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Teaching Tip: A lovely question exchange from The Telford Park School

Craig Barton

Most weeks I am lucky to be able to work with schools to help support their maths teaching. I always learn far more from these visits than the colleagues I work with learn from me, and my recent visit to The Telford Park School was no exception.During a lesson on constructions, I was fortunate enough to witness a lovely questioning exchange that I wanted to share with you. We were about 30 minutes into the lesson, and students had been doing fluency practice on angle and perpendicular bisectors. The teacher wanted to know if her students were ready to move on to some more challenging application questions, so decided to use the following Diagnostic Question as a hinge-point:

Students voted using mini-whiteboards, and every single child was able to identify D as the correct answer. So far, so good. But it was the teacher’s next move that really impressed me. Instead of just cracking on like I might have done, she used the opportunity to further assess the depth of her students' knowledge by saying:"Okay, rub your answer off your mini-whiteboard, and then write down two reasons why we might use the perpendicular bisector. When you are ready, hover your boards face down… okay, show me your boards in 3, 2, 1..." One of her student’s boards looked like this:

I found this follow-up question particularly powerful for three reasons:

  1. It tests students’ understanding further than simply recalling the construction as is needed in the diagnostic question
  2. All students responded on mini-whiteboards, so the teacher gets a more reliable check for understanding than if she had just asked one or two students
  3. The teacher could borrow mini-whiteboards from students and showcase their answers to the rest of the class as part of a whole-class discussion

The combination of diagnostic questions and mini-whiteboard follow-up worked really well, allowing students to demonstrate what they knew, and providing the teacher with reliable evidence of student understanding in the moment to move to the next phase of her lesson.Lovely stuff - and a combo I will definitely be building into my own teaching. If you want five quick tips for making the most of mini-whiteboards in the classroom, I have recorded a video and a podcast on the subject. And my book, Tips for Teachers, contains twenty-two ideas to improve mini-whiteboard use.

Written by
Craig Barton
Head of Education

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