apps for academics,  peer coaching,  Professional Development,  Teacher Reflection

Are we asking our students the right questions?

question mark


Sensitive Noise/obvious 2 by Milos Milosevic CC BY

Last year my PE team at YIS got really into deep conversation about how we assess our students.  YIS is an MYP school and so we are required to assess specific criterion and within these criterion we have strands that need to be assessed regularly each semester.  At the crunch times (report writing times…) students were being hit up with many homework assessment items and in the PE and Health department, we were finding students weren’t always coping with what was being asked of them in these weeks.

This lead to our decision to stop giving homework to students, unless the student specifically asked for extra time to take their work home to complete it.

To allow for this change, and to continue with high percentages of activity in our lessons, we had to sit and really challenge ourselves with writing meaningful assessment tasks that extended our learners but that didn’t require copious amounts of research, writing and that were really testing their ability to connect concepts, ideas, inquiry and performance in our units.

This is a work in progress and this week as we have begun back at school, my colleague and I have agreed to “short, sharp and shiny” assessments for our G9 and G10 students, in class, completed regularly to see growth and measure their ability to learn in the PE environment.  We need to assess a few different areas – Knowledge & understanding; Planning for performance; Applying and performing and Evaluation and Reflection.  But we aren’t doing any long summative tasks.

The other agreement was that we would plan assessments that were not time consuming to grade and that looked at allowing our students some different ways to demonstrate their learning.  This has lead us to look at Visible Thinking Routines and how we can use them in our classes.

VTR’s or Making Thinking Visible is not new, but has come out of some extensive research.  These routines cover a variety of outcomes (eg. Core Routines, Truth Routines, Creativity Routines) and have been researched, tested and tweaked and made ready for teachers of all disciplines and age groups.  We have decided to use a handful of these multiple times to assess student learning and to allow students to become familiar with the routine and to show that they can grow from teacher and student feedback as they use these routines multiple times.  Our hope is that by using discussion and coaching time with peers and with teacher prompts and questions, that we can ask students extension questions and ask them to write/narrate or draw their answers to make their thinking (and learning) visible.

In our Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) lesson today, I had students work through a 2 v 1 game of Piggy in the Middle (two students pass a ball while the third tries to intercept the pass) and also a 2 v 1 game of ball tag (two students pass the ball and try and tag the other player with it).  We asked them to play for 1 minute while remaining in the same role (no changing the Piggy or Tagger) and then rotated around (so 3 minutes of activity).  We then asked them about what they were doing that was successful and what they found more challenging and they discussed this in their groups of 3.  We then looked at a very successful group of 3 and asked them if this group was displaying all of the qualities that they had just discussed and we then took some answers and questions in class group.  If you look at the Claim, Support, Question routine, this is what we were starting to use with our class.  The next step is to now use this Routine along with this format of class and to use this every lesson with our kids so that they know it very well and expect it.

The next step in my class today was to ask the students: What qualities and skills from these two games could be transferred into Invasion Games (like Soccer, Netball, B’ball, Handball…) and after a dip, the small group conversations were very loud.  This is the type of moment I love as a teacher!  After my next lesson, I plan to ask another transfer/extension question and have them write down their responses after discussion with their peers in the Claim/Support/Question routine and then take that in as a first assessment to look at their Knowledge and understanding.  This will allow me to see whether they are able to transfer their learning to a new situation, use key vocabulary and also to ask me questions that they have.  I then will know whether they understand where we are going and get a snapshot of their work so far.  If I can do this 3 or 4 times in the next 5 weeks, I feel that I will have a really strong impression of their thinking and how they are working to add detail, context, and use key vocabulary to explain our work.  And I will have a small assessment to mark and get back in a timely fashion, and there will be no homework.

I am intending to use between 3-5 of these routines this semester in my classes to make the thinking and learning more visible, the issue as I see it is making sure that the questions I am asking kids to discuss in class and the routine transfer/extension questions are allowing my students to engage in high level conversations with room for debate and discussion.  I would be interested in talking to any other PE teachers who are involved in questions composition or looking into using these routines too.

Resources that I am using in my Invasion Games unit and Net Games include: Live Video Delay (video my students in action, have the delay video feed on the projector so they can see the skill and receive coaching from a peer); Red Hawk Attendance (to keep a track of my kids attendance, and other things like PE kit, sickness, late etc); Coach’s Eye (video and screencast tool); Visible Thinking Routines; YouTube clips on Volleyball techniques; TGfU resources from PD conferences, and more which I will add later.

I am still keen to find some more ways to assess my students thinking and learning and the art of good questions.




  • mhamada

    Hi Ludo, thanks for your comment. How do you follow up on these? I have been looking closely at question development and how this relates to the concepts we are studying… tricky. Mel

  • ludo pollers


    Three questions I use every class:
    What am I learning today?
    How am I learning today?
    How do I show my coach/teacher/peer that I am learning.

    Students can use all resources available to document their answers.



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