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Calling time on ineffective revision practices

At Sandringham School, we have developed a Memory Clock, a new evidence-informed guide to revision for our students and parents.  Over the last few years, a large number of teachers in school have been influenced by research evidence which has identified the positive impact that low-stakes testing, spacing and interleaving can have on students’ knowledge retention (for example here) .  Accordingly, they have been working on developing in-class approaches to support practice in this area.  However, it is apparent to several teachers and those I work closely with in the Sixth Form that, when left to their own devices, many students lack knowledge about the best ways to revise.  Despite this apparent knowledge gap, many students are quick to assert they know how they learn best and can be resistant to taking on new advice.  Therefore, a group of us have set about working on a plan to take what we know from research evidence and from our practice, to formulate a clear message about the component parts of effective revision and how this could be used practically by a student when revising on their own.  In what follows, I outline each part of our Memory Clock.

The idea is captured in the image below which illustrates how a student could spend an hour of their time when revising.  This, of course, could be any time period such as twenty minutes or two hours.  Crucially, we wanted to convey the idea that revision wasn’t just made up of activities like writing out flashcards, or highlighting notes.  More is needed if students are to have the best chance of learning.  Hence, we split our clock into three parts: review, practice and checking activities.  From what we know, we think that when revision is made up of these activities together, students have the best possible chance of committing knowledge to memory.



The first part of the clock focuses on review which we recommend should include opportunities for students to plan their topic carefully, that topics should ideally be spaced rather than massed and that review activities should be active rather than passive, for example including opportunities for elaboration.  We summed this up simply as plan, space, elaborate.  The image below contains our specific guidance.  The recently published resources here from the Learning Scientists on several topics including spacing and elaboration were particularly helpful.


It was evident to us that almost all of our students engaged in review activities when revising but, for many, when their flashcards were written or their notes highlighted, the revision would end.  We knew it was important to convey explicitly that each period of study to include opportunities for students to engage in retrieval practice.  Books like Make it Stick and articles like Strengthening the Student Toolbox have powerfully conveyed the value of retrieval practice.  This short video produced by Digital Promise sees Dr Pooja Agarwal explain the concept in just a couple of minutes.  The term retrieval practice, however, isn’t typically used by our students and so we decided instead to refer simply to practice.  We then articulated what we meant by this: practising recalling knowledge in the form of low-stakes knowledge tests or through answering longer questions from memory. Our guidance is illustrated below.


The final part of our guidance relates to the value in students comparing their answers to correct answers.  This guidance is illustrated below.

I must be clear that this model has taken some time to get right.  In my school, this meant working with a group of interested teachers and those with expertise in reading and operationalising research, in particular, Kate Mouncey, our Head of Sixth Form, Richard Found, our Deputy Headteacher and Katie Wills, Head of Year 12.  Thanks to the wonder of the internet and social media, I was able to ask the opinions of teachers I knew were engaging in similar work in other schools.  Thanks to Gavin Simpson, Sian Jays, Alex Quigley and Dawn Cox for their helpful feedback and suggestions about how subject specific examples could be helpful when launching the model with students.  We are also indebted to the following people who took time to share their expertise to help refine the model further: Harry Fletcher-Wood, Lia Commissar, Dr Pooja Agarwal, Dr Yana Weinstein-Jones and John Dunlosky.

I must also be clear that this model is very much at the early stage of launch.  In our Sixth Form, our Learning Mentors are beginning to use it in one-to-one sessions with students.  We’re launching it with Years 11, 12 and 13 in assemblies and following this up in conversations with parents at our forthcoming Learning Review Day and will be launching with Year 10 in the new year. We’re hopeful of its value in supporting students to revise more effectively but are keen to review its use and value with the students themselves.


A copy of our Memory Clock can be downloaded by clicking here.

A range of subject specific examples can be downloaded here.