From teacher centred to student centred 1 – moving pairs

How do we get students to care about more than the percentage they achieved on a test? How do we encourage them to pay attention to the model solutions, and look at where they went wrong, and how to do better next time? In other words, how do we make tests formative rather than summative assessments? (My take is that, for any thinking human, the only assessment that will be purely summative will be their obituary).

I used to be really smug about my test follow-ups. I’d make a PowerPoint of questions plus model answers, with whizzy animated highlights pointing up key points in questions, students would have red pens to annotate their returned scripts, would write 2 or 3 bullet points ‘what I’ve learned..’, I’d collect and quickly recheck their work, those with less than X% would repeat the test. Okay, but preparation time consuming, lesson time consuming, students watched model answers for what they’d already got right, not everyone was engaged all of the time.

So now I often turn it round. Students sit in pairs, compare scripts, look to see what they can learn from each other and correct what they can. After 5 minutes one student moves (the mechanics are described below), so everyone has a fresh partner and the task re-cycles. After 3 or 4 moves the students will have sorted out the easier problems, and by then they are asking me to explain the remaining questions. My preparation is to have copied the test questions onto the interactive white board, so I can explain the thinking that goes into solving the hard problems, live in front of them. Those who ask are sent a PDF of the model answers. Response from students is positive (ages 13 to 18). They feel they have learned during the activity. I see critical thinking, communication and collaboration going on (21st Century learning). In the pairs exercise I am free to encourage, chivvy and focus if needed. Red pens, what I’ve learned, a quick check of returned scripts and retests are still there. I’m thinking of a (digital?) collation of ‘what I’ve learned’ so that students can refer to it before tests.

When else do I use this moving pairs technique? When students are working on past papers or problem sheets. During revision periods – I ask students to write questions and answers for specification bullet points, they then test each other, and copy down good Q and As.

How does it work? After the first 5 minutes we choose ‘who moves’. I am grateful to Andy Griffith who mentioned a couple of ways to choose in an Osiris education course. Usually I specify a chain round the room of moves, and the same person moves each time that lesson, so that pairs do not re-form. Sometimes re-forming will not matter so we have a different choice method at each move.

Methods of choosing who moves:

Bigger/smaller hands/feet             Longer/shorter hair         Taller/shorter       First letter of first name closer/further from end of alphabet

Birthdate of the month closer/further from 31       Birth month closer/further from January       Older/younger

and I have a set of plastic cups each containing two coins to play 2-up, but I confess that’s quite desperate!


About lifelonglearner

Teacher in Southern England enthusiastic about exploring ways to learn and teach, and evangelistic about sharing them. Specialism is Physics, but that's just a useful starting point.
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