Rethinking revision – Clare Jarmy in TES

Posted on 20th April 2017

In a recent article for TES, Bedales Head of Philosophy and Religious Studies Clare Jarmy argues that the process of ‘revisiting’ offers all of the memorisation benefits of revision, whilst also bringing a welcome depth to learning.

With the exam period looming, she says, many teachers can feel conflicted about revision. She explains: “ It's easy to see revision as a process of memorising facts with a view to exam success, but it can bring with it with it the uneasy feeling that education should not be about how much students can remember.”

Bloom's Taxonomy  is for many educationalists the theory at the heart of explaining student development. It provides a hierarchy of cognitive complexity, from the simple task of remembering something up to skills of evaluation and synthesis. It can seem, after the high-level thinking demonstrated during the year, as though revision sends students right back to the bottom of the pyramid. If revision leads to exam success but leaves students unable to complete higher-level tasks, then it's allowed them to do an impression of someone who understands your subject rather than really getting to grips with it.

Accordingly, Clare proposes that the acid test for a revision process must be that at the end of it the student is both better equipped for an exam and a better practitioner of the subject. What can bridge the gap between understanding and remembering, she says, is ‘spiral learning’ – a process of revisiting topics in increasing depth, thereby helping the child recall the basic facts but ensuring they can also apply them in a wider context.

Jerome Bruner, in his book The Process of Education, supported the ideal of learning through enquiry and envisaged learning as a progression that begins with intuitive ideas and builds gradually through a process of constant revisiting. Clare says: “We don't progress on and on in a linear way but revisit and build, like a spiral. This process of intuition, structuring and reviewing, that continues over many layers of learning, each one at a higher level but still reinforcing the one before, should be applied to revision.”

Clare describes the use of an "exponential mind map" – a mind map that keeps growing, as one way of doing this.

The full article is available on the TES website (subscription may be required). Find out more about Clare Jarmy here. Clare is a regular contributor to the TES – see more of her articles here.