6 mark questions are a struggle. So much so, that a lot of the time, students will not even attempt to answer them because they find them so intimidating. This is certainly the case in Science, and even more so in my specialism of Biology. Science has its own vocabulary, and this is often overwhelming for students new to GCSE content. Take for example, a definition of osmosis;
- The potential energy of the water molecules is called the water potential. Water will diffuse from a region of high water potential to a region of lower water potential, and the steeper the water potential gradient the greater will be the tendency for water to diffuse in this direction. For practical purposes we can therefore define water potential as the capacity of a system to lose water.
In this definition, we are automatically assuming that the students understand the meaning of the words I have put in bold and have underlined. Without access to those keywords, students will struggle with the more difficult scientific concepts.
I was given “Making Every Lesson Count” by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby to read over the May half term holiday which splits teaching into 7 principles: challenge, explanation, modelling, practice, scaffolding, questioning and feedback. When I reached the section on modelling, I found lots of interesting ways in which to demonstrate the skills and quality of work I would like my students to emulate.
One of these methods is live modelling. This is where the teacher scripts a text at the front of the class, with the help of the students. This shows the students how I, as the teacher, think aloud and how I begin to construct an answer to a longer mark question. This allows the students to see me modelling the decision-making process that leads to an excellent piece of writing.
I tried this with my class in year 10. Their targets grades range from 4-8 and they are an engaged and delightful group of students, but who regularly miss the mark with long answer questions as they tend to waffle, rather than get to the point!
I got the students to answer a question on immunisation and the primary and secondary immune response on their own. This is an example of the quality of answer I received:
“Get injected with weak dose of disease then your body defends against it. Then your body remembers how to beat it. Next time you catch it your body will just fight it off.”
Essentially, the elements of immunisation are correct but it completely lacks any use of subject specific keywords, any sentence structure or fluency.
I then tried live modelling with them, and posed them this question:
“Describe what happens in a primary and secondary immune response. Remember to include the words B-lymphocyte, antigen, antibody, memory cell, pathogen:”
I had given them 5 keywords they had to include in their answer, sat at the front of the room and asked them to write the answer with me, as I typed it up on the board. This is the answer we came up with:
During a primary immune response a pathogen enters the body. A white blood cell (B-lymphocyte) detects the antigens on the surface of the pathogen and the B-lymphocyte produces antibodies which are specific to that pathogen. The B-lymphocyte turns into a memory cell to remember the pathogen for future infections.
During a secondary immune response, the same pathogen enters the body. The memory B-lymphocyte detects the same antigens on the surface of the pathogen and produces the specific antibodies. The secondary response is quicker, more antibodies are produced and they stay in the body for longer which means that the infected person will not become ill.
I had lots of input into the final draft of this answer because I wanted to model to them unconscious habits that “experts” in the field have, such as vocabulary choices, sentence structure, editing and proof-reading. To that end, I would prompt them in terms of linking sentences, choosing which word to put where and how to give the text structure and fluency. Some might argue that the teacher here is too involved, but the aim of this particular activity is to teach students how to write, not necessarily reinforce the content, with which they had grown comfortable.
The real test came when I marked a 6 mark question on their end of topic test:
“Most children in the UK are immunised against diseases such as measles, mumps, polio and rubella. Explain how immunisation protects them from these diseases”
This question is very closely linked to the one we practised using live modelling and these are some examples of the answers I received:
“When a child is first injected, this is the primary response. Pathogens are released into the body so B-lymphocytes in the body will create antibodies which are specific to the antigens on the surface of the pathogens. The B-lymphocytes then turn[s] into memory cells. With the secondary response, the memory cells remember those same pathogens and can create antibodies much quicker to get rid of the pathogens. These antibodies stay in the body and stop those pathogens causing harm to the body again. This is called immunisation.”
“The immunisation (vaccines) contain inactive pathogens of the disease. The inactive pathogens enter the body and are detected by B-lymphocytes which produce antibodies to kill the inactive pathogens. Some of the cells that kill the inactive pathogens are memory cells. These remember the pathogens for the next time the child has the disease. The memory cell on the next time can send antibodies quicker and more efficiently so the child becomes immune to the disease. They use inactive pathogens so the child doesn’t catch the disease after receiving the vaccination”
You can clearly see an increase in the level of fluency and the ease with which the keywords (B-lymphocyte, antigen, antibody, pathogen etc) are used throughout both answers. I’m not suggesting that these answers are 6 out of 6 yet, but the improvement has been huge, certainly with the abundance of scientific vocabulary.
I will definitely be trying this again; modelling is essential for students to understand how to create excellent work.
Assistant Head Teacher and NQT coordinator at Carlton le Willows Academy