Building on Diagnostic Questions

Jacqui Smith, Crown Hills Community College, Leicester

29 January 2020

My colleague and I were very inspired on our return from the first LUMEN conference. We decided to present some of what we had learned at the next faculty meeting – after all, sharing is caring.

We instantly set about making response cards to be used by our students when completing diagnostic questions. We both agreed that including an ‘unsure’ card was something that we felt was important. We questioned what proportion of our classes needed to understand a concept for us to decide it was okay to move on. I’m not sure we came up with a definitive answer, but we knew we didn’t want our decision to move on the learning to be influenced by the ‘lucky’ guess of some students. When I’m attempting to create a supportive learning environment, it’s important to me that I ensure my students know that it's legitimate – and courageous – to say “I’m unsure”.

In our preparation for the next Faculty meeting, it was paramount that we took time out to select questions and responses that would illustrate how powerful the use of diagnostic questions could be. To make our presentation interactive, we used a structure similar to Craig’s:

a)       What’s the question?

b)      What’s the most common incorrect answer?

c)       What’s the misconception behind it?

We achieved full engagement, and all of our team either revisited or created accounts at Perhaps fortunately for us, our school has been trialling a new whole-class feedback approach – ‘scan back’– which provided some of us in the department with a timely opportunity to use diagnostic questions almost immediately in the classroom.

So far in our relatively short journey, it’s helped to enrich our discussions about mathematics. We’ve looked at some of the questions and asked: ‘Do you usually link these topics when you’re teaching?’ and the response has generally been ‘No, I’ve never thought about that, but maybe I should do’. We’ve used the questions to assess and reflect on our teaching, by asking which questions would best assess what has been learnt and what responses would we accept as indicators of deep understanding.

Since the conference, Craig’s diagnostic questions have been added to our repertoire of resources. Some of us have explored the question banks and selected our favourites. In addition, we are currently using some of the questions to prepare our students for the upcoming UKMT maths challenge.

We are very much looking forward to the next LUMEN instalment in March.

Jacqui Smith