What is Revision-in-Action?
Revision-in-Action is the title EMC has given to a series of workbooks that help students revise their poetry clusters for AQA and Edexcel. It’s borrowed from Arthur N. Applebee’s phrase, curriculum-in-action, which he coined to describe the dynamic processes that make up an English curriculum beyond simple content – processes such as creativity, dialogic talk, personal response, and so on. Barbara Bleiman has written about Applebee's work on our site previously.
Revising content is clearly of the utmost importance. You cannot write about poems, for example, if you do not know the poems. But when revising the poetry clusters, what are the best ways to get to know the poems and to move learning beyond basic content? Can students, for example, revise interpretations of poems? The answer, of course, is yes. Young minds can, and do, absorb multitudes. This could easily include critical notes passed on to them by teachers or garnered from online sources and commercially produced revision guides. It’s often a good starting point, particularly when students find it challenging to find their own way into a particular text.
But this approach alone isn’t enough. To rely only on the ideas of others would make a mockery of the subject. What’s the point of learning how to interpret texts if there’s no actual interpretation going on? It also wouldn’t give opportunities for students properly to get to know and understand the poems on their own terms.
To revise most effectively, students need to work on the poems themselves, re-working any notes and critical material to bring them into their own domain of knowledge. This has two benefits. First, working on existing material, re-presenting it in different forms and striving to make full sense of it, is a brilliant way to embed knowledge and learning, as we have written about in a previous blog. Second, this process is not just integral to revision, but to the discipline of English itself – to curriculum-in-action. It is by grappling with texts, combining their own ideas with what they have read and been taught, that students develop all-important personal response.
We advocate an approach to learning at EMC that encourages students to grapple independently with texts throughout their secondary years. By the time they get to Year 11 revision, they should be familiar with a range of strategies for interpreting all kinds of texts. The Revision-in-Action workbooks offer a timely opportunity for students to put these strategies to good use. We’re not a commercial publisher, so we don’t do what commercial publishers do. We don’t, in this instance, provide students with pages and pages of notes telling them what any given poem means. Instead, we provide them with space to reflect in different ways on what they have already learned and to structure their own independent thoughts. Students can even complete the workbooks with their existing notes alongside them: in completing the workbooks, they transform the knowledge held in their notes into something that truly belongs to them, in the process reinforcing and cementing their existing understanding.
The Revision-in-Action workbooks are beautifully produced and handily sized. They give real worth to students’ own ideas. When completed, students are left with a valuable record that both reinforces and informs their revision: what is important about each poem, how poems compare to others, themes and ideas that work across the cluster, possible exam questions, practice essay plans and more. Most importantly, they will enter the exam hall confident in their own ability to offer a personal response to material that is simultaneously being written about by tens of thousands of other students.