Reflection and Revision in GCSE English

Sarah Bedwell
Sarah Bedwell is, amongst many things, a teacher and unashamed geek when it comes to learning and technology. She is dedicated to improving professional learning and has run many events in order to allow other educators to do the same. She recently relocated back to Australia and is looking forward to a new career direction.

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I’m teaching the new GCSE English specification for the first time this year and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty nervous about it. The rest of my department have had a year to get to grips with it all and fine tune it, so while I’m getting what I can from them, I also need to make it work for the students in front of me, and not someone else’s class. With four hours of lessons per week, and three years before their final exams, there’s a lot of time to embed good working habits with my class - no matter how resistant they’re currently being!

One thing that I think as a school we need to do more of is explicitly teaching students how to revise. Naturally there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to revision, but sometimes I think we rely on them figuring out strategies for themselves rather than teaching them how to do it. We did a lot of work with our Year 11 students last year about marginal gains, and it’s something I’ve found myself talking about already this year with both my Year 9 English class and my Year 11 form. The idea comes from sport, and is basically that small, frequent improvements are what we should be striving for, because ultimately they turn into big gains. To a lot of my students, their expected progress grades are seen as out of reach, but by starting early and working on marginal gains, I’m hoping to change their mindset and get them to focus on each step rather than the final goal.

With that in mind, I’m using one lesson per week with my English class to devote not to subject knowledge and the development or furthering of skills, but to revision and reflection (which I’m calling R&R). I’m also throwing in twenty minutes of independent reading time, because I don’t want them only reading what they need to for my lessons. I see them last lesson on a Friday, and this was a natural choice for the R&R lesson. I’m looking to have a standard routine"Small, frequent improvements are what we should be striving for." each week so that students just get on with what they need, rather than relying on any direction from me. It’ll be twenty minutes of reading, ten minutes to reflect on the week that was (fifteen if they want it), and the rest of the hour will be about creating their own revision resources based on what they’ve been doing. I’ll be making sure that I provide a few strategies and resources that they can pick and choose from, especially at the beginning of the year. They’ll be reflecting in their workbooks, but I’ve asked them to provide their own folder for revision materials. This means that they’ll be able to take these away at any time as a DIY revision guide. We’ve talked this morning about potentially setting up a class blog as well, so they really will have access to everything at all times.

A couple of years ago, my colleague Linda Hopkins introduced me to structured reflection. This was about me reflecting on my teaching practice, often using a range of questions rather than just the usual kind of rambling that I’d been doing. Given the impact that it had on my teaching, it was only natural to provide structure for the students (particularly given that they’ll likely be very inexperienced at reflecting in this way). Thankfully I didn’t have to work too hard on this, as Shaun Williams was way ahead of me. He tweeted out this fantastic reflection sheet, which I’ll be getting the students to complete:


Incidentally, if you haven’t seen his website - - stop reading this and check it out. He’s brilliant.

As for their revision, I’m going to magpie a few bits and pieces from #TeamEnglish, from my"I’ll introduce students to our school’s revision website early on." department and from my own resources from previous years. I’ll introduce them to our school’s revision website early on, and I’ll make sure that reflection and revision are in their minds each and every lesson. They’ll no doubt be sick of me bringing it up by October half term, but there’ll be no uncertainty about my expectations, and it should be reflected in their progress. They’ll also have access, if they want it, to their weekly homework tasks which are being completed using Google Forms. Each Monday I send them one multiple choice question, sometimes with right and wrong answers and sometimes with no incorrect choices, and a second question which requires them to justify their choice in a detailed paragraph. Before they submit, they have the option to keep a copy of their response. They can collate these and put them into their revision folders as well.

My hope is that by the time Year 11 rolls around, they won’t be in a position of being far off their expected progress grades and then simply burying their heads in the sand until panicking in April or May. They’ll see reflection and revision as part of their learning process and be well-equipped to handle stepping up their studies as their exams approach. That’s the hope, at least!

Do you teach GCSE English? Share your advice below.

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