Monthly Archives: April 2018



Back from a quick weekend break to Shetland. The views from our hotel window in Lerwick was amazing:Niall spent a lot of time looking at divers and working out what they were:


We didn’t see many Shetland ponies, but here is one:

Shetland pony

No puffins, either,but many, many fulmars:


and a bolshie seagull, waiting to cross the road:

Who are you looking at?

Lots of sheep:


Hundreds of guillemots:


And, as we headed back to the airport, we had to wait as the air ambulance crossed over the road:


A beautiful place for a short break:


Exam Preparation With 24 Hours To Go: Advice On Revision (Part 2)⤴

from @ Memory & Education Blog - Jonathan Firth

 Settle down for the last day of study - short, 'pomodoro' study sessions work really well at this stage. Image by  David Joyce .

Settle down for the last day of study - short, 'pomodoro' study sessions work really well at this stage. Image by David Joyce.

This post is an adapted extract from my new book, How to Learn.

See also the previous post, "A week until the exam".

Clearly having only a day or two to go until your exam is not ideal, but at some point, we all get to the stage where there is very little time left. Whether you have been working systematically through your learning and revision all year or have left it all a bit too late, there are still several important things that you can do at this stage. The following applies to the final day before the exam and will be expressed as such, although if you are planning ahead, these revision tasks would be best begun with two days to go!


Your main focus at this stage should be on dividing up the remaining available study time into short, focused blocks of around 25 minutes, with short breaks in between (i.e. using the pomodoro technique). Write this schedule down, with the timings of each of the study sessions you can fit in during the day—doing so will only take a few minutes, and the external written list of times will help you to stick to the plan (as will setting a countdown timer on your phone for each session). Allow a decent amount of time for meal breaks, though. And don’t plan on either getting an early night or staying up late—neither of these things will help.

Make sure your study space is comfortable and quiet, that you have water and snacks to hand, and use the five-minute breaks in between sessions to get a bit of exercise (even just walking outside for some fresh air and back again).

You can’t relearn your course in a day, but you can familiarise yourself with the exam format in that time. From my own teaching experience, I feel that exam technique can make as much as a 10% difference to a student’s eventual grade. Therefore, even with such a short time to go, it’s worth using the first of your study sessions to look over the format of the exam (if that information is available), and check that you know all of the key details: how long the exam paper is, how many marks each section is worth, what is mandatory and what is optional, and so on. Take notes of these details as you go, and look over them all one more time just before the exam starts. Later in the day you will be doing exam practice which will consolidate this new understanding (it’s also worth double checking where and when the exam is, if you’re not sure).

The morning's study sessions

For your remaining study sessions in the morning before the exam, you should focus on rapid-fire retrieval of key terms and concept knowledge. For all types of exam, it’s going to be really valuable to work through these key terms and test yourself. Granted, this is cramming, and not the best way to learn over the long-term, but with a day to go it’s your most effective option, and when you make use of retrieval practice it will result in some real gains (in contrast to passive activities such as re-reading class notes or highlighting textbook chapters).

The main focus should be testing yourself using flashcards, practice questions, or other sets of course content–you may be able to find ready-made sets of flashcards on if you haven’t previously prepared any (or substitute a detailed list of key terms). In each of your 25-minute study sessions, work through a set of flashcards, a set of multiple choice questions, testing yourself until you get all of the answers right.

As you get the answer to each flashcard correct, put it to one side, so that you have a gradually decreasing bundle left in your hands. Keep going until you have got every answer correct at least once. With terms and definitions, it is a good idea to start with the definitions (i.e. recalling the terms) and then switching the sides of the cards in order to do the more challenging task of remembering the definitions from looking at the term. This means you will go through all of them again, retrieving key information from memory once more.

Practice Exam questions

As the day goes on, you might want to switch to a more exam-specific strategy. One excellent option would be to work through all of your flashcards in the morning (shuffle them all together, to gain the benefits of interleaved practice) and then move on to practicing specific exam-style questions later.

