At RuTC, one way in which we improve teaching practice is by assigning Teaching and Learning Advocates from one curriculum area to another very different one. For instance, RuTC English teacher, Helen Upfield, works alongside the Science and Maths department to discuss and implement ideas for more effective learning.
Her focus recently has been on helping students develop excellent communication and writing skills to improve their chances of getting full marks on exam essay questions. Science students nationally have been known to struggle the most with these questions so Helen is urging them to adjust the way in which they revise and prepare for exams.
‘Students tend to think revision is just going over content,’ says Helen. ‘They focus more on things they already know. I am trying to get them to think, instead, about the gaps in their knowledge or skills that are inhibiting them from progressing.’ For Science students, the gaps can lie in a lack of confidence in answering long-form questions, those that require application of knowledge and depth of understanding rather than mere regurgitation of familiar facts.
The Guardian article titled The Way You’re Revising May Let You Down in Exams, suggests that the most common form of revising is ‘literally just looking at the thing you want to learn again’. This is often done by means of cramming, reading class notes and textbook chapters a second time so that the brain becomes more familiar with the content. Students believe this enables them to reproduce the content in exams, many repeating it word for word.
‘I encourage students to pay attention to what they think about when they read an exam question, to underline key words and to think about how they want to structure their answer to communicate it in the best way possible,’ says Helen. ‘It isn’t just about knowing the answer; it’s about being able to communicate it.’ She refers to these methods as metacognition exercises. She believes students develop a deeper understanding of their subjects as they reflect more one how to construct compelling and informed arguments. She also emphasises the importance of clear communication, terminology, and sequencing of ideas in showing true competence in a subject.
‘We worry too much about content and not enough about skill,’ says Helen. It is widely-accepted that communication is one of the most important skills to have in any workplace. The dedication of Helen and the Teaching and Learning Team to helping Science students develop this skill in revision will benefit them beyond their exams.
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