by Joe Kirby
Revise with self-quizzing books for every pupil across all subjects
What should teachers do about homework? And what should pupils do about revision?
Homework and its Discontents
Homework is a tough ask for pupils and teachers. Pupils have five hours of lessons, then more hours of work loaded into their evenings. Teachers teach 20 lessons a week, then have to set, explain, check, collect, mark, track, sanction, and chase homework.
Revision and its Discontents
Revision is often crammed into a few weeks from Easter in Year 11, and rarely coordinated across the school. Each teacher thinks that their own subject is most important, and expects pupils to do some ‘20-25 minutes a night’, mostly uncoordinated with other subjects.
The science of memory
When I read Make It Stick, 11 cognitive psychologists’ applied scientific research, this insight struck me:
What would that look like across a whole school? What if we combined revision and homework?
A Long-Term Revision Strategy: Self-Quizzing
At our school, from Year 7 onwards, homework is revision: self-quizzing for all pupils across all their subjects. Revision lasts not five weeks, or five months, but five years.
Every pupil is given a self-quizzing book with every subject’s core knowledge. The book is organised in subject sections, with numbered pages. Knowledge organisers from each unit are stuck into this exercise book. For instance, in English by the end of Year 7, there are organisers for parts of speech, syntax and punctuation, vocabulary, spelling, myths, rhetoric, poetry, poems to be memorised (Ozymandias, Invictus and If) and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:everything they study that year. Organisers for Maths, French, Science, Humanities (History, Geography and Religion) and Art are all kept within one beautifully organised book that pupils take home to revise every evening.
Pupils self-quiz from one subject’s knowledge organisers every night for homework, as guided by their teacher. For this they use a separate practice book that they take between school and home. They cover up one side of the knowledge organiser, write it out from memory (in a black pen), then self-check and correct any spelling mistakes, omissions or inaccuracies (in a green pen). They learn the most valuable knowledge in every subject by heart.
There is a timetable in the front of their self-quizzing books with five weeknights for the five main subjects: English, Humanities, French, Science and Maths. Every pupil in the year is revising the same subject on the same night. Everyone has the same five-year revision plan. This is important if pupils are absent for a day or two, or longer-term – they still know exactly what revision to do, precisely which subject to prioritise, every day. Self-quizzing becomes a daily, automated habit for the long-run.
Practice Book Checks
We aim for 100% of pupils to complete their self-quizzing every evening. It’s a high bar, and this is what we do to reach it.
Teachers check the practice book to see if the self-quizzing practice is of sufficient quantity and quality. On quantity, pupils must complete at least one page of self-quizzing for prep, with no spaces left on the sides or at the top or bottom of the page. On quality, it must be neat and accurate, with no uncorrected spelling mistakes. We turn knowledge organisers into online and in-class quizzes, so we can see precisely whose self-quizzing is ineffectual, and support them to improve their revision.
Because it is the same revision strategy each evening across all subjects, it becomes an automatic routine. Last week, for instance, we had 98% quality completion: out of 600 hand-ins, only 10 instances were of insufficient quality, and those pupils were put into detention to remind them of the importance of quality revision. The week before it was 97%. We track those who struggle and contact their parents to support them.
The other benefit of combining knowledge organisers, self-quizzing books and practice books is this: they reduce the effort teachers spend on extensions and cover.
Extensions as Revision
Pupils can use self-quizzing books to revise key concepts, definitions, dates and events whenever they have finished a task. In a Maths lesson, the fastest pupil might finish an exercise three to four minutes before the weakest pupil. That’s four minutes they can be revising, which means far less work for teachers providing extra extension resources.
Cover as Revision
No teacher at Michaela has to email in cover work or proforma when they are away. Pupils can simply self-quiz for the lesson, testing themselves on previous terms’ or units’ topics, writing from memory, self-checking and correcting, to help them remember what they’ve learned.
Extra Reading, Extra Maths
Subject self-quizzing is not the only homework pupils do. They quiz themselves online or on their phone with Quizlet flashcards and other multiple-choice apps. They also read for 30 minutes every evening. They also do 30 minutes of Maths practice online on IXL, guided by their Maths teacher as to the topic. All three habits (reading, Maths practice and self-quizzing) are habits that are sustained over five years.
This homework-revision strategy requires coordination:
- Department Heads and teachers must agree on and create organisers for each unit
- Teachers must check all pupils’ practice books once a week and set detentions if not done
- Maths Teachers must check IXL each morning and set detentions if not done
- The Maths Department displays pupils’ rankings (in the year) by effort on IXL every day
Here’s what I like about this homework and revision plan: it’s long-term, (spread over 5 years)memorable (just 3 things to do each night: self-quiz, read, IXL), habitual (always the same strategy every day) yet still subject-specific (one subject’s content to self-quiz on each night),collective (all pupils in the year do the same subject on the same night), research-based(based on 100 years of science), inexpensive (a few exercise books a year per pupil), andminimalist (one sheet to photocopy and stick in for each unit in each subject every four weeks or so).
It’s still evolving, and we’re open to ideas, suggestions and alternatives. But I think this application of cognitive psychology could reinvigorate homework and revision in schools.