Does ‘playing pretend’ help students be more independent?

There is part of me which is really happy… and a part of me filled with dread.  I have finished teaching the course specification for my exam with six weeks to spare.  My colleagues may ask, ‘so why are you not happy?’  I have to admit, it is a great position to be in, but…I now have to motivate and inspire revision in the classroom for the next six weeks.  I need to bring out the big guns, the colour photocopying, the words mats, the mind maps, the flash cards, the quizzing and the testing.  I see the next six weeks of me pulling one revision strategy out of the bag after another and endless nights on the TES resource bank.

In science last week, we were fortunate to have Amanda visit us from PiXL.  Within the first half hour, she made a very clear and sharp point, ‘you work too hard’.  She asked me, ‘Why would a student need to work their socks off when you are bending over backwards.’  I have to admit to being taken aback.  ‘It’s my job Amanda, I have to make them understand.’  Amanda reminded me, ‘no, it’s your job to make them independent learners’.  As teachers, we should not be working harder than students.

Amanda then shared a nugget with me.  Cornell notes!

Cornell notes were developed Walter Pauk at Cornell University as a note taking strategy for university students who were failing to make adequate notes.  The page of notes is split into three areas.  The notes section is short, sharp and concise, using bullet points and key terms.  Question stems are then generated from the notes section.  The student then uses the questions for self and peer testing, covering up the notes section and trying to replicate the information.  After through testing, the student then summarises the content of the notes at the bottom, using the key definitions highlighted in the notes section.


Amanda pointed out that we had invested a lot of money on text books and revision guides which are of a very high quality.  This is very true and in a time where SIRI is everyone’s best friend; and emojis and text speak are emerging as new language, we should be actively encouraging students to engage with written text and books that we invest heavily in.

Armed with Amanda’s words and a question level analysis from my triple biologist’s recent mock, I was ready for action.  I introduced the Cornell notes by telling the students that we were preparing for University life.  I shared some of my stories of lectures where I would be pouring over reams of A4 spiral bound books, writing until my arm felt numb.  I explained that note taking was one of the most important skills during further education and that the expectations on them as learners were exceedingly high.  I encouraged them to put themselves into the shoes of their future selves and practice now.

I developed a DTT (Diagnosis, Therapy, Test) loop to get my class to review their answers from their mock.  The QLA was their diagnosis and I showed them how to make a set of Cornell notes for their therapy.  They then completed the mock question again and recorded a new score.


As the lesson unfolded, I was able to speak to individuals and go through some misconceptions.  The atmosphere was purposeful and students engaged.  No performance, flashcards or topic map in sight.  Just hard work analysing text and making purposeful revision notes using higher order thinking skills like sorting, prioritising and summarising.

At the end of the lesson, I asked students how they found the lesson.  Every one of them were positive, but one.  ‘Why don’t you like this strategy?’ I asked.  ‘Because ‘I’ have to work hard,’ was the answer.  ‘Yes you do, ‘ I agreed, ‘yes you do!’


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