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Revision emails

This video shares a collaborative, whole-school approach to revision that engages parents and children.
One of the things we found was that parents were frequently coming to us and saying, I don’t know how to help my child revise. Its leading to arguments at home, we get in to sort of loggerhead situation where I’m saying you need to revise, the child saying I am revising, and actually very little revision is going on. There might be a little bit of highlighting of notes or rewriting things, which we all know not particularly effective. So what we tried to do was come up with a solution that would empower the parent, make them feel a partner within the revision programme, and support the child and the teacher as well.
And we wanted to do something that would be based on retrieval practice, that would empower the parents to work alongside their children in terms of building knowledge and really frequently going back to each of their core subject areas. So the idea is to email every day, and it is really every day, a set of questions to parents. This year, we’re doing English, maths, science, geography, history, computer science, the languages so all the EBACC subjects but also PE.
It should arrive in their inbox around about 4 o’clock every afternoon so it’s there when the child gets home from school, it’s there in time for dinner because we found that a lot of parents will try to ask those questions sitting around the dinner table because it’s their best opportunity to spend some quality time with their child. So if we go back about five years, I was teaching GCSE geography and I knew that I wanted to get the parents on board. I knew that everybody had access to email. I knew I wanted to do something that was frequent contact so I decided I was going to send them an email every day and I made some mistakes, luckily pre-GDPR.
So I got my distribution list of parents’ emails and I was supposed to bcc it and occasionally I forgot. So I was emailing personally to that distribution list every day and I’d set a kind of open-ended question and then suggest some possible answers and parents were going through those, the vast majority were doing it; going through those questions with their children and I’d get three or four e-mails back a day saying this is really fun, which is odd, I know. This is really fun we’re actually devastated when we don’t get your email before dinner because sometimes I would get into bed and then think, ‘oh, I haven’t done it yet, I’ve got to get up’ because it wasn’t automatically scheduled.
So I knew it was working. I knew the parents were buying in and it seemed a little bit mean to just leave those benefits to be with the Geography Department, especially when I started teaching RE as well so I looked for solutions that would work across the curriculum. Last year, we did the real first stage of the proper programme so our Director of IT from the trust managed to write a nifty little bit of software that would integrate with SIMS, that would pull the email addresses out for parents, pop them into class lists, and email them at the same time every day and definitely without sharing anybody else’s details the whatever questions we’d put in to the revision email programme.
So the approach I took was that the teacher would give us the questions in a spreadsheet format which they can just copy and paste out of their resources effectively and we matched the questions, the subject that the questions are for, to the subjects that people take. We build a big list of that and then we create the email and then we just send the email off. It just does it automatically, you just choose the day which you want the question to go out and it just works. I didn’t want anyone having to hover around a button at three o’clock in the afternoon and press send, it just does it.
You tell it what time you want it to send, then it will just do it and it refreshes the MIS every night so if kids move between classes or the subjects change, it will just… the following day it will be correct. From a non-technical perspective, I would say you just want the questions to be snappy and not rambling. I think you just want something that your mum can ask you in the car on the way to school. Last year, we had multiple choice questions for maths and for science and we had extended answer type questions for English and for geography. I really think that when you’re writing multiple-choice questions you need to do as a team.
You need to make sure that your distractors are believable and that they cover all the misconceptions that students are likely to have and the best way of making that happen is to do it collaboratively. So we’ve put one head of department in charge of making sure that process happens for their subject. I made the mistake of not really telling them what format I wanted to receive their questions and answers in, so I had Word documents, I had Excel spreadsheets and of course, computer science gave me a database and it wasn’t useful. So what I should have done is given them an Excel template to type everything into in the first place.
The problem we’ve got there is that Excel doesn’t seem to talk very well to our maths questions. So anything with an algebraic formula in is tricky and the way we’ve got around that is we’ve typed them using a formula builder and we’ve then taking a screenshot of the formula and we’re popping that in as a PNG file, rather than as a standard question within the Excel template. So I think there have been benefits for lots of members of that community. The parents are now empowered within that revision process.
In terms of the benefits for students, they know that over that period of about six months leading up to the exams, they will have received questions that cover the core element of each course so it’s helping them to structure their revision. They’re also getting this immediate feedback so we supply the answers to parents and students will know immediately whether they’ve got those answers right or wrong.
In terms of teachers, it’s made us think really carefully about what the most important elements of each course are and in terms of working together as teams to write the distractors for the multiple-choice questions, it’s really made us think about misconceptions that students are likely to have and we’re now starting to address them much more prominently within teaching so I think it’s been good for everyone. In terms of teachers all knowing exactly where they’re trying to get to in terms of building up that knowledge, we’re then assuming that the students have got that core knowledge and can use it to answer essays, to answer longer style questions.
There’s also consistency, so we know that those questions are going to everybody; there’s a consistency of approach there. It’s not dependent on a certain teacher remembering to send something out or remembering to put a question onto Edmodo, or remembering to print something; it’s happening automatically. So I think that consistency of approach is really important for leadership teams.

In this video, Dr Katharine Hutchinson, Director of Professional Learning and Development at Cambridgeshire Educational Trust (secondary), shares how she trialled a daily revision email to parents before it was adopted as a whole-school approach.

Katharine shares how the approach moved from an individual pilot to be used more widely. She reflects on the lessons learned along the way and the need for collaboration in the creation of effective multiple-choice questions that would lead to learning. She considers the benefits so far for students, parents, teachers and leaders.

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  • How might these approaches be applied in your own context to solve a challenge you’ve identified?
Due to the current context, home learning may feel very different. This guide from Janet Goodall for the Chartered College of Teaching may be of interest.
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