Author Archives: Mr Baxby

Asking all the wrong questions?⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

I have been pondering the issue of questioning (and questions in general) in recent weeks. I have always hoped that it is a key strength of my lessons, but lately I have been thinking more about what kind of questions I am asking.

I recently completed the Tapestry Partnership training on leading TLCs (see http://www.tapestrypartnership.com for details) and a key part of this focused on questions (and especially "hinge questions") as central to AifL.  Now, I am not saying that there is no room for improvement, but I definitely ask plenty of higher order questions as well as open-ended ones.  There are hundreds of interesting articles on questioning written and available, but I like the simplicity of the layout of this one:  http://www.nsead.org/downloads/Effective_Questioning&Talk.pdf


In reading this, I was struck that the first mentioned reason for asking questions was to "maintain the flow of the learning within the lesson".  While I agree that this is a big part of asking questions, it made me think about the purpose of my own questions and the extent to which that is the biggest reason for my asking questions. I use 'Think, Pair, Share' very often in my lessons and I like this as a way of structuring paired work as well as to support learners.  However, I have noticed that I am developing a tendency to ask questions that are looking for a very closed, negative response.  For example, yesterday I asked "Did the Germans want to fight a war on two fronts?" with the clear response my brain wanted was "No".  This led me to think about the frequency of this style of question.  Am I simply wanting pupils to realise an obvious truth through this or is it just lazy questioning?  I observed this technique recently with a guide in a visitor attraction who almost entirely asked questions of this nature to engage the visitors.  Surely this is not a desirable method for this purpose.  Or am I missing something?

In answering this, I refer to the earlier article.  Which reason for asking questions does this accomplish?  Perhaps engaging students with learning or to seek the views and opinions of students.  However, I am becoming more aware that this is a very closed question and that there is definitely a right answer.  Moreover, it's worse than that; I am asking a question that is so badly considered and easily answered as to be pointless.  But then why do I not ask the positive question on the same?  It seems this 'negative' response does elicit a little more thinking than the 'positive' but the frequency should be minimised.


An alternative could be the carefully selected multiple choice in order to make pupils think more.  Multi-choice questions have a bad reputation as the easy way out, but there is no doubt that they can stimulate much deeper thinking than some realise.  This is a good place to start when thinking about these:  https://testing.byu.edu/handbooks/14%20Rules%20for%20Writing%20Multiple-Choice%20Questions.pdf


Next Steps:
I plan to be observed in the coming weeks and would like the observer to focus on my questioning.  Here's hoping for less useless questions!

Asking all the wrong questions?⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

I have been pondering the issue of questioning (and questions in general) in recent weeks. I have always hoped that it is a key strength of my lessons, but lately I have been thinking more about what kind of questions I am asking.

I recently completed the Tapestry Partnership training on leading TLCs (see http://www.tapestrypartnership.com for details) and a key part of this focused on questions (and especially "hinge questions") as central to AifL.  Now, I am not saying that there is no room for improvement, but I definitely ask plenty of higher order questions as well as open-ended ones.  There are hundreds of interesting articles on questioning written and available, but I like the simplicity of the layout of this one:  http://www.nsead.org/downloads/Effective_Questioning&Talk.pdf


In reading this, I was struck that the first mentioned reason for asking questions was to "maintain the flow of the learning within the lesson".  While I agree that this is a big part of asking questions, it made me think about the purpose of my own questions and the extent to which that is the biggest reason for my asking questions. I use 'Think, Pair, Share' very often in my lessons and I like this as a way of structuring paired work as well as to support learners.  However, I have noticed that I am developing a tendency to ask questions that are looking for a very closed, negative response.  For example, yesterday I asked "Did the Germans want to fight a war on two fronts?" with the clear response my brain wanted was "No".  This led me to think about the frequency of this style of question.  Am I simply wanting pupils to realise an obvious truth through this or is it just lazy questioning?  I observed this technique recently with a guide in a visitor attraction who almost entirely asked questions of this nature to engage the visitors.  Surely this is not a desirable method for this purpose.  Or am I missing something?

In answering this, I refer to the earlier article.  Which reason for asking questions does this accomplish?  Perhaps engaging students with learning or to seek the views and opinions of students.  However, I am becoming more aware that this is a very closed question and that there is definitely a right answer.  Moreover, it's worse than that; I am asking a question that is so badly considered and easily answered as to be pointless.  But then why do I not ask the positive question on the same?  It seems this 'negative' response does elicit a little more thinking than the 'positive' but the frequency should be minimised.


