Teachers set questions because they have an expectation
that students will go through a number of processes during which some
real learning will occur and they are able to assess what students know
and can do. It is therefore critical to design questions that oblige students
to go through the processes you wish. McKenzie
it is reckless and irresponsible to continue requiring
topical, 'go find out about' research projects in this new electronic
context … We have more to worry about here than websites offering
term papers for sale … What we have is a societal shift toward
glib and facile understandings allied with an archaic school research
program (in some places) that places little value upon questioning and
original thought. (2000, p 130)
By developing a focus on setting questions requiring higher
order thinking, ready-made answers are less likely to be available. McKenzie
suggests asking why something did not happen, or why it did not happen
sooner or later. ‘Write about the life of Mao’ is simply inviting
a serve from Encarta. Asking ‘Would the course of Chinese history
have been the same if Mao had died in (say) 1941?’ requires students
to apply their understanding and make judgements about his influence.
Unley High maintains a focus on differentiating the curriculum to meet
the needs of students of differing ability levels. Bloom’s Taxonomy
is used to develop tasks encouraging the use of higher order thinking
skills and as a framework for reconsidering tasks. The following assignment
had been used by the Languages faculty to encourage year 8 students to
use the internet and develop their understanding of the country whose
language they were studying.
Choose a region of: Italy/France/Germany/Greece/China
and research any five of the following: cities; agriculture/industry;
history; cultural events; tourist features; famous people; foods/wines;
special events; legend/myth.
Unley High School teacher Karin Wichmann saw this task as an invitation
to wholesale plagiarism. A student with access to a CD/online encyclopaedia
could have a four-week project done in under an hour, complete with maps,
illustrations and artwork. The problem with such ‘trivial pursuits’
tasks is that a factual answer, the lowest level of thinking, is all that
is required. Typically, any original thought involved in the process is
dedicated to designing the cover.
You are a tour guide preparing an itinerary for a group
of students who are planning to visit a particular region of Italy/
France/ Germany/ Greece/ China. This must be accompanied by either a
letter or a presentation to the supervising teacher, students and parents
convincing them of the value of your itinerary.
Re-framing the assignment thus requires the student to
gather the information, then synthesise and present it to meet the specific
needs of an identified audience, allowing more scope for originality.
The best answers would recognise that teacher, students and parents may
all be looking for something different and seek a compromise to balance
- Examine tasks you set and consider the processes
you are expecting the student to go through.
- Does the task require those processes or can they
simply be sidestepped?
- What order of thinking is required?
- Will the student be interrogating authentic raw
data and drawing conclusions? How can new understandings be demonstrated?
- Use Bloom's or a questioning
toolkit to develop a range of questions.
- An outstanding resource is the Xpata
- Be wary of student requests to do a particular
topic as it may be stimulated by access to easily plagiarised material.
Genuine interest however is the best motivator so rather than say no,
set up the task carefully.
- Finally, change your tasks to a significant degree
for every class, otherwise ‘heirloom answers’ from older
siblings and friends will continue to be handed down, year after year.