2. Peer assessment and using keys

In Activity 1 you have gained some understanding of the breadth of knowledge in the class and have consolidated their understanding of how an organism’s characteristics adapt them for a particular habitat or way of life. Like Mrs Yara you might have realised that as a class, your students already seem to know quite a lot. You will need to start to find out more about your students’ individual understanding. Teachers often do this by setting questions, or by asking them to write about an experiment or activity they have done. Sometimes, however, it is helpful to let them explain their ideas using a drawing or a model and to offer them a choice about what they do. This gives the students who are not so good at writing the chance to demonstrate what they can do and helps them to feel more confident. Confident students learn better and often try harder.

In Case study 2 the teacher uses this technique and gets his students to mark each other’s work. He does this so that they have the opportunity to learn from each other, as well as from him. Activity 2 involves getting your students to construct a classification key. This will tell you whether or not they understand the principles of classification, and doing the activity will help their understanding.

Case study 2: Organising peer assessment

For homework, Mr Uno asks his class to draw a picture of an animal of their choice. He asks them to choose a vertebrate that lives in their country. If they prefer, they can find a picture in a magazine, cut it out and stick it onto a page, so that they can write around it. In class, he asks them to annotate their picture to explain which classification the animal belongs to and how it is adapted to where it lives and its way of life. Before they start he gathers the students round the front and asks them to think about what they would need to do to get a high mark for this activity. He writes their ideas on the board and explains that they are going to use these statements to mark each other’s work. Resource 3 has some ideas about how to help students mark each other’s work.

While the students are working, he goes round and looks at what they are doing. He asks questions to guide them and makes sure that they explain things as fully as they can. After 20 minutes, they swap work with someone who has chosen a different animal. They use the statements on the board to help them make some comments on the work. Finally, the students have 5 minutes to finish off their poster, taking into account the comments from their friends.

Mr Uno collects the posters. He is very impressed by the quality of the work and pleased with the comments they made. Some students have clearly acted on the advice from their friends and improved their work.

Activity 2: Using keys to promote thinking

Your students will need to know some of the main classes of animals. It is easy to test whether they know the names of the groups, but less easy to establish whether they understand the principles of classification. This activity will help with understanding the idea of a hierarchy.

To help them understand the principles we use to put living organisms into groups, you can use an identification key. First you will need to show them a key and let them practice using it (Resource 6). Then, give them (or let them devise) a list of animals that are common to your local area and ask them to work in groups to construct a key that would enable a friend to identify the animals they have chosen. Alternatively you can use the made up animals given on the resource sheet and ask them to construct a key.

Ask them how they decided on the key questions. Let them try out other people’s keys.

1. Creating a learning environment

3. Encouraging students to ask questions