adapted by M Smyth) - see <here>.

How to review

The ideal would be to get students to review at least 24-48 hours after a lesson, within a week and again with a month. These are the ideas that I suggested:

  • 24-48 hours: 
    • Add summaries and cue column to Cornell formatted notes - this note taking system forces you to review
    • Re-read lesson Slides on GoogleClasroom and add any further notes, or read from links provided in Slides
    • Watch a summary video to supplement the lesson [Philosophy and Ethics is particularly lucky in this respect - see <here>]

  • A week:
    • Allocate a review period on timetable - ie P3 on a Friday is RS review time
    • Work on a Knowledge Organiser for the topic - use GoogleDocs so it remains a live document that can be added to / ammended
    • Test by covering up main notes and just use summaries and cue column [Cornell], or parts of the Knowledge Organiser.
    • Attempt exam question
    • Use videos or podcasts on website - see see <here> and <here> including a 'method' - not just watching or listening
  • A month
    • Same things as within a week
    • Timetable - calendar it on your phone! 
    • Retrieval practice - start with a blank sheet...
How to test

I frequently talk about their 'unknown unknowns' - what is it they don't know, and how do they know?

We have planned our "Revision Power Hours" - see <here> - as well "The Pomodoro Technique" (25 mins focused, distraction free study, followed by 5 minute break), and the Leitner method for using flashcards.

Hopefully this will help our A Level students, it may also help yours... everyone wants that 'leap in the air' A Level photo in the local press - it could be you!

Thanks to all those who have helped along the way with changing my thinking on this. 

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