This term I’ve been exploring different ways of asking students to answer exam questions. I have a very shy and quiet group of A Level students who need more confidence in answering questions and more independence too (I keep telling them I won’t be sat next to them in the exam!). They are always reluctant participants during discussion tasks too so I wanted an activity that would encourage collaboration. Plus, I’m always on the lookout for anything that reduces marking workload so when I trialled my ‘better together answers’ idea with them it worked a treat. Here’s how it works…
Step 1 – organise students into groups of 2-4 (this can ability groups for differentiated questions or mixed ability groups with students taking on different roles).
Step 2 – give students an exam question to attempt. On this occasion I went for a 6 mark question on the energy continuum with my LA students, whilst the HA students worked collaboratively on a 10 mark question.
Step 3 – provide support/feedback. You can either support students in answering the question, for example by helping them to breakdown parts of the question or model part of the question, or provide verbal feedback once they have attempted the question.
Step 4 – ask students to read each other’s answers then collectively take the best bits from each answer and write a group answer that should be better than their original attempts.
Step 5 – mark the group answer and give written /verbal feedback. This is where marking workload gets reduced – instead of marking 9 answers I only had to mark 3. It also meant I was able to identify remaining gaps in knowledge/common errors within the group that still needed addressing. Win win!
I will certainly use this strategy again, but I may experiment with different groupings or types of questions to see if it remains effective. It could easily be rolled out to a GCSE class or BTEC class working on their Unit 1 exam. Once I’d marked the group answers I photocopied it so that each student had a copy of the improved ‘better together answer’ and the feedback on how to make it even better, which could be followed up with a further DIRT activity (or Aim Higher activity as we call it at Richmond).