For exam papers which are made up partly or entirely of short-answer or multiple-choice questions, you should now be in a position to answer such questions quickly and confidently, having just revised the key terms that morning. Do so without referring to your notes, to ensure that you are actively drawing on memory (yes, it may feel uncomfortable, but it’s much more beneficial!).

Check through all your answers (assuming answers are freely available; if unavailable, contact a friend or use Google). If there were any that you found a struggle to answer, check these particularly carefully—you will learn a lot from tackling the gaps, for if the same question comes up in tomorrow’s exam, your revision session will be recent enough in mind that you should have a clear episodic memory of struggling with the question and then looking up the answer.

There may be a few areas that you still really struggle with even after going through practice questions, and for these it would be worth creating simple verbal or visual mnemonics. 

For exam papers that involve writing more extended answers, take a few minutes at the start of each of the afternoon’s short study sessions to look at practice questions/past paper questions on that topic, paying attention to any key command term used (e.g. describe, evaluate). This can make a major difference to the outcome, and it’s worth noting which ones come up most often. If you don’t already have a set of practice questions, it’s probably too late to get teacher/lecturer advice on this, but use social media to ask your classmates—the chances are, someone has already compiled a list and will be willing to share it with you. Again, answering these questions is most valuable without referring to your notes, but do check your answers at the end of the study session.

If you’re going to be dealing with full-length essay questions then clearly you won’t have time to write a practice answer to every possible question in a single afternoon. However, you can pick some of the most likely ones to come up, covering all the possible sub-topics. In each study session you should write a detailed plan that lists what would go into an essay answer, dividing the essay up paragraph by paragraph.

If available, refer to model essay answers, considering details such how they set out an introduction, how many paragraphs they have, how long they are overall in terms of word count, and how much detail is given in the supporting evidence used.

Overall, high priorities with a day to go include:

  • Ensuring that you are clear on the format of the exam.
  • A final run-though of key terms and concepts, testing yourself on flashcards.
  • Doing practice exam questions and/or detailed essay plans.
  • A degree of prioritising among possible topics.


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What are we saying?⤴


In Drama at school I am teaching a unit on The Theatre of Silence. I wrote about it last year here (Shhh):

This week we talked about non-verbal communication and I quoted the statistic from Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” about 90% or more of emotional communication being non-verbal.

I talked about the power of tone, body language, facial expression and gesture and even touched on smell and pheromones.

And I then went on to talk to them about the fact that when I was their age, there were basically three ways in which I could communicate with another person.

I could do so face to face, in the room together, with the full power of my verbal and non-verbal capacities.

I could do so in a handwritten letter, such as the one I wrote to my beloved Grandma, who lived 100 miles away in Bognor, on an almost weekly basis. 

And I could use the telephone, which was fixed in the corner of our very public hallway. Normally when I did this, my dad would be in the background listening in and commenting things like “that’s MY bill” or “can’t you wait til after six?” or “you have been with her all day and she lives across the road; what more can you possibly have to say?”

No emails.

No mobile phone at 24 hr disposal.

No Snapchat/Facebook/instagram/Tumblr/online gaming…..

Of course, all of these can be a power for great good and enhance communication.

I told my pupils that I personally love to text, to blog, to be in chat groups and that online connections have massively opened up the world to me.

But I also reminded them that the technology has moved on far more quickly than our brains, biology and emotions and that we need to remember that words in electronic format can never show the full intent, emotion and humanity of the person in the room who wrote them.

And that having the words but not the in-the-room communication of 500 online friends may lead to a lot of noise, pressure and overload… without the human emotion, love and connection that just one real-life friend could offer.

If we are using words more than ever to communicate, where has the other 90 plus percent of what we COULD be saying gone?

And after this discussion?

We took away the words and watched some Laurel and Hardy.