An alternative could be the carefully selected multiple choice in order to make pupils think more.  Multi-choice questions have a bad reputation as the easy way out, but there is no doubt that they can stimulate much deeper thinking than some realise.  This is a good place to start when thinking about these:  https://testing.byu.edu/handbooks/14%20Rules%20for%20Writing%20Multiple-Choice%20Questions.pdf


Next Steps:
I plan to be observed in the coming weeks and would like the observer to focus on my questioning.  Here's hoping for less useless questions!

Asking all the wrong questions?⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

I have been pondering the issue of questioning (and questions in general) in recent weeks. I have always hoped that it is a key strength of my lessons, but lately I have been thinking more about what kind of questions I am asking.

I recently completed the Tapestry Partnership training on leading TLCs (see http://www.tapestrypartnership.com for details) and a key part of this focused on questions (and especially "hinge questions") as central to AifL.  Now, I am not saying that there is no room for improvement, but I definitely ask plenty of higher order questions as well as open-ended ones.  There are hundreds of interesting articles on questioning written and available, but I like the simplicity of the layout of this one:  http://www.nsead.org/downloads/Effective_Questioning&Talk.pdf


In reading this, I was struck that the first mentioned reason for asking questions was to "maintain the flow of the learning within the lesson".  While I agree that this is a big part of asking questions, it made me think about the purpose of my own questions and the extent to which that is the biggest reason for my asking questions. I use 'Think, Pair, Share' very often in my lessons and I like this as a way of structuring paired work as well as to support learners.  However, I have noticed that I am developing a tendency to ask questions that are looking for a very closed, negative response.  For example, yesterday I asked "Did the Germans want to fight a war on two fronts?" with the clear response my brain wanted was "No".  This led me to think about the frequency of this style of question.  Am I simply wanting pupils to realise an obvious truth through this or is it just lazy questioning?  I observed this technique recently with a guide in a visitor attraction who almost entirely asked questions of this nature to engage the visitors.  Surely this is not a desirable method for this purpose.  Or am I missing something?

In answering this, I refer to the earlier article.  Which reason for asking questions does this accomplish?  Perhaps engaging students with learning or to seek the views and opinions of students.  However, I am becoming more aware that this is a very closed question and that there is definitely a right answer.  Moreover, it's worse than that; I am asking a question that is so badly considered and easily answered as to be pointless.  But then why do I not ask the positive question on the same?  It seems this 'negative' response does elicit a little more thinking than the 'positive' but the frequency should be minimised.


An alternative could be the carefully selected multiple choice in order to make pupils think more.  Multi-choice questions have a bad reputation as the easy way out, but there is no doubt that they can stimulate much deeper thinking than some realise.  This is a good place to start when thinking about these:  https://testing.byu.edu/handbooks/14%20Rules%20for%20Writing%20Multiple-Choice%20Questions.pdf


Next Steps:
I plan to be observed in the coming weeks and would like the observer to focus on my questioning.  Here's hoping for less useless questions!

The ‘Creepy Voice Over’⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

In recent months, I have been trying to develop the use of on-line resources with (especially) senior pupils.  We use a department Google Drive for this, making use of their shared folders potential.  All resources are posted there for the pupils to view/print as necessary (they cannot download or copy/paste easily). Anyway, this has led me to consider further ways we can use this beyond just a handy backup for notes.  Then I rediscovered the app 'Explain Everything' for iPad...

I  had downloaded this app some time ago but not really explored the potential.  I suppose this was because it suggests it can be used to narrate presentations and this is not something I'm interested in.  However, I thought about using this app for feedback on pupil work, so I gave it a try!

The process is fairly simple, and each video took less than 10 minutes to make.

