Tonight’s 15 minute forum was led by maths teacher Natasha Bedford. Natasha described that moment we have all experienced, when marking a set of exam papers and it becomes clear that students just haven’t got a particular question – the ‘face palm’ moment! This is especially true of the long-response questions, where marks are there to be lost.
There can be a number of reasons for this. It might be that the student hasn’t really understood the question, or used the information that they have been given in the question, to help them answer it. They may not be able to recall the knowledge they will need in order to answer the question, or even misunderstand what form the answer is required in. And finally, they may have made a silly mistake, but haven’t checked their work and so lost marks. Natasha has been working on a strategy to help her students avoid these pitfalls.
When her students are working on exam questions, she gives them a ‘boxing up’ sheet to help them plan their thinking. See below:
A word version created by Natasha, based on the idea by Julia Strong (see credit below) of this can be downloaded here.
So, when working on an exam question, the students have this on a laminated A5 card in front of them. The green box gets them to think about and write down, what the question is asking them to do. Furthermore, they should also focus in on the information that they are given, in the question – as they often forget to use this, when formulating their response. Secondly, in the blue box, they recall the knowledge they will need, in order to answer this question, using the information they have already been given. Thirdly, they consider, exactly what is required in the answer e.g. calculation, answer, units etc. Finally, and most importantly, they think about their thinking – how can they check their thinking and ensure that the answer they have come up doesn’t contain any silly mistakes? This ‘self-checking’ is an essential habit that is often forgotten about. Consider the following exam question:
The ‘boxing up’ for this, might look something like this:
What’s great about this strategy is that it makes students slow down and think about the component parts of successfully answering a long-response question. It’s also a nice, easy and sustainable strategy, as once you have the card laminated, you can just, get them out each lesson. Although Natasha has used this in maths, it’s easy to see how the principle could be extended to other subjects.
Care needs to be taken, with making sure that students don’t get dependent on them and spend an unrealistic amount of time on the questions, due to using the sheet. Natasha overcomes this by getting them to write the notes in the boxes to start with. She then encourages them to use the boxes, just as prompts, without writing any notes down, until they are confident enough to tackle questions without it.
Credit: Talk for Writing in Secondary Schools’ by Julia Strong, published by Open University Press, c Julia Strong 2013