Author Archives: Jamie Davies

Spaced Revision | Improving Revision with Effective Techniques.

As we start to approach the exam session again, many students (and teachers) will be entering their favourite purveyor of stationary goods to arm themselves with all thhighlight-in-bookse tools that one could need to prepare for an exam: cue cards, revision books and, of course, highlighters. I have seen many students think that revisiting their notes armed with a handful of multicoloured highlighters is an effective way to get ready for the big day — well at least there is something visible to show for their efforts.

In this post, I will suggest a new evidenced based revision strategy called ‘Spaced Learning’. I provide some resources that I use in class at the bottom of the post to get you started too.

A recent study (Dunlosky, 2013) considered the relative benefits of a variety of revision and learning strategies and reflected on the impact they have on both learning and retention. Some of the findings should not come as a surprise to you (highlighting and rereading are not effective) but there is probably more to be gained by focusing on the top performing techniques that both teachers and students should be using.


Elements that seem to be key to improving retention are techniques that encourage the learner to think about what they are reviewing and distributing their efforts over time. The full article is quite a read at over 50 pages but it is possible to drop into it and review each of the ten techniques individually or just read the discussion of the article.

The Spaced Revision Technique

From this the idea of ‘Spaced Revision’ has evolved – an evidence based revision strategy that empowers students to use the techniques that work best for them within a set of scaffolding to support them. It has four stages that repeat over the course of a set period of time. This could be a revision period, over the course of a module, or ongoing over the course of the year.

Each spaced learning topic spans two days with two stages on the first day and the second two on the following day. A variety of different techniques are used for each topic you are reviewing (interleaved practice).


Stage 1: Review a topic – for the first 20 minutes utilise any technique you are comfortable with to review the topic. This could be highlighting, making notes, creating flashcards or using post-its. Often, you might stop after this and think ‘my revision is done!’. But no, this is just the start of an effective learning technique.

Stage 2: Transformation task – this is building on the elaborative learning tasks discussed above. Here you need to transform the notes or highlighting that you have from Stage 1 into something different. This could be a mindmap, a drawing, a song, a poem. By doing this you will have to be thinking ‘how’ am I going to show this content in a different form and ‘why’ does each piece belong. It can be fun too.

That is the end of the first session. When you return to your revision in the next day or two (distributed practice) you complete Stages 3 and 4 on the first topic and then start again with Stages 1 and 2 of a new topic.

Stage 3: Practice testing – with a friend, family member or one of the many websites online that have relevant psychology quizzes – test yourself on the area that you have reviewed.

Stage 4: Exam questions – finally, complete an exam question or questions on the area you have reviewed and mark this yourself using a mark scheme or ask your teacher to mark it (practice testing). Importantly, when you are composing your answer use elaborative interrogation and think ‘why am I writing this?’

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The aim of Spaced Learning to to allow students to use techniques that they enjoy and help them revise while giving them a supportive scaffold to keep them going (or get them started).

Give it a go and let me know how you find the technique by tweeting @jamiedavies.


  • You need to plan your revision well and make sure that you stick to the plan. If you ever miss a session, you need to double up. It is all too easy to fall behind and then just give up with the process. With that in mind make an achievable plan and stick to it – and here is a sheet to help you do that.
  • Most exam boards put past exam papers that are more than 12 months old online 0r you could use sites like Resourcd to find them too.

How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?

“It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition.”

Russell, 1945

I posted my Critical Thinking in Psychology essay recently where I discuss in depth critical (or rational) thinking in the context of A Level psychology. Here I want to share one of my favourite lessons of the year where I encourage my students to start thinking critically (find the lesson powerpoint at the bottom of the post or here).

One approach to increase students critical thinking skills is to get them considering methodological issues outside of the narrow framework of each subject specification and bring these issues to life. The use of activities such as ‘More cat owners have degrees’ demonstrating the dangers of misinterpreting correlational research and the possible bias caused by funding, and ‘The dangers of bread’ again illustrating issues of inferring causation from correlation act as excellent points for discussion about causation and correlation. Articles such as these teach students to be ‘savvy consumers and producers of research’ and develop the abilities needed to analyse, synthesise and applied learned information.