Here's how I approached it:

  1. Read a few pieces of work (in this case a Higher source question) in order to find an interesting one - it doesn't have to be the best one, but I was looking for one that made the point I wanted.
  2. Take a photo of the pupil's work before marking it.
  3. Mark the hard copy and make notes on a separate sheet about the marking (helpful for the 'script'!)
  4. Upload photo to Explain Everything app.
  5. Mark the digital copy live with a stylus showing where the marks are awarded and record thought process while marking to show why the marks are awarded.
  6. Share with the students on-line!
Now, the first time I did this it was clumsy and I felt more than a bit foolish, but you get used to that bit.  When I told the class, they were amused and keen to see it.  Some watched it at home and commented on my 'weird' accent and 'creepy voice over', but also that it was really clear as to why the marks were being awarded.  Each video is about 4 minutes long, so it's not too much of a deal for them to watch at any point.  Here is the link: http://bit.ly/1C1ykwY

Maybe only one or two watch them, but then that's better than nothing I think.  It doesn't replace any work in class but often there simply isn't time for that level of detail in a very busy Higher course.

Not sure what the next stage is, and I'd welcome any suggestions/experience of doing something similar.

The ‘Creepy Voice Over’⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

In recent months, I have been trying to develop the use of on-line resources with (especially) senior pupils.  We use a department Google Drive for this, making use of their shared folders potential.  All resources are posted there for the pupils to view/print as necessary (they cannot download or copy/paste easily). Anyway, this has led me to consider further ways we can use this beyond just a handy backup for notes.  Then I rediscovered the app 'Explain Everything' for iPad...

I  had downloaded this app some time ago but not really explored the potential.  I suppose this was because it suggests it can be used to narrate presentations and this is not something I'm interested in.  However, I thought about using this app for feedback on pupil work, so I gave it a try!

The process is fairly simple, and each video took less than 10 minutes to make.

Here's how I approached it:

  1. Read a few pieces of work (in this case a Higher source question) in order to find an interesting one - it doesn't have to be the best one, but I was looking for one that made the point I wanted.
  2. Take a photo of the pupil's work before marking it.
  3. Mark the hard copy and make notes on a separate sheet about the marking (helpful for the 'script'!)
  4. Upload photo to Explain Everything app.
  5. Mark the digital copy live with a stylus showing where the marks are awarded and record thought process while marking to show why the marks are awarded.
  6. Share with the students on-line!
Now, the first time I did this it was clumsy and I felt more than a bit foolish, but you get used to that bit.  When I told the class, they were amused and keen to see it.  Some watched it at home and commented on my 'weird' accent and 'creepy voice over', but also that it was really clear as to why the marks were being awarded.  Each video is about 4 minutes long, so it's not too much of a deal for them to watch at any point.  Here is the link: http://bit.ly/1C1ykwY

Maybe only one or two watch them, but then that's better than nothing I think.  It doesn't replace any work in class but often there simply isn't time for that level of detail in a very busy Higher course.

Not sure what the next stage is, and I'd welcome any suggestions/experience of doing something similar.

Rubrics⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

Herman, Aschbacher, and Winters (A Practical Guide to Alternative Assessment, 1992) suggest the following elements of a scoring rubric: 

  • One or more traits or dimensions that serve as the basis for judging the student response
  • Definitions and examples to clarify the meaning of each trait or dimension
  • A scale of values on which to rate each dimension
  • Standards of excellence for specified performance levels accompanied by models or examples of each level


As part of a TLC group working on peer assessment, I have been trying to make pupil peer assessment more meaningful, productive and engaging.  I have often found the usual hazards of pupils assessing each other's work - being too harsh, lack of professional distance etc, and am determined to find ways to make this more successful.

As part of the TLC discussion back in late November, the use if rubrics kept percolating to the surface of our chats.  I have used rubrics before as part of my assessment of pupils' work, but have never used them as part of peer assessment.  This may seem a simple step, but I felt at this hectic time of year, it could be one key to more successful peer assessment.

So, I set aside half a lesson (less than 30 minutes) to ask the pupils to set areas of focus that they might expect the piece of work to fulfil.  In this case, the work was a story board (with captions) about a day in the life of hunter-gatherers in the prehistoric period.  We shared these categories (4 in total) and then set each group a task of coming up with 3 'level deciders' for each category.

My concern from the discussion stage was that pupils were very much concerned with the look of the piece of work - colourful, standard of drawings etc.  However, we agreed as a class that the aesthetic could not be more than 50% of the criteria, so 2 categories were about content.  This led the groups to really think about the expression of the written work, the historical content, the detail included, as well as the layout/colourfulness of the piece.

When this assessment was complete (pupils swapped with a critical friend), they were then asked to set targets based on the peer feedback.

