How can you help students evaluate information effectively? Anne de A’Echevarria provides some answers as part of our in-depth focus on developing ‘independent enquirers’ – the first of the six areas of the QCA’s Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills frameworkpdf-6503863

Evaluation Target Board Templates.pdfpdf-6503863 Filled in Example Template.pdf

The model of enquiry shared in Developing independent enquirers: how to structure enquiry – the Enquiry Wheel – shows the main stages of a generic enquiry process together with related ‘thinking tools’ to support each stage. These thinking tools can be used as practical, structured activities that help make the skills of enquiry ‘visible’ and explicit to students. As students grow in confidence, however, and become ready to take more responsibility for mapping out the process they will follow – choosing relevant tools and resources – the Enquiry Wheel can also serve as a useful toolkit that students can learn to use independently.

Last issue we looked at strategies specifically designed to help students make sense of the information they uncover – strategies to help them process new information more effectively. In this issue, we will look at the Evaluation Target Board, a thinking tool that I designed to help students critically evaluate their sources of information, so as to reach reasoned judgements about its usefulness or reliability.

Thinking tool: Evaluation Target Board
Students are often unaware of the importance of criteria in making judgments; why they might be necessary, or how they can be used and misused. They are often unaware of the criteria they are using in their everyday lives to evaluate all manner of things. The Target Board makes the process of evaluation ‘visible’ and explicit. It can help students to develop and use criteria to make balanced, comparative and non-comparative judgements. When used as part of an ongoing enquiry, its most relevant function would be to help students evaluate the reliability of their sources of information or the usefulness/accuracy of their data. It could also be used at the end of an enquiry or investigation to help students evaluate the overall process.

Evaluation Target Board: Instructions
Take a look at the Evaluation Target Board templates. You will need to decide whether you are evaluating a single source of information or data set, or whether you wish to make a comparative judgement. An example from an historical enquiry might be: ‘Which eyewitness hits the bullseye?’ with the focus on making a comparative judgement about the relative ‘reliability’ of different sources.

1. Ask students to make a list of up to six criteria upon which they will base their judgement (reduce the level of difficulty by asking for fewer criteria and selecting a template with the corresponding number of rings). It is important that these criteria are drawn up by, or negotiated with the students. In the history example they would be asked to describe the attributes of the ‘perfect’ or ‘ideal’ eyewitness. For students who find this tricky, it often helps to ask them instead to describe the ‘worst’ possible eyewitness, and then to flip all their negatives to positives, e.g. ‘they have a reason to lie’ becomes ‘they have no hidden agenda – they are objective’ and ‘they weren’t even there!’ becomes ‘they are in a position to know’. (See the filled in example template)

2. Students now match each data item that they have against their list of criteria. In this example it would be a selection of up to six eyewitness statements. Using a six-ring target board, if an eyewitness matched all six criteria their name could be written in the bullseye. If they fulfilled only one criterion, their name would be written in the outside ring, and so on.

3. Students use the Target Board template to reach a balanced comparative judgement. The activity draws them into making clearer distinctions between data items, leading to more nuanced judgements.

An example from a science investigation, where quantitative rather than qualitative data is the focus, might be: ‘Does my data hit the bullseye?’ with the focus on making a judgement about the ‘accuracy/usefulness’ of a single data set. In this example, students would be asked to describe the attributes of an ‘ideal’ data set. Relevant criteria in this case might be the appropriateness of the sample size, the sample rate, the measurement scale used and so on. Students could use the Target Board to reach a balanced conclusion about the strengths and weaknesses of their data set and data collection methods.

Evaluation Target Board: Teaching tips
Model the use of the Target Board yourself with an everyday example such as ‘Which car hits the bullseye?’ developing criteria to make a judgement about ‘My ideal car.’ Students enjoy having a go at examples such as ‘Which mobile phone/hit single/holiday hits the bullseye?’

Continuing with the eyewitness example, a good extension activity is to ask your students to invent an eyewitness and eyewitness statement of their own. They must decide in advance whether their eyewitness will hit the bullseye, or miss the target board altogether. They then use the target board to evaluate each other’s eyewitnesses and check whether they have fulfilled the relevant number of criteria.

Evaluation Target Board: Talking about thinking
Provide students with the language they will need to talk about the thinking they have been doing in using the Target Board:

criteria                    compare                  match                  judge/judgement                 evaluate

Encourage students to generalise their learning by setting them the following challenge:

‘If a younger student needed to evaluate or make a judgement about something, what ‘golden rules’ would you give them to follow? Remember! Your ‘golden rules’ must be general: they must work for any subject.’

This will help your students to recast the steps they have taken into a more generic and therefore transferable form.

Here are some example ‘golden rules’ from a group of year 9 students that I have been working with recently:

‘If you want to evaluate something you should:A. Choose your ideal criteria. (Make sure they are sensible.)B. Put them in order of importance.C. Match each of your options (whatever it is you are evaluating) against your criteria.

D. Make your choice!’

Final thoughts
The Evaluation Target Board can act as a stimulus to help pupils reflect more deeply on the nature of evaluation as they uncover the limitations of the tool. For example, provoked by its limitations, students will discover the relevance of thinking about the relative importance of different criteria when making judgments – that not all criteria have equal weight. Some students find that they want to show the extent to which each criterion is fulfilled and adapt the Target Board to show different degrees of success. As one year 9 student commented:

‘It’s not enough to just ‘hit a criteria’ you have to hit it well. It’s like…you could hit all the criteria badly but still end up in the bullseye, and how would you tell the difference between that and something that hits all the criteria really well?’

Thinking tools such as the Evaluation Target Board and those shared in previous issues can be used to guide students through the skilful practice of required thinking – slowing down the thinking process and making it explicit. They can also provide a visible record of thinking processes for teachers and learners to reflect on and discuss. They are certainly not ‘the new worksheets’; emphasis is on the process. When students are experienced in the thinking processes required for independent enquiry, the thinking frames can be removed. As this year 10 pupil recognised:

‘For a really good evaluation of your data you have to go further than the Target Board. That’s why we came up with star ratings for the different criteria and made other changes…We don’t really need it any more, but it was useful at first because it helped you think things you’d never normally think of.’

© Anne de A’Echevarria 2008

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.