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Discussion: Developing and discussing classroom assessment strategies

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posted by: Paul Black on March 8, 2000 at 10:38AM
subject: Responses 2
Thanks to Greg Kniseley for the references - I didn't know of the Gregory
et al book and will get it. For the Nuffield Primary Science - I would
recommend that source wouldn't I as I was involved in setting up that
project with Wynne Harlen. The web-site will refer to the publications for
teachers, which have many examples of activites to elicit children's
understanding as well as guidance from Wynne Harlen about assessment
approaches. The method you describe is excellent, and it brings out the
importance of thinking reflectively about children's responses - to see
through them to what they might tell you about the children's thinking. If
anyone is interested in the research studies on which the curriculum
materials are based, they are a set of reports on the SPACE project
published by Liverpool University Press P.O.Box 147, Liverpool L69 3BX.
Tom McDougal's questions call for answers on two levels. The study to which
i referred is a paper by Rith Butler, in the British Journal of Educational
Psychology Vol 14 pp.1-8, 1998. She has also published papers on related
work - see the Journal of Educational Psychology Vol. 79, pp.474-482 1987
and Vol.87 pp.261-271, 1995 (see also Boulet, Simard and Demelo, Journal of
Educational Research Vol.84, pp.119-125, 1990. However, the Butler work was
on very general thinking puzzle tasks and so quite removed from normal
school work - so like much of the research, it gives you things to think
about but doesn't tell you what to do. So for your practical question, I
would suggest you put no marks or grades on the work, but for each one make
comments which will help the pupil to understand what needs doing to improve
the work. One or two things is better than many, and things the pupils can
be expected to take action on are the ones that might help. However, if this
is a big change from normal practice, it will have to be explained carefully
first: many pupils love having grades to compare, and may feel cheated, as
might their parents. You'll have to get them to see that comparing grades
doesn't actually help them to learn something from their efforts.
For Janie West - Yours is a big question. I think it might help first of
all to look at the right conditions and the right instruments. The
conditions are a classroom where pupils are given time to think about
answers to questions, share the assessment of their own and other pupils
written work, and so on as in my talk. Here teachers need encouragement -
that such an approach will pay off (as the research has shown) and perhaps
could do well to do some observation of one another's classrooms, or have a
friendly outsider observe so they can get critical feedback on how any new
ways are working out. For instruments - what is needed is good questions,
i.e. questions which encourage pupils to write and/or talk at some length,
and questions which bear upon imporqant procedural and conceptual aspects of
learning. here teachers can help by sharing good questions, and discussing
why they are good so we can all help develop ideas about quality. for
classroom dialogue particularly, an observer, or a tape recording, can help
that reflection after the event which give a teacher that personal feedback
without which (like the pupils) one cannot learn.

Finally for G.Paulin's contribution. Our groups met about once every five
weeks, but our King's tean prepared an agenda based in part on what a
full-time researcher had been observing in their classrooms. For a workshop
we did two things. One was to take short passages of real classroom dialogue
from several books e.g. Jay Lemke's Talking Science, Wynne Harlen's The
teaching of Science, or Torrance and Pryor's Investigating Formative
Assessment, and asked them to discuss the quality of the questions. One
could then try the book by G.Brown and E.Wragg on Questioning (UK) of
J.T.Dillon's book on the sane topic (USA) - these will help on general
criteria but won't help much with science. I attach at the end here another
set of pages which we gave out about helping pupils to generate their own
questions - which has been shown to be very helpful to learning. However,
one of the key exercises was that our researcher collected questions from
these teachers' own classes as she sat in them observing, and put a
selection of these before groups who had to consider each one in turn and
discuss whether it was worth asking, how long pupils might need to think
about an answer (assuming it called for thought and not for memory of a
right answer !) and what one would expect to learn from the pupils'
reponses. This was particularly helpful, and teachers told us subsequently
that they had since thought more carefully before each class about the
questions they were going to use. I hope that helps.
So here is the piece that we used :

Using Questions to Promote Thinking

In any classroom the level of thinking is affected by the level of
questions asked. Unfortunately, research has shown that when students are
asked to generate questions on their own, they usually pose factual
questions. We can train pupils to ask better questions by providing them
with a set of standard thought provoking question stems and asking them to
use these to compose their own questions.

This technique is a simple technique which uses a set of generic question
stems. Pupils are given the list of stems and then asked to compose five
good questions about the topic that has been studied and their answers.

The Question stems are:-

Question Stem Specific Thinking Skill
What are the strengths and weaknesses of......?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your
investigation? Analysis/Inference
What is the difference between .....and......?
What is the difference between photosynthesis and
respiration? Comparison/Contrast
Explain why......
Explain why antibiotics cannot cure common colds? Analysis
What would happen if......?
What would happen if water boiled at 60o C Prediction/Hypothesising
What is the nature of............? Analysis
Why is...........happening?
Why is the temperature of this boiling water not
rising? Analysis/Inference
What is another example of............?
What is another example of a non-conductor of electricity? Application
How used to............?
How can a stopwatch and a ruler be used to measure the speed of a
car? Application
What are the implications of............?
What are the implications of global warming for the
environment? Analysis/Inference
What is..........similar to?
What other animals is a cat similar to? Identification of analogies and
What do we already know about............?
What do we already know about how sound is produced? Activation of prior
How does.........affect............?
How does temperature affect the rate of a reaction? Analysis of cause
effect relationships
How does.........tie in with what we have learned before?
How is acceleration related to what we learnt about speed?
What does..........mean?
What does photosynthesis mean? Analysis
Why is...........important?
Why is the periodic table important? Analysis of significance
How are ........and..........similar?
How are a camera and the eye similar? Comparison-contrast
How does...........apply to everyday life? Application to the real world
What is the counter argument for?
How would you argue that the Earth is not flat? Rebuttal to argument
What is a solution to the problem of............?
What is a solution to the problem of dangerous radiation from radioactive
substances Synthesis of ideas
Compare.......and.........with regard to
Compare a water circuit with an electric circuit to show how they are
alike Comparison-Contrast
What do you think the causes ............? How do you know?
What are the causes of the tides? How do you know? Analysis of cause and
Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
What evidence is there to support your answer?
Do you agree or disagree with the statement that it is hotter in summer as
we are nearer the Sun. What evidence do you have to support your view?

Suggestions for how to use

a. At the end of a lesson or a period of work, ask the pupils to work
independently using the question stems to generate two or three questions
based on the material covered. Get pupils to ask you the questions.

b. At the end of a lesson or a period of work, ask the pupils to work
independently using the question stems to generate two or three questions
based on the material covered. Get pupils to ask the questions and ask
pupils to put hands up if they know the answers.

c. At the end of a lesson or a period of work, ask the pupils to work
independently using the question stems to generate two or three questions
based on the material covered. Next in pairs or small groups, ask the
pupils to engage in peer questioning, taking turns to pose the questions to
their partner or group and answer each others questions in a reciprocal

d. Get pupils to read a piece of relevant scientific text. Then ask them
to use the generic question stems to generate three or four thoughtful
questions about the text.

a. At the beginning of a topic, hand out the generic question stems and ask
the pupils to think of three or four thoughtful questions on this topic that
they would like to know the answer to. Gather in the questions and make a
poster of the best 10 questions that you will attempt to answer during the
course of the work.

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