Syndication not Silos⤴

from @ wwwd – John's World Wide Wall Display

I just saw a provocative link from Aaron Davis, down with syndication, it was a reply on his site to an original post with that title by Ben Weirdmuller.

Arron has be a great example of an educator exploring the IndieWeb of which Ben is a major proponent.

Ben’s post is concerned with the idea of gaining more independence from the silos (twitter, Facebook and the like) and publishing more on his site. A lot of IndieWeb concepts involve publishing to your own site and sending links or repeating the posts across social media (like a link to this one will be auto posted to Twitter).

In his post Ben writes of leaving the silos behind completely. Just keeping things on his own site:

I think it might be more effective to move all the value away: publish on your own site, and use independent readers like Woodwind or Newsblur to consume content. Forget using social networks as the conduit. Let’s go full indie.

Ben mentions IndieWeb readers, that allow folk to create their own ‘syndication’ and reply, bookmark etc on their own site.

Nothing I’d disagree with there. I am quite shallow and enjoy likes, especially from Instagram coming a back to my blog via but, in theory, I love the idea of full independence.

The provocation, to me came from the word Syndication. Before I’d heard of IndieWeb I’d been involved in DS106. This means that for me syndication means something different than a silo. To me a syndication is something set up for a group, long or short term that can be completely separate from any silos. DS106, and many other educational syndications uses a WordPress blog to syndicate content from other sites. Alan Levine, @cogdog, has set up many examples of this sort of thing.

When I was involved in the migration of Glow Blogs one of the features I managed to get included was a syndication plugin. This took quite a lot of insistence on my part, but the University of Dundee and Derek Robinson have certainly made that worthwhile with EduShare which syndicates trainee teacher reflections. 1

These non-silo syndications are, if not a gateway drug to the IndieWeb, a great way to get people considering how and where they publish to the web and how community could be built.

These syndications can be used for long running or short projects 2, the participants don’t need the expertise beyond setting up a blog. You can participate in different communities from the same blog.

The great thing about a syndication is that the content doesn’t go away if the syndication does. Any discussion can take place on the participating sites. All the hub does is make it easy to read and make connections. reminds me of this in many ways, although the participants are not grouped round a class or topic.

Now I am thinking I should do a lot more to publicise the possibilities for syndication in Glow Blogs.

Featured image: Silos | Darko Pevec | Flickr Creative Commons — Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic — CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

  1. The UoD is by far the biggest and best example of syndication in Glow Blogs. I’ve used it for a couple of smaller examples but it is IMO one of the features of Glow that could be used much more widely.
  2. A example of a short aggregation I organised on Glow Blogs Blogging Bootcamp #2 | Get your blogs up and running Autumn 2015

An t-Alltan Conference for practitioners of GME and GLE, 26 and 27 September 2018⤴

from @ Education Scotland's Learning Blog

An t-Alltan is an annual conference to support the delivery of Gaelic Medium and Learner Education in the curriculum.  It also supports the delivery of Gaelic (Learners) as part of the 1+2 Approach to Languages.

For more information, please visit

Useful links from our National Improvement Hub

Resources from a conference to support the GME secondary curriculum – Transitions to secondary:

Resources from a conference to support Gaelic (Learners) 1+2 in the curriculum:

Updates from Education Scotland on Gaelic (Learners):

Updates from Education Scotland on Gaelic Medium Education:


Don’t kill the messenger⤴


It’s no surprise to find that Jeremy Hunt is talking rubbish again this week. In a Guardian article we hear that he is proposing a universal social media limit for every child. Sound good? Maybe – except that there’s no evidence to suggest that this policy is necessary.