Was it a success? I think a qualified success, yes.  There is no doubt that pupils were clearer on how they were marking the piece of work and were therefore more able to make informed and accurate decisions about the level of work.  However, there still appeared to be a preoccupation with appearance - when I looked at the work and the feedback, the ones that looked better received better feedback!  The targets set, though, appeared to be more focused than others I have attempted with other pieces of work and certainly the pupils seemed to relish the peer assessment more than at other times - perhaps this is enough of a success to try it again. Was it worth 'losing' half a lesson for? Definitely - there was enough dialogue about learning to make it worthwhile (and it reduced my marking load significantly).

I suppose what I am interested in is how we encourage pupils to focus on the (in this case historical) content when producing a more 'creative' piece of work - I could have simply asked for a piece of extended writing/diary or something of that ilk.  My next step is to try this method with a more traditional piece of extended writing to see if there is any noticeable difference in terms of success.  I suppose like all things, it is a case of trying a variety to see what works for the pupils in front of me (it never fails to amaze me how 2 lessons essentially the same can be so different with different classes [maybe a blog post for another day...]).

Rubrics⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

Herman, Aschbacher, and Winters (A Practical Guide to Alternative Assessment, 1992) suggest the following elements of a scoring rubric: 

  • One or more traits or dimensions that serve as the basis for judging the student response
  • Definitions and examples to clarify the meaning of each trait or dimension
  • A scale of values on which to rate each dimension
  • Standards of excellence for specified performance levels accompanied by models or examples of each level


As part of a TLC group working on peer assessment, I have been trying to make pupil peer assessment more meaningful, productive and engaging.  I have often found the usual hazards of pupils assessing each other's work - being too harsh, lack of professional distance etc, and am determined to find ways to make this more successful.

As part of the TLC discussion back in late November, the use if rubrics kept percolating to the surface of our chats.  I have used rubrics before as part of my assessment of pupils' work, but have never used them as part of peer assessment.  This may seem a simple step, but I felt at this hectic time of year, it could be one key to more successful peer assessment.

So, I set aside half a lesson (less than 30 minutes) to ask the pupils to set areas of focus that they might expect the piece of work to fulfil.  In this case, the work was a story board (with captions) about a day in the life of hunter-gatherers in the prehistoric period.  We shared these categories (4 in total) and then set each group a task of coming up with 3 'level deciders' for each category.

My concern from the discussion stage was that pupils were very much concerned with the look of the piece of work - colourful, standard of drawings etc.  However, we agreed as a class that the aesthetic could not be more than 50% of the criteria, so 2 categories were about content.  This led the groups to really think about the expression of the written work, the historical content, the detail included, as well as the layout/colourfulness of the piece.

When this assessment was complete (pupils swapped with a critical friend), they were then asked to set targets based on the peer feedback.

Was it a success? I think a qualified success, yes.  There is no doubt that pupils were clearer on how they were marking the piece of work and were therefore more able to make informed and accurate decisions about the level of work.  However, there still appeared to be a preoccupation with appearance - when I looked at the work and the feedback, the ones that looked better received better feedback!  The targets set, though, appeared to be more focused than others I have attempted with other pieces of work and certainly the pupils seemed to relish the peer assessment more than at other times - perhaps this is enough of a success to try it again. Was it worth 'losing' half a lesson for? Definitely - there was enough dialogue about learning to make it worthwhile (and it reduced my marking load significantly).

I suppose what I am interested in is how we encourage pupils to focus on the (in this case historical) content when producing a more 'creative' piece of work - I could have simply asked for a piece of extended writing/diary or something of that ilk.  My next step is to try this method with a more traditional piece of extended writing to see if there is any noticeable difference in terms of success.  I suppose like all things, it is a case of trying a variety to see what works for the pupils in front of me (it never fails to amaze me how 2 lessons essentially the same can be so different with different classes [maybe a blog post for another day...]).

Delving deeper into feedback⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

Dylan Wiliam (www.dylanwiliam.org) speaks of the importance of feedback being more work for the student than the teacher.  This got me thinking about the amount of time I spend writing comments on pupils' work as compared to the seconds they spend ignoring it and looking straight at the grade at the bottom.  So, today I tried a different approach.

I used the same feedback sheet for pupils' essays as always.  This is designed to allow pupils to quickly establish strengths and areas for development.  They then use this (with mixed success) to set targets for the next piece of work.