A key element of critical thinking is not taking results and conclusions at face value and questioning the methods that were used and any biases that these could have introduced when making inferences from results.  I have designed several activities  to make learners aware of  ‘blind acceptance of conclusions’conclusions’ and the fallibility of accepting results  without question. I have pulled all of these activities into one lesson with the aim of engaging students and creating an enthusiasm about evaluation.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 16.38.14Initially, I start with abstract questions to get the learners considering critical thinking outside of psychology and allow them to develop their own awareness. This starts from the moment they enter the room when the starter is the question ‘How many uses can you think of for a paper clip‘. After giggles, head scratching and some quite lateral thinking we move on to discuss what ‘critical thinking’ is.

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Before moving into discussion explicitly linked to psychology studies I ask them to write some instructions as to how to make a piece of toast. The students are a little suspicious at this point but after a few minutes you get the usual: get the bread, put in the toaster … and of course the debate on Nutella vs Marmite! Then I pose the question ‘but where did you get the toaster from …‘ and show the excellent TED video ‘Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster — from scratch

From here is time to turn my new ‘questioning‘ students back to psychology …

The first activity is based on hindsight bias, or the “I knew that all along” attitude, helping students become aware of the fact that anything can seem commonplace once explained if you are not aware of the underlying methodology.

This was the rationale for the ‘Lazarfield task’ that starts with the class being divided into two groups with each half receiving conclusions from a study (adapted from Lazarsfeld, 1949). However, unaware of this, the two groups received the opposite findings. For example group one would receive:

“Better educated soldiers suffered more adjustment problems than less educated soldiers.”

Whereas the second group would have:

Better educated soldiers suffered fewer adjustment problems than less educated soldiers.”

Each group have to make inferences about ‘why’ the conclusions might be true. Following on from the task students were asked to “did the findings make sense?” and to feedback their reasons. Only at this point will the class be made aware that they had the opposite findings and how easily it is to justify a finding after the fact. A discussion about the fallibility of the “I knew that already” attitude follows in relation to the students that the students have completed. This allows for the learner to review conclusions made and consider alternative arguments, confounding variables and biases in generalisations made.

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To then scaffold students’ analysis and evaluation skills a set of critical thinking questions to frame evaluation of research was adapted. These critical thinking questions provide students with important questions that they can use to establish the credibility of a research method. It also allows differentiation across learners providing the opportunity for those with low ability to give limited responses and the more able students to expand and demonstrate their synoptic awareness of research methods and the surrounding issues and concepts.

This is one of my favourite sessions of the year – you can actually see the students thinking, discussing and debating issues. They are staring to think like psychologists, like scientists. Not accepting what is in front of them but asking important questions. What is great to see is the reaction following the session – how the students often refer back to the session.

My only warning – I asked my students to keep asking ‘but why?‘ – they do!

How do you develop critical thinking skills in your learners? Could you adapt this session to your subject? If you do – please share it in the comments.

Jamie’s Flipped: (almost) a year with a flipped classroom

There are lots of different ideas about Flipping your classroom, see this TED talk for more. But essentially you provide your learners with resources and videos to allow them to ‘learn’ the material as homework and then build on this with skills in your classroom. Starting in September 2013, and as part of my MSc research, I have implemented my own interpretation of a flipped classroom with really interesting results. This post is a brief into to the research behind the flipped classroom and then I discuss how I have implemented it and the power of blogging to engage students outside of the classroom.

Flipped learning? Flipping mad?

Flipped learning is “…a form of blended learning that encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing” where the instructor provides “an opportunity for academics to provide more personal feedback and assistance to students, but also to receive feedback from their students about the activities that they are undertaking and what they don’t yet understand.” (Wiley and Gardner, 2013).


Several papers have reported on the impact of ‘flipped learning’ on undergraduate psychology courses and suggested that there is a positive impact of this on students’ attitudes toward the class and instructors as well as on students’ performance in the class (Wilson, 2013). There are far too many technological changes to how we are teaching and learning to list here, but they all suggest that same fundamental question: How do students learn best? (Halpern, 2013) and the possibility the flipped learning could be a step forward should be considered.

Using videos to support students’ learning has attracted the attention of a large number of researchers (Young and Asensio, 2002) and a key concept within the idea of flipped learning is the use of new technologies to support learning; or as some would label: blended learning (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). To successfully implement the flipped classroom approach, a change is needed to the existing traditional teaching approach. These changes have been conceptualised by Hamdan (2013) into four important elements referred to as four Pillars of F-L-I-P. These four pillars stand for Flexible Environment, Learning Culture, Intentional Content, and Professional Educator.

An interesting comment from Wilson’s (2013) action research where she attempted to flip her classroom is that she suggests that what she implemented was not totally a flipped classroom:

Although I have attempted to ‘‘flip’’ my classroom, what I have achieved is really a half- or three-quarters flip. I have removed much, but not all, lecture content from the course. (pg. 197)

This raises the idea that a flipped classroom is a binary entity – it is either flipped with no teacher delivery of knowledge or it is not. This I disagree with. Flipped teaching is just another tool which teachers should embed into their lessons when and where appropriate. Especially at post-16 level it would be difficult (impossible?) to completely flip ones lessons and expect all learners to assimilate all of the knowledge of A Level  outside of the class.

The Power of Blogging

For the best part of a decade I have been using blogs to stretch my students and have given several lectures, INSETS or workshops on the topic. This started with PsychBLOG in 2007 where I hoped to provide wider reading and current research for my students – now a site getting ~25,000 views a month. Moving on our department has had a blog and posted notes and extra tasks for the last four years with great success.

Blogging software is becoming more advanced with each  day and now it takes nothing more than a few clicks to create your own part of the internet. There are really an infinite number of uses for blogs within the field of education: writing and collating new and relevant news for your students, giving students a summary of what was covered in that past week, leaving homework assignments, and so many others. Not only can you write your blog posts but students, other teachers and colleagues can comment on your writing and start discussions about what was raised.

There are many kinds of blogging software but the two most popular ones are WordPress and google’s Blogger. Both of these sites allow you to set up your own blog online and post articles or general musings through a web-based interface allowing access wherever you have the Internet. If used well blogs can provide to be a central part of teaching and independent learning, however, general rules of web etiquette still apply and all users need to be aware of this.

With this in mind, I decided that a blog would make an excellent platform for my flipped classroom

Jamie’s Flipped…

I’ve written before about flipped classrooms and how you can flip your classroom with Resourcd. This year I have partially flipped my classroom with one flipped task each week for students to complete over the weekend before their first session of the week – you can see it at or @jamiesflipped. I talked a little about my experiences of my flipped classroom at a ‘teachmeet‘ back in October (notes and video here)

My approach to flipped learning involved giving students a ‘task’ each week to compete which introduced the topic for the next week. This flipped task involved reading a chapter (a few pages) from their course reader, watching a video clip and completing a quick multiple-choice quiz (see the gallery for screenshots).

One reason the flipped experiment was so successful was the addition of the quiz each week. This ensured that I could monitor the completion of the tasks. It is also good to stand by the classroom door and know before the students arrive who has not completed their homework task. After a few weeks the students knew there was no escaping it.

As well as the flipped tasks, each week I would publish the work that was going to be completed in class, the powerpoint and extension tasks on Jamie’s Flipped. I was surprised how many students actually read the articles, watched the videos or completed the extra tasks. Many commenting that they would do them on the bus on the way into college or while sat watching television.

At the first consultation evening of the year I canvased opinion as to my new approach and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive with students stating that they liked the format of the tasks, it was more ‘fun’ than usual homework, and that they found the lessons easier as they had an underlying knowledge about what was going to be covered. More than this it gave me more time in class to complete tasks and develop my students understanding of the content and experiment with other activities that I would not usually have had time for.

My experience of ‘flipping’ my classroom this year has been a really positive one and it is something that I will continue to develop and use in future years. As well as all the benefits of the flipped classroom my students know that all of their resources, homework and guidance is going to be ‘on flipped’. They know where to go if they miss a lesson to get the resources, and where to get extension exercises from when revising. It has required an investment of time – but nothing horrific – and now that I have the lessons for this year, as with everything in teaching, I can adapt and reuse these next year.

Flipping great!


I have had loads of emails and tweets from people that would like to flip their classroom but don’t know where to start.

Here is a short (~15 minute) video that I have made that will take you from nothing to having a blog with your first flipped task containing text for your students to read, a document for them to download, a video for them to watch from youtube and a quiz to check their progress.

Here are links that I mention in the screen-cast: – teacher resource sharing site – where it all takes place / / – other sites you can set up a blog
If you are considering flipped learning or just giving your students a different type of homework once in a while then this could be an excellent opportunity to experiment.

I could have spent hours talking about wordpress and all the ins-and-outs of it – so it might feel a little rushed. The best thing you can do it set yourself up a blog and spend an hour experimenting and seeing what you can achieve.

Let me know how you get on

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