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# Mini-whiteboard + Exam paper = ❤️❤️❤️

### Improving engagement and understanding when going through a test

*This newsletter is made possible because of Eedi. Check out our brand-new set of diagnostic quizzes, videos, and practice questions for every single maths topic, ready to use in the classroom, and all for free, here.*

Last week, I was supporting a lovely maths department in the North-East. The Head of Department (HOD) wanted to introduce a weekly quiz for all Year 11 students consisting of the first few questions from a Foundation or Higher GCSE paper. His rationale was that it would help teachers identify gaps in knowledge, and get students familiar with exam-style questions nice and early in the year. Practically speaking, the students would complete the questions during the first half of the lesson, and then the teacher would go through the answers in the second half, with students making corrections where needed.

I’ll be honest, I was sceptical. I have seen (and delivered!) far too many lessons like this, where students have a go at questions they can do, leave out ones they can’t, and then passively tick, correct, or copy down the solution (in purple or green pen, of course!) as the teacher goes through it. As I discussed in my post, The Myth of Copying Things Down, this process looks like learning, but it may actually inhibit learning. Lesson time is precious, so giving up an hour a week to something potentially ineffective sounded like a bad idea.

However, together we worked out an approach that would be far more interactive, giving the teacher valuable information they could respond to in the moment, and providing extra challenge to students. Here is what it looks like!

### The practicalities

All students are given a copy of the GCSE paper, a mini-whiteboard, pen and rubber.

Students spend the first portion of the lesson working on the questions in silence, writing their working out and answers on their blank copy of the exam paper. The teacher circulates the room to get a sense of any difficulties, and so they are in a position to determine when it is time to go through the answers.

When that time arrives, the teacher projects a blank copy of each question on the board and asks students a series of questions, all of which they answer on their mini-whiteboards, hovering their boards face down under their chin, and showing the teacher in 3, 2, 1…

Why do this? Well, if we only get responses from one or two students per question - as is typically the case when going through an exam paper - then we are running a big risk in assuming their understanding is representative of the rest of the class. This problem is exacerbated if we call for volunteers, and take the response of a confident, high-attaining student as our benchmark. Mini-whiteboards are our friend here. We get to see the responses of all students, they are flexible enough to collect a wide variety of types of answers, and answers can be quickly edited which - as we will see - is important for the response that follows.

### The questions

Here are the first six questions from a Foundation GCSE paper, together with some things the teacher could ask students to write on their mini-whiteboards:

Copy and show me your answer on your mini-whiteboard

What if the decimal was 0.03?

Copy and show me your answer on your mini-whiteboard

Write down a wrong answer someone might put for this question

Write down which calculation you do first

Copy and show me your final answer on your mini-whiteboard

What if there were no brackets?

Copy and show me your answer on your mini-whiteboard

Write down another correct answer

What if the question asked for a multiple of 60?

Copy and show me your answer on your mini-whiteboard

Would this answer get the mark: 𝑡𝑤15?

What if the question was to simplify: 3 × 𝑤 + 5 × 𝑡?

Write a calculation to get the total ticket price Fay has to pay

Write a calculation to get the total meal price Fay has to pay

Write a calculation to get the total cost Fay has to pay

What is the total cost?

Write a calculation to work out how much money Fay has left

How much money does Fay have left?

Notice how much useful information the teacher could gain from asking these questions and gathering responses from all students. Notice how actively involved in the process the students have to be.

### Caveat

Of course, if the mini-whiteboards reveal that student understanding is not secure for a given question, then the teacher can respond accordingly.

*If only a few students are correct*We could ask one of them to explain their reasoning, or we could decide to minimise potential further confusion by taking the reins ourselves and offering a clear, concise explanation. It is then important we check for listening. Call and Respond is my go-to here, getting students to repeat back in unison sections of the explanation we have just given. Finally, in order to determine if our explanation has had any impact, we need to re-check for understanding. This follow-up question could be planned in advance, or it could be made up on the fly by changing one aspect of the question and asking students to demonstrate their understanding by responding on mini-whiteboards.

*If some students are correct*

When our mini-whiteboard check reveals a critical mass of understanding, we can utilise it. Instigating a Turn and Talk allows students to share what they think the answer is and why, and then hear the thinking of their partner. Giving students an opportunity to then stick or change their answers on their mini-whiteboard gives us a good indication that understanding is moving in the right direction. A nice thing to do next is to invite someone who changed their answer to share their reasoning, before we tidy things up with a clear and concise explanation. We then ask the follow up question to check understanding is secure.

These two interventions take time. However, they will be far more beneficial for students’ understanding than copying down a solution from the board that they do not understand.

### More questions!

In case it is useful, here is a list of generic questions that can get you started when thinking about what to ask students when going through an exam question:

What topic is this question from?

What units must the answer be in?

What was your first line or working?

What final answer did you get?

How many marks did you get?

On what line of working did you go wrong?

What is another possible correct answer?

What do you think a common wrong answer is?

How many marks would this answer get?

What if?...

The final question, *What if?*, is my favourite. It allows us to use a key principle from Variation Theory: changing just one thing, holding all else constant, thus drawing students’ attention to what has changed and the effect it has upon the answer. And the mini-whiteboard is perfectly suited to this with the ability to quickly rub out specific aspects of working out.

### Your turn!

Here are three questions from the start of a different GCSE paper. What questions would you ask your students whilst going through the answers?

This could be a good activity to do with your department!

How does this approach compare to what you do?

What do you like, and what have I got wrong?

Let me know in the comments below!

**🏃🏻♂️ Before you go, have you…🏃🏻♂️**

… secured your place on our Marvellous Maths 3 CPD day?

… checked out our incredible, brand-new, free resources from Eedi?

… read my latest Tips for Teachers newsletter about improving circulation?

… listened to my most recent podcast about how to secure 100% student engagement?

… considered booking some CPD, coaching, or maths departmental support?

… read my Tips for Teachers book?

Thanks so much for reading and have a great week!

Craig