Analysing the question, ALARM and the glitch.

This