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The publication ‘Working inside the black box’ identifies four main areas where improvements could be made:

1. Questioning

2. Feedback through marking

3. Peer and Self-Assessment

4. Formative use of summative assessment



1. Questioning

Teachers should think about the types of questions they asked more carefully.

The average teacher asks about 2 million questions in their career that’s about 400 per day!   There is no such thing as the ideal question, all the different types of questions have their place, effective questioning therefore involves being able to choose the right type of question for the right purpose. 


‘More effort should be put into framing questions which are worth asking i.e. questions which explore issues that are critical to the development of pupils’ understanding’.

(Black et al 2002 p7)

The KMOFAP project recommended that pupils should be exposed to questions of genuine importance, not just the ones to which the teacher know the answer. Questions of genuine importance have the capacity to enhance pupil motivation as the pupil realises that their answer really counts. 


The wait time needs to be increased

When asking questions in the classroom a teacher typically allows less than one second for a pupil response hardly enough time for a pupil to take their time in considering their response!  Two types of wait time have been identified; Wait type 1 – pausing after asking the question and Wait time 2 – pausing after the pupils response. (Rowe 1986)


Research has shown that if Wait time 1 and more importantly Wait time 2 were increased to three seconds there were a number of beneficial effects on the pupils.  Student answers were longer and the number of qualified inferences increased, increasing Wait time 2 seemed to be most influential in increasing the length and detail of student responses. 


Follow-up activities need to be considered

The follow-up activities should give students the chance to extend their understanding of the topics by meaningful intervention.

When these changes have been made, the research has shown that the role of the student and teacher also changes.  The role of the teacher changes from just presenting the information to the students to directing the pupils learning by using the questioning techniques.  The students roles change as they realise that they don’t have to try to get the right answer, that their ideas and understanding are just as important, even if they get the answer wrong

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 New Questioning Rules (for classroom wall)

1. Your teacher will always ask the type of question most suited to the task.

2. Your teacher will allow at least 3 seconds after asking the question before an answer is expected, this is think time – for everyone!

3. Anyone in the class could be expected to answer so you must all have an answer ready.

4. Sometimes you will be expected to discuss your answers in groups or write them down before telling the whole class.

5. Your  teacher will not interrupt you when you are talking he\she will give you time to think about your answer and will wait at least 5 seconds before they speak after you have finished speaking – so use it!

6. If you really don’t know the answer, you can always pass.

7. Your  teacher does not always know the answer to the question, because sometimes there is not a ‘right’ answer, they are interested in how you thought about the answer.  

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2. Feedback through marking

 Research has shown that student learning can be improved by marking work using comments, as research has shown giving grades or marks actually has a negative effect as they ignore the comments and just look at the marks (Butler 1988).   The comments need to identify what the pupil got right or did well and where and how they can improve. The student will probably need some assistance in how to improve.

OFSTED and parents have not reacted badly to teachers only using comments, in fact some parents appreciate the guidance they are given so they can understand exactly what their child needs to do to improve.

Teachers did different things when changing from using marks to comments.  Some teachers still assigned a mark, although they only put it in their mark book, not on the pupils work and some teachers did not give marks at all. 

It is important that the students are given time to act on the advice given, some teachers found it particularly effective allowing students time to rewrite in the lesson.


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3. Peer and Self-Assessment

Self-assessment is difficult for most students to learn how to do, this is because it requires the student to be capable of metacognition at some level.  However this is vitally important if the pupils are to achieve their learning goals, as they need to understand their goal and have a clear understanding of what they need to do to reach it.     

So self-assessment takes time and practice before pupils are able to successfully use it.  A useful suggestion, which some teachers have had success with, is when students mark their work with ‘traffic light’ colours.  Red indicates that the student has little understanding, whilst amber indicates partial and green a good understanding of the work they have done.  Therefore the student has assessed their own work, peer assessment can then be used when the student has to justify to other students the reason for using the colour.

Peer-assessment has been shown to compliment self-assessment, however pupils do need to be taught the ground rules of group work such as listening to each other.  Peer-assessment has been found to be particularly beneficial as the language the pupils use for the feedback is the same and pupils are accepting of comments from other pupils about their work.  It is also interesting that


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4. Formative use of Summative assessment

Summative assessment is an integral part of today’s education system with performance data such as league tables being published nationally.  A conflict could be a perceived to exist between the aims of formative and those of summative assessment as summative assessment grades pupils according to established criteria and formative occurs when the evidence obtained is used to inform future learning.  However as the title of this section suggests summative assessment can be used formatively as it can be used to inform future learning.

The traffic light system, used in the previous section, can also be adapted for use with revision, an aim being to encourage reflection.  The students can mark their revision topics with the colours according to their confidence and this can be used to inform their revision practices.   Self and peer assessment can be used to assist pupils in preparing for examinations and tests.   Peer marking of tests can be a useful exercise especially if the students have had to construct their own mark schemes. 

Another revision strategy that research has shown to be effective is Alison King’s work on students producing their own questions (King 1990 and 1992)They were coached on how to produce high order questions to revise for summative tests and the students who revised in this way were found to perform better than those students who did not.

Summative tests should be viewed by the pupils as a learning opportunity not just as providing a judgement on their performance with a mark or grade.  They should therefore be used as an opportunity for reflection on the learning that has, or has not gone on, and the next steps that the student needs to take.  


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Last modified: 08/12/04