This time, however, I put pupils into random groups of four.  Each group then received four anonymous feedback sheets (which I numbered for my reference).  In their groups, they had to decide on targets based on my comments only.  They did this without seeing the piece of work.  This meant that there was no 'emotion' involved in the target-setting, as pupils had no idea whose essay this was.

Following on from this, I then gave out each group one of the essays in order to match up with one of the feedback sheets.  This meant they had to scan the essay and discuss its strengths and weaknesses in line with my comments.  I then gave out another, and finally the last two essays to each group.

What I observed was that pupils were much more engaged in the comments I made, and that there was a marked shift away from the culture of just looking for the grade.  Pupils also appeared happier and more confident when setting targets for the next time.  Pupils also needed to have a clearer idea of the criteria for marking the work in order to make the targets more meaningful and clearer for anyone to understand.

This exercise was only slightly more time-consuming for me as the marker (perhaps only a minute longer per pupil), but it did take most of a lesson for the pupils to complete.  I am confident it was worth taking this time.

As a positive side-effect, I also found this process made me really think about how I was phrasing the comments, as pupils were setting targets on an unseen piece of work.  This meant that my comments needed to be perhaps more direct, concise and 'obvious' than they might have been in the past.

All in all, a very successful exercise and one which I will repeat in the future.  Here's hoping that there is a tangible result for the next piece of work!

Delving deeper into feedback⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

Dylan Wiliam (www.dylanwiliam.org) speaks of the importance of feedback being more work for the student than the teacher.  This got me thinking about the amount of time I spend writing comments on pupils' work as compared to the seconds they spend ignoring it and looking straight at the grade at the bottom.  So, today I tried a different approach.

I used the same feedback sheet for pupils' essays as always.  This is designed to allow pupils to quickly establish strengths and areas for development.  They then use this (with mixed success) to set targets for the next piece of work.

This time, however, I put pupils into random groups of four.  Each group then received four anonymous feedback sheets (which I numbered for my reference).  In their groups, they had to decide on targets based on my comments only.  They did this without seeing the piece of work.  This meant that there was no 'emotion' involved in the target-setting, as pupils had no idea whose essay this was.

Following on from this, I then gave out each group one of the essays in order to match up with one of the feedback sheets.  This meant they had to scan the essay and discuss its strengths and weaknesses in line with my comments.  I then gave out another, and finally the last two essays to each group.

What I observed was that pupils were much more engaged in the comments I made, and that there was a marked shift away from the culture of just looking for the grade.  Pupils also appeared happier and more confident when setting targets for the next time.  Pupils also needed to have a clearer idea of the criteria for marking the work in order to make the targets more meaningful and clearer for anyone to understand.

This exercise was only slightly more time-consuming for me as the marker (perhaps only a minute longer per pupil), but it did take most of a lesson for the pupils to complete.  I am confident it was worth taking this time.

As a positive side-effect, I also found this process made me really think about how I was phrasing the comments, as pupils were setting targets on an unseen piece of work.  This meant that my comments needed to be perhaps more direct, concise and 'obvious' than they might have been in the past.

All in all, a very successful exercise and one which I will repeat in the future.  Here's hoping that there is a tangible result for the next piece of work!

The day we stop improving is the day we stop⤴

from @ @ajbaxby

The end of the academic year is such a strange time.  It's always a relief and a release to get to the holidays, and that's no different in ITE.  There's not the same excitement you get from school pupils, but it's still nice to look back on the achievements of the year.

This year's PDGE History students made so much progress.  To go from fledgling teachers back in August to such skilled practitioners by June is incredible.  Every day was a step forward, and the reflective and transformative nature of these young teacher means that this should be the case always.    I am entirely confident that the future of history teaching is in very good hands, and there are several to look out for in high places!

I do, however, find the whole experience bittersweet.  It's the same when you finish with one class at school.  You reach the end-point of that particular journey and you have to start again.  There's no sense of anti-climax, more just a melancholic, nostalgic sense of the end of an era.  I hope the celebration of the graduation ceremony on Friday is the cheery end it should be!

So, this year's cohort will be memorable always, and it is quite something to think of just how much progress was made.  It's also daunting to think that I/we start all over again with a new cohort.  I'm sure they will make many of the same mistakes, and I hope they make as much progress.  Most of all, I hope I will do a better job.  After all, the day we stop improving should be the day we stop all together!