Politicians – pfff. Not worth wasting typing time on. But there’s an undercurrent here (of course) about controlling the masses, and I suspect Hunt and his cronies are trying to attempt to control our non-state-controlled means of communication. Of course social media can be misused, but the frequent dissing of social media, and the emphasis on studies purporting to show how social media is bad for us, in one way or another, just annoy me. Social media is so important to me – it’s how I communicate, participate, and learn. I was reminded of this earlier when Verena asked the following question:

Like anything else, it depends how it’s used. But don’t kill the messenger if you find others using it badly. For some of us, it is our community, our affinity space, our home.

ClassroomScreen – the free online all-in-one class display tool⤴

from @ ICT for Learning & Teaching in Falkirk Schools is a free online tool which brings together a host of useful tools for the classroom into one screen display.

Choose your own background, bring up a timer, set a traffic light for any activity, choose pupils with a random name generator, add text instructions on screen, set visual noise level measure, draw on a whiteboard, have pupils click on the classroom response tool on the screen for any question you ask to display quick feedback. And if teaching another language just a quick flick and the language changes  to suit. So much in one screen, and you can move the tools around, switch them on or off as needed and change the background to suit the activity.

Created by Netherlands teacher Laurens Koppers to meet his own classroom needs for such an all-in-one tool, he has included a Padlet feedback page for teachers to share how they are using the tool and to request features. It is not possible to save your screen but it is designed that it should not take more than 30 seconds to put up the screen, and gives an option to save a list of names to upload speedily any time it’s needed.

Built into Classroomscreen you can access the how-to tips and guide to how different parts work by clicking on the 3-line hamburger icon to the top left. Want to see how to have dual screen? Want to use as an exit poll for your classroom? Want to add an image in the text box? Want to use on an iPad? Just click on that hamburger icon and choose Tips and Tricks. There’s a link to a how-to introductory guide to in the video below:

Click on this link for the YouTube channel for with a series of videos showing specific aspects of the tool in use.

Val Curtis created a neat visual infographic poster illustrating the different tools – click on this link to see this poster.

Follow on Twitter for more ideas and updates

#OER18: Open to All – some quick reflections⤴

from @ ...........Experimental Blog

Some musings with some hacking of Storify to pull this together - I think that is in the tradition of #OER Conferences - and it will probably be my final 'storify' as another useful tool disappears from the free web. ( I've jumped ship and moved all posts across to Wakelet )

Yes, not hacked very well , I'll tidy up later ;-)

It is always a pleasure to get involved in the organisation and running of an #OER series conference . The open education community across the UK and internationally, may come at Open Education from lots of different perspectives but the shared interest in opening up learning in an inclusive way binds us all together and means too that everyone is open to sharing - The Watershed in Bristol was a great venue . Thanks to ALT and our conference chairs David Kernohan and Viv Rolfe for leading an excellent conference.

Here are some edited highlights with some links at the end This is not a shout out to all the great key notes, chairs and presenters and all the great folks that gather for these conferences you all know who you are - you all make this gathering great !

If you don't know about this gathering have a poke around #oer18 hashtag on twitter or have a dig around this year's programme

Graphics and key messages were just right !

@MarenDeepwell kicks off #oer18 #oerconf and reminds us about #iwill campaign @A_L_T have been really active in leading the battle for open

@LornaMCambell set conference theme superbly and some great questions from floor

@OERConf #oer18 good question from @pbacsich institutions are good at business cases but less good at framing initiatives that are for the civic good . I’d challenge College Boards and University Courts on this - Still think driver needs to come from Govt policy though #openscot

I must have a root around UCL publications and see what fits with further education . Potentially some useful home grown open publications.

John Casey City of Glasgow College - led great session and looking forward to rolling out handbook across College and beyond.

