Just before Christmas I ran a short CPD session with staff on questioning techniques. Now the difficulty with such an area is that there is no secret ingredient or coverall fail safe approach (like with starters for example, you try an activity and it either works or does not.) However when it comes to questioning, this is not an activity it is a skill, so the first step is recognising what you are currently doing and asking if it is working or not. This is often best supported with an observation, another set of eyes that can listen to the questions asked and the responses given but this is not always the desired approach nor very helpful when running a training session. So instead I turned to my new set of books (and Google of course).
I started the session by asking staff the reasons why we ask questions. Now I know this is not a very creative start however it was necessary to emphasise that we know as teachers why we question (e.g. to interest, engage and challenge students, to check on prior knowledge and understanding, to focus students’ thinking on key concepts and issues etc) but what the research points out is that whilst we know why we question, very few questions are asked that promote reasoning, problem solving and evaluation or to promote students’ thinking about the way they have learned.
This got me thinking back to my PGCE days and Bloom’s Taxonomy. Now I am not a big fan of teaching fads, however Bloom’s to me is different. Back in the 1950’s Dr Benjamin Bloom, educational psychologist and his team, designed a framework that focused upon Knowledge (cognitive), Skills (psychomotor) and Attitudes (affective). This developed into his Taxonomy, a six stage developmental programme of learning. So within my session I give teachers a blank triangle separated into 6 sections and they had to order the subheadings from least to highest order skill:
For the past year, I have been very interested in the pedagogy surrounding metacognition and how students learn, probably sparked from hearing Bradley Busch at different events (The Science of Learning – What you need to know.) From this, I have been thinking a lot about my students’ essay writing techniques. What I have realised is that I spend a lot of time focusing on essaystructure, how to apply critical words, supporting students in articulating a more mature use oflanguage that focuses upon the material covered but are the students really learning how to write an essay? Can a student improve if they are unaware of the writing hoops they are meant to jump through?
As a teacher, and a previous marker for the examboard, I know exactly what an essay should read like. Plus after all the hundreds of essays I have marked, it also feels like the examiner’s mark scheme is etched into my brain. But this is not the case for the students. They know that line of argument is important because I drill it into them. They know they must answer the specific question asked because they highlight their essays after completion. However what I realised is that they probably don’t know WHY I ask them to do this because they don’t see beyond me marking their essays. My students know of the examiner’s mark scheme (it pops up in lessons sporadically) but they have never applied it to their work with any consistency. Not using the examiner’s mark scheme systemically through lessons feels like a key strategy in self-assessment that I have been missing out on.
So,nearing the end of last term I copied and pasted the examiner’s mark scheme into a more student friendly table. Front side A01 descriptors, other side A02 descriptors. Each tableconsisted of 3 columns, first column for the five levels (6 for A2), second column for the descriptions that go with each level and then a final column for the studentreflections. Since the end of term often culminates in mock exams and essays, I thought it was the perfect time to pilot the new sheet. So,every student got a mark scheme table sheet and on their unmarked essays (some were second drafts from previous whole class feedback) they highlighted which of thedescriptions best suited their work. Afterwards they calculated their mark based on how many points werehighlighted within that level.
At first the activity did need quite a bit of explanation, further coachingand repetition but the students soon picked up what was being asked of them.The questions that followed were exactly what I had wanted: “what does breadth or depth mean?”, “how many would a ‘range’ of scholarly views be?” and “I haven’t really used the words in the questionthroughout, so I haven’t really addressed the question well have I?”. Questions such as these showed me that thestudentswerestarting to think like examiners, applying the examiner’swords to their own essay and really reading them from another angle. Once the students had marked their essays and reflected upon what they needed to do to improve, they were given the opportunity to redraft.
Through students identifying areas to develop themselves, using the language of an examiner and then going away to improve theiressays without my input, moves essay writing from the usualteacher feedback transaction into high level understanding. My job is to step in when a student says,“I know I need to do… but I don’t know how”. This means that it is the student who is doing the reflection, even if they then struggle with the next step of their essay writing, which is where the teacher then supports the learning process. Whereas the usual transaction is either the teacher pointing out the errors in an essay and then giving the solutions or pointing out the errors and the student not understanding what the errors are.
Check out the latest ‘Mark With Me’ video, where I go through an A* Meta Ethics answer from the 2018 exams. See how they did it by watching my feedback. For access to all Mark With Me videos, Revision Podcasts and Tired Teacher videos (plus Discussion Forum for all your questions and problems) join today under Membership!