What are the practical implications of creating a revision-based approach to teaching?
All teachers recognise the importance of revision in preparing students for tests and exams. But this book argues convincingly that it should be integral to teaching and learning from start to finish. It also argues that to achieve that, we need a revolution in schools.
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟
To set the tone, The Revision Revolution book begins with a candid admission – the draft was rejected by the publisher forcing a major rethink. The point being, resilience and rereading are key to the revision process. But the literal meaning of revision is ‘seeing again’. It might have been better to state this clearly from the outset and use it as a theme to connect the book’s wide-ranging content, the changes brought about by learning and new educational ideas in particular.
Much more than a study skills
What does become clear from the opening chapters is this is much more than a study skills handbook (the market is surely saturated with them anyway). The ‘revolution’ the book has in mind involves a root and branch culture change that leaves traditional approaches behind (no more late night cramming), embraces modern learning science, and embeds revision throughout the curriculum.
What this means in practical terms is a whole-school strategic approach with buy-in from all stakeholders, students especially: ‘If schools want to be more than exam factories, we need to ensure learning is meaningful, deep and transferable, and that comes from showing students not just what to revise but also how and why’.
As someone who has championed a more holistic approach to education that combines learning to learn with direct/explicit instruction, I heartily agree with this.
Avoiding false and conflicting advice
As the book further points out, another problem with leaving revision largely to students is not just that the more confident/privately supported tend to do best, but that there’s a ‘plethora of false and conflicting advice online’.
Rereading notes, underlining, and highlighting may be commonly used, but the research (I took that in good faith) shows that they’re amongst the least effective strategies. Sleep, relaxation, nourishment, and ‘little and often’ revision (spaced retrieval) will prepare students much better for exams. Likewise Cornell Notes and graphic organisers – both got a big thumbs up from me.
But what about the practical implications of a whole new, revision-based, approach to teaching?
Haven’t teachers had enough of educational revolutions on top of all the other issues they’re faced with? And don’t they do a lot of this stuff anyway? I must admit these questions revolved in my head as I turned the pages. But the more I read, the more I got the core argument: good teaching models the best strategies anyway, and effective revision means less stress for both teachers and students – a win-win for wellbeing.
A joined-up and inclusive approach
Some might find that the book gets a bit carried away by its ‘calling all comrades’ revolutionary fervour, but this didn’t bother me. I found the passion inspiring and much else to admire with the content.
What I liked in particular is the emphasis throughout on how empowering a joined-up and inclusive approach to revision can be. I’m not sure that students benefiting from this will necessarily be able to ‘challenge injustice’, but I can certainly see how it could close the achievement gap and promote ‘levelling up’.
My minor ‘seeing again’ criticism aside, the book is also very well written and structured. It takes a step-by-step approach linked to a training timetable, and each chapter ends with a Quiz/Reflection/Summary section to consolidate its content.
It is also packed with useful tools and tips, and includes interesting anecdotes illustrating how challenges and mistakes in the real world have led to a better understanding of revision and learning in general.
The book is aimed at the secondary sector but should be very useful for primary too. Those that are on board with the ‘powerful knowledge’ thinking behind it but who have yet to give full consideration to revision will find it an excellent resource, while sceptics might well want to revise their opinions.
Review by Steve Turnbull
Footnote: This review was commissioned by a leading educational magazine but not published unfortunately due to circumstances behind the writer’s control.