From many sessions I picked up some great models of open practice in action and I am going to point my own team back to explore some of these

In no particular order I was impressed by work with

How the University of British Columbia uses an institutional wiki

The self hosted Splots from Reclaim Hosting and some more information on this approach at institutional leve

I've blogged about Reclaim Hosting before - but tool to clone wordpress blog template - is really useful and or will be when more centres realise what a great way blogging is to empower learners

This is a great institutional project to get learners to reflect on their digital identities - and their digital profiles around the metaphor of their digital tattoo

If you want to reflect on what being an open practitioner is and a lot more a good place to start is having a look at Dr Catherine Cronin's presentation

I flagged up some innovations to my former employers as I watched themes that have been covered in internal papers for years as I watched an open system for standards and outcomes design being presented and a great example of Wales using Wikipedia in formal assessments in the school sector ( waving to SQA higher education board member who thought Wikipedia was an aberration , it was a long time ago ) I can't do them justice here but I chaired an excellent series of lightening talks - hope the images are just enough to get you to go and find out more

I did it again and will probably forget my user name and password - but I have another Reclaim Hosting Wordpress Blog . I really must do something with it . I've stuck by Blogger since 2001,  Gosh if I switched I could have quickly moved this across from Storify ! The clever folk at Reclaim hosting built a system that moves Storify Stories across to a Reclaim hosting Wordpress Blog with the click of a button.

It was great to see the GCU copyright resources released into the wild And being given many timely reminders #OpenEducation needs driven by government policies #openScot

Thanks to our splendid hosts and I look forward to following many of you on twitter over the year ahead

And looking forward to next year already !

and now here is Storify to Wakelet version

Sharing a few notes on #OER18⤴


I have great intentions to blog all the best experiences I have, but usually end up finding myself massively over-stimulated and therefore barely coherent. In the interests of not forgetting (and reflecting that I *still* haven't finished any of my blog posts from LAK18), I'm … Continue reading Sharing a few notes on #OER18

A week until the exam? Advice on revision (part 1)⤴

from @ Memory & Education Blog - Jonathan Firth

 With a week to go, it's time to work hard, but also to work  smart , using evidence-based study techniques. Image:  Pixabay .

With a week to go, it's time to work hard, but also to work smart, using evidence-based study techniques. Image: Pixabay.

This post is an adapted extract from my new book, How to Learn.

If your exam is close, it’s time to really focus. There’s no room for procrastination, but you do still have enough time (if you use it well) to seriously upgrade your level of detailed knowledge as well as your exam technique. This post explains how evidence from the science of learning can help you make the best use of the study time you have left.

The first thing you should do is to make sure you have all of the materials you need. This includes your textbook(s), classroom notes, sets of flashcards, your own summaries or concept maps based on your reading, and any available past papers or lists of practice questions.

Regarding where to work, you don’t need to have a single study space, but at least have an idea of where you are going to get your revision done - somewhere quiet where you have a good amount of space and can spread out your books and plug in your laptop. Where do you work best? (“At a friend’s house” is the wrong answer! Multi-tasking makes learning much harder, and it's unlikely that you will fully concentrate on the task at hand with other people around). Interestingly, psychologists agree that it’s worth dividing your study between several places, to avoid the memories becoming too context-specific.

Another valuable thing to do with at a week or more to go is to run through all of your revision flashcards. This will help to refresh detailed knowledge ahead of the remainder of your study sessions. Test yourself until you get each concept right at least once. 

If you haven’t been making revision flashcards all year, it’s too time consuming to start now - either find some online via a site like (there’s a good chance that previous students from your course have made their flashcards freely available - for example, here's a set I made on the psychology topic of sleep), or make do with testing yourself on items from the glossary of your textbook or a similar list of key terms.

Next, it’s time to take a realistic look at how much time you have left for revision. Sketch a rough timetable which includes each study session and break. This should focus around identifying short slots if time – around an hour is fine (the pomodoro technique, where you study in 25 minute bursts, is ideal for a single day but probably too intensive to do for a whole week, at least in my opinion). It would be a good idea at this stage to follow your school or university timetable, if you have one – this is an already-learned structure which will be much easier to stick to than a brand new timetable that you have only just invented.

Overall, you can probably fit in around 5 hour-long sessions per day. For most people there’s little point in trying to do more than this in a single day - you’ll just burn out. Really long study sessions also tend not to be very productive, especially if they are interspersed with chatting with friends, listening to music, or checking social media (in fact, it’s probably best to confine all your social, with family or friends, to a certain time of the day, e.g. at the end of the day once your work is done). 

Next, allocate each topic or subtopic to one of the study sessions. For example if your course had four topics and each of these had three subtopics, then you have 12 subtopics to divide between the available sessions. According to the advice above, you should have 35 sessions available across seven days, so each subtopic can be allocated more than once. That’s fine - it means that you’ll go back to each area of the course after a few days and study it again consolidating what you have already done. However, keep the last couple of days of your plan clear, both as a contingency in case of illness, and to allow time for a final run through of your flashcards to consolidate terminology or other learning of finer details. In addition, you must take proper breaks, whether whole days or the occasional afternoon/morning – it’s your choice. This probably means that you will have more like 50 1-hour study sessions over a fortnight.

What should you actually do during each study sessions? One of the best things at this stage is to write concept maps from memory to check that you still remember how topics fit together, and don’t have any gaps in your overall understanding. It’s really important to do this from memory, not by copying - Blunt & Karpicke (2014) showed that retrieval of content was more important than the process of writing the maps. However, maps still provide an overview which shows how topics link together, which is something you don't get from linear notes. If you haven't used them before, concept maps show concepts linked together by logical statements such as "is a part of" - you can see an example here.

Another very valuable task is to work through your textbook or your own written summaries (or both), checking your level of recall and understanding. Passive re-reading is an ineffective study strategy (Callender & McDaniel, 2009) so instead you should aim to use a strategy called elaborative interrogation. This means asking questions as you go through each part of the text, and in particular asking yourself “why” questions – promoting analytical skills which are so important for exams. This is a useful technique at any stage of your studies but particularly now during revision, because the technique has been shown to work better after schema knowledge has been developed (Woloshyn et al., 1992). If you have used the Cornell notes system, you will already have key questions written down one side of your classroom notes, and can use these!

Writing a concept map plus working through the reading may well take a couple of study sessions, or even more. How does your rate of study compare with how many topics/sub-topics you have to cover? The time you have left is fixed, so if you are going too fast or too slow, you can make some adjustments now. If you have time to tackle a 3rd or 4th session on each sub-topic, then move on to writing out full exam-style questions - you are likely to be ready to do well in them having already worked through the content in detail. Again, a more active task is preferable, so even if you have already written out practice essays during the year, it’s more valuable to re-write one from memory (prompting retrieval practice) rather than reading through your previous attempts.

If you come across areas where you feel confused, there may still be enough time to get some help from your teacher or lecturer at this stage. However, as time ticks down and you find yourself with only a few days left, don’t spend the time travelling in to university or school (which would use up valuable time that could be spent studying). Instead, make contact by email; it’s not unreasonable to send a short list of queries with a few days still to go, and most teachers will be happy to address these.

Top priorities with a week to go

- Ensuring you have all of your key materials including past papers and flashcards.
- Running through key content using flash cards.
- Planning your remaining time, dividing days into around 5 short study sessions that follow your usual timetable.
- Allocating subtopics to each study session, covering every topic twice or more but allowing for days/afternoons off.
- Moving on to writing practice questions.
- Making contact with your teacher by email if there are areas of particular difficulty.

Advice on Revision, Part 2 will focus on the final 1-2 days before your exam.


Blunt, J. R., & Karpicke, J. D. (2014). Learning with retrieval-based concept mapping. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(3), 849-858.

Callender, A. A., & McDaniel, M. A. (2009). The limited benefits of rereading educational texts. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 34(1), 30-41.

Woloshyn, V. E., Pressley, M., & Schneider, W. (1992). Elaborative- interrogation and prior-knowledge effects on learning of facts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(1), 115-124.

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