Limiting the number of times pupils can seek assistance when tackling a difficult problem is an assessment technique that helps uncover where pupils really need help. This assessment for learning technique can be used across the curriculum and all age ranges and is supported by research. It is demonstrated during a year 9 Maths class at the President Kennedy School in Coventry. Students are placed in mixed ability groups and set a challenging problem that involves turning data into simultaneous equations - but are told they only have three chances to seek help from the teacher. The groups don't want to lose their 'lifelines' so only call for assistance when they're absolutely stuck, helping to provide a clear insight of where the real difficulties lie. The technique also helps to encourage independent learning by handing responsibility over to the pupils. Philippa Cordingley, director of the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education, explains how it all works.
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