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Collaborative Revision: It’s Better Together

04 March 2015

Ms Treeby, Head of English, explains the benefit of collaboration and how her Year 13 groups have worked together to produce some excellent revision resources.

  • Year 13 students at BISS Puxi working together on their English revision
  • Year 13 students at BISS Puxi working together on their English revision
  • Year 13 students at BISS Puxi working together on their English revision
  • Year 13 students at BISS Puxi working together on their English revision

The great director Steven Spielberg once wrote: ‘When I was a kid, there was no collaboration; it's you with a camera bossing your friends around. But as an adult, filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself.’

Within many professional non-creative industries, the ability to work as part of a team and having excellent ‘soft skills’ like emotional intelligence is also becoming a more and more desirable attribute. Hence the reason this has become an attribute we promote as often as possible.

Clearly, for Steven, this ‘lightbulb moment’ about the benefits of collaboration came much later in life. But as one of our Values, Attitudes and Attributes (VAAs), the importance of collaboration and developing the skills to become an excellent collaborator is at the core of our teaching from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 5.

In more traditional teaching environments, there would come a point as students got older and into the ‘exam years’, where the focus on teamwork would be set aside and students would start creating huge folders of private notes and labouring over hours of private study but actually, although this may feel like working hard, it is not always working smart.

At this time of year, our Year 13 students begin to feel the time slipping away from them. Coursework deadlines, mocks, extended essays, TOK… the list goes on. There are so many different approaches to revision, but sometimes the addition of some simple bright resources and some teamwork can make an epic task far more manageable.

An excellent example of this is recent work completed by my Year 13 group who are working on ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. At this stage, the students had read the play and had an overview of the theme but what they needed next was to develop an understanding of selecting key quotations to support character analysis.

They entered a room where the tables had been covered in bright yellow paper (it is amazing how such a small difference to the room can generate an instant buzz) with a pile of different photos of the characters to get a sense of how they can be portrayed differently. They were then challenged, in groups, to use the paper to chart and map the character progression scene by scene identifying all of the relevant key quotations in a very short space of time. It was wonderful to watch students deciding who would do what, what the priorities were and how they could cover that volume of material in such a short space of time. They also swapped characters, so they all had a chance to work on each one in some depth and look closely at what had already been identified. They were also prompted to evaluate the strength of each other’s quote selections.

Just having the chance to fill such a large resource with relevant information, move around, talk and handle visual resources created a great sense of energy and focus. Within two lessons, the students had three enormous sets of detailed resources, which they could then refer back to as revision material. It would have taken hours of independent study to achieve the same result.

After this, the students produced their final written coursework and it was very clear the degree of retention of information students (particularly lower attaining students) had about the characterisation of the lead characters on the basis of this work.

Although academic success is of course very much at the forefront of our minds at this stage in Year 13, I also think, holistically, that it is essential to use activities like this as often as possible to prepare students for life beyond academia. As Don Tapscott, one of the world's leading authorities on innovation and technology who specializes in business strategy says, “Collaboration is important not just because it's a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.”

- Gemma Treeby, Head of English

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