BLOG PAGE: A View from the Bridge
By Mr. Clayton
By Mr. Clayton
This Monday evening saw the year 13’s graduation dinner and graduation ceremony. It is the culmination of a lot of work and effort from their parents, their teachers but of course most of all the students. They have all spent around 15,000 hours in full time education in class. One can only marvel at how many hours of homework, research, revision and worry can be added to that total. It is a massive undertaking. It seems to me a shame that a student will be judged on those 15,000 plus hours by a two digit number! The ultimate in a reductionist approach! It also seems a shame that the school will be judged by a two digit number (IB average) when there have been over a third of a million teaching hours put into that year group across their time in full time education! Never mind, as the saying goes, ‘It is what it is!’
The evening was a great success with parents, teachers and students mingling and enjoying reminiscing about days gone by as well as being excited about days to come. It is always fantastic to see the primary teachers who taught the students when they could barely tie their shoe laces, chatting as they realise that they are off to universities around the world. But being in a ‘through-school’ allows us to do this. It is one of the joys. At the risk of being a bit listy it is worth first of all saying congratulations to each and every one of year 13. So well done and good luck to Georgina Cairns, Matilda Cimmerbeck, Zoe Cook, Sanaal Deshpande, Edwina Gautier de Charnace, Megan Jacques, Siddarth Jain, Maria Jane, Manon Jones, Ji Yong Kim, Argus Li, Thomas Liu, Hong Ching Lo, Zoe Rattigan, Miguel Santana, Justine Schipper, Tatum Stiles, Isabella Strapp, Chirag, Tirathrai, Alexandra Trodd, Daniella Wilson, Sophie Yeung and Melissa Yin Yeung Cho. These students have offers from many universities around the world, including but not limited to, Bath University, King’s College, London, Oxford, Bristol, Edinburgh, St. Andrew’s, Southampton-all UK. In the USA New York University, Northern Eastern, UCLA, in Canada McGill, Simon Fraser, in Hong Kong the university of science and technology, HK polytechnic university and in Australia, Melbourne University. They will be studying courses as diverse as medicine, physics, engineering, international relations, English literature, international development, maths, computer studies, media and communications, biotechnology, sport and social science, business management-phew! We are of course very proud of them all. They will make their way in the world where they will become the movers and shakers and the opinion formers of the next generation. We wish them well on that journey and remember, as Robert Browning said, ‘The best is yet to be!’
To finish I would like to thank the teachers for their tireless efforts in getting the students through an exhausting but rewarding ride in education right from reception through to year 13 and beyond. What we all do is probably not only the most important job in the world, it is also the best. ‘ A teacher affects eternity, and can never tell where the influence stops.’
As some parents will be all too aware we are now in the midst of exam season for year 11s and 13s. The IGCSE and IB exam kicked off this week and many of our students are studying hard and facing the nightmare of the exam room. Over the years since their inception, exams haven’t changed much. In fact I would argue not at all for basically 200 years. There are some moves afoot in some countries around the world to revolutionise them, but mass change appears to be some way off. Over the years too, advice given hasn’t changed a lot and hasn’t really reflected new findings in neuro-science. Students through the ages have been exhorted to work in quiet areas, copy notes, highlight important bits, get plenty of exercise, sleep and eat well and generally plan for every eventuality. Some of that advice remains good. Many of us will have our tried and trusted formulae for exam success which to a greater or lesser extent, we have passed on to our wide eyed progeny.
Well it appears that there may be a new way to memorise, understand or learn a new skill. The accepted orthodoxy for years has been like this. When we try to fully understand something, most of us tend to review the basics, complete a few related practice exercises until we reach an acceptable level, then move on. This is called blocked or mass practice. This allows us to concentrate on one topic or skill area which is then repeated and practiced until we then move onto another area to repeat the process. A different approach is called interleaving.
If you wanted to learn skills 1, 2 and 3, then learnt in a block practice mode, it would look like this, 111-222-333. To learn using interleaving it might look like this 123-123-123. It seems that in order for deep learning to take place this approach wins out. As with many new ideas in neuroscience it may appear at first counter-intuitive. The research is quite extensive and here is one which had interesting results. Students were split into two groups, one taught in an interleaved way and one through massed practice. They were being taught how to calculate the volumes of 4 different geometric solids. The interleaved group were taught all four ways at once. The massed group were taught one by one. What happened was this. When they did the practice tests as they went along the massed practice group performed 29% better. However one week after all the teaching and the practice tests the interleaved group performed 43% higher than the massed practice group.
Why is this the case? It may be the ‘illusion of knowing’ giving us a false sense of security through studying in blocks, maybe interleaving creates enough anxiety in the learner that things are unpredictable and so the learners are much more careful and attentive to what they are learning. Maybe it’s the variety that works and forces the brain to access new skills in a real and powerful way.
Variety can work at a physical level too. Most advice given to students on how to revise suggest they find a secluded convenient space to study, but some research suggests that studying the same material in two different rooms or contexts, rather than twice in the same room, leads to increased recall of that material. Instinctively, we believe that getting students to practise in the same conditions as the exams, same length of paper, same room, and same look of the papers might not be the most effective preparation. All this means that variety is key. The brain loves variety, gets bored quickly and needs things that constantly challenge it.