For very good reason the last several years has witnessed an explosion in thinking about effective revision strategies, with an increasing focus on self-testing and retrieval. As we increasingly use and model these skills in our own classrooms so too do students increasingly use them in their own independent practice.
Yet, whilst we may be ever refining how to revise, this still leaves the question of what to revise. In the classroom, this is an easy enough problem to overcome, indeed it’s hardly a problem at all. We are able to guide students to revise course content in the most effective manner possible, scaffolding and being explicit about what to revise. Outside of the classroom, though, this becomes a little trickier. We could of course spend time in class producing together revision materials for students to use independently or we could simply produce our own for students to use. This, however, takes time. Perhaps this time could be better spent elsewhere.
It’s with this in mind that I have recently been using the Oxford School Shakespeare GCSE Macbeth Revision cards, as these are designed not only to help with how to revise, but also saves a lot of time when it comes to what to revise.
In the manner of traditional flashcards, for instance, the cards are divided by character and theme, with questions on one side and possible answers on the back.
One aspect that I really like about the cards is that the questions being asked are not simply gap-fill exercises but encourage far more generative exercises. For instance, some ask students to respond to an image or comment on a moment of the play whilst others require students to summarise key textual information or comment on the effect of specific language choices. I also very much like that the answers on the back of the cards are not bullet-pointed, but rather full sentenced responses, helping to consistently expose students to high quality analysis and writing. It’s also great to see how the cards connect to the Oxford School Shakespeare Macbeth GCSE Revision Workbook, offering students further opportunities for independent revision and practice.
So, how exactly am I using these cards in class and outside of it? One strategy I’ve been trailing is to set card revision as a homework task, specifying which cards to revise (helpfully, they are all numbered). I tend to do this according to a particular theme or character.
It’s worth saying, too, prior to setting this I live modelled explicitly how I expected students to use them: self-testing, from memory, and then checking and evaluating their responses, hopefully identifying gaps in their knowledge. After the homework has been completed, I would then run a low stakes test in class based on the cards, which is helpful for me as it saves time on writing the questions. After placing the answers under the visualizer, students can then self-assess before we have a more detailed discussion of the answers, including lots of extended exploration of the kinds of things students did write and could write.
This routine saves a lot of time, encourages students to revise effectively outside of lesson, both in content and mechanism, and also helps to set up really rich classroom conversations.
However, I’ve also been using the cards more directly in terms of classroom teaching as opposed to purely for purposes of revision. I often use them, for instance, as a ready-made Do Now, where, much as the above, I place a card under the visualizer, ask students to answer the questions, flip it over for self-assessment, and then discuss responses. I also like to use them at the end of a lesson if I’m not quite ready to move on, but we still have some lesson time left: pop one under the visualizer and discuss together possible ways of answering or thinking about the questions. This again opens up a lot of rich classroom discussions, with next to no preparatory effort from me!
Here, then, are just a couple of ways I’ve been using the Oxford School Shakespeare GCSE Macbeth Revision cards but no doubt there are many other inventive ways to put them to effective use. Indeed, one such way is to connect work done with the revision cards with the complementary Macbeth Workbook. The cards themselves contain links to the workbook by page number, allowing further opportunities for extended writing and revision. See HERE for a post specifically about how I’ve been using the workbook.
Discover the complete Oxford School Shakespeare series, including the new GCSE revision resources for Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet HERE.
Andrew Atherton is a Teacher of English and a Director of Learning and Research.