Exam season is upon us, and nervous pupils prepare themselves for what feels like the most significant and serious examinations of their lives across the northern hemisphere. Of course, as adults, we know that exams are just ways to open doors to new opportunities and all is not lost if young people don’t quite get the exam results they need. That said, as teachers, we all want our students to do well, and one of the ways that we can achieve this is by preparing them well.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking: you have prepared them well, thoroughly taught the required curriculum, set the homework, marked the homework, and provided the feedback. In short, your students are equipped, and now it’s over to them.
As we pass the baton to our students and they move into a phase of independent learning and revision, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we have trained them in suitable study methods. In my experience, most students think that good study methods require a pretty revision timetable and extensive highlighting. Therefore it’s essential that we thread revision and learning strategies into our classroom practices from early on, and Showbie affords us a number of ways to ensure that our students are given these skills and have time to practise them.
In the work ‘Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology’, Dunolsky et al. review 10 learning techniques and review their effectiveness. Let’s look at some of them and consider how we could utilise Showbie and Socrative to support our students as they take on their examinations.
- Elaborative explanation. This method requires students to explain why a stated fact may be true or not. Using the voice notes facility in Showbie, you can easily and regularly set up such tasks, and there are several ways that this can be done. Firstly, you can create a revision assignment for a specific topic and in ‘shared items’, you can post a statement upon which you would like students to elaborate. Students can quickly and easily record their thoughts using the voice notes feature. Using shared items in this way means that the conversion remains between 1 student and you, the teacher, but you may want to take a more collaborative approach, and if so, you could complete the same task in the class discussion feature. Here, everyone would be able to see and hear each other’s answers and thus potentially learn from each other. Once students move to a more independent study and revision time, you can still maintain this method from afar. You could, of course, post your own explanation in return so that students have something to check against.
- Self-explanation. Using this method, students explain how new information is related to old information or explain steps they have taken whilst solving a problem. Again, here you could use the voice notes as suggested above, but you could employ a number of other methods too. Students or the teacher could create a document within Showbie and draw a mind map of a certain topic using the pen tools. Students could then add voice notes to each element to explain how each element is related to one another. The second method that you could employ is that of screen recording (iOS only); students can create a document and then use the screen record feature and the pen tools in Showbie to explain how they have worked through a particular problem.
- Summarization. Students create summaries of texts. This method comes with a caveat from Dunolsky et al. as they recognise that making a summary requires training in and of itself and as such, they regard it as having low utility. However, students do have a tendency to rely on this method and should you wish to train your students how to do it. Here’s how Showbie can help:
Create an assignment into which you add a document that you wish your students to summarise. You can then ask your students to add their own document and summarise the given document in, let’s say, 20 sentences. The next task could be to take the 20 sentences and further summarise to 10 and so on. Using the large previews button you can easily see the various iterations of your students’ efforts to the text to its key elements.
- Highlighting and underlining. As teachers you have all seen the multicoloured exercise books of your students as they make themselves busy highlighting things. It would be fair to say that most teachers believe that highlighting has little effect on learning and Dunolsky et al. would agree again, they state that it is a method that needs to be effectively taught if students are to use it effectively. There are however occasions when highlighting can be used to good effect. Take the example of subject-specific vocabulary.
In his book, Closing the vocabulary gap, Alex Quigley talks about being ‘word poor’. There is evidence to show that alongside socio-economic background, lack of vocabulary is one of the factors that were relevant to a child not achieving high grades at GCSE in the UK so, it is essential teachers fill their students with vocabulary and especially subject-specific vocabulary.
Let’s say that you are studying photosynthesis in biology, here we’ll come across lots of very tricky words such as chlorophyll, carbon dioxide, transpiration and evaporates. Some of these words may not seem too difficult but to a word poor child, they prevent them from accessing material and thus achieving. Using the document scanning feature in Showbie, you could provide support for vocabulary poor students. Scan the textbook or worksheet, upload it into Showbie, then use the pen tools and highlight the subject-specific word. Next use the comments or voice notes to clearly explain what each word means in context. Once students become more confident with these words you can simply add a scanned document and ask them to highlight and explain. In shared items, you can share these types of support documents just with students that really need them.
- Practice testing is regarded by Dunolsky et al as having high utility, they do recognise that most students would like to avoid tests and thus it is important that practice tests are low stakes. Using Showbie and Socrative together we can easily set practice tests for our students. When a Socrative room and Showbie class are connected students don’t even need to leave the Showbie app in order to take the test. Socrative allows you to test students using a number of methods including multiple-choice questions, true/false questions and short answer questions.
Furthermore, you can add images and gifs to questions in order to provide greater detail to each one. You can provide instant feedback back to students as they take the test, you can even make each question have a value of zero thus making the test truly low stakes.
Each test provides teachers with detailed feedback on each student and can be reviewed over time. Once the test is complete a report can be sent to each student showing how they answered each question, students can now open this in Showbie and use the elaboration and explanation methods discussed above to provide further information or correction on each answer.
- Distributed practice and interleaved practice. These practices receive a high and moderate utility rating respectively from Dunolsky et al. Distributed practice means scheduling study practice over time and interleaved practice means mixing up the different problems or topics within a study session. There are a number of ways that Showbie enables you to schedule work for your students and thus enable them to engage with both of these study techniques. Firstly, as you create an assignment, you can set a release date for that assignment using the set schedule feature. Or you could use the shared items page of an assignment and you could choose to share a post with no one, then release it at the appropriate point in the study period. This would also be an effective way of enabling students to interleave topics too.
With that, we’d like to wish all our Showbie students and teachers good luck in this examination period… we’re rooting for you!
Connect with a Learning Specialist for more tips or a personal training session for your school on Showbie and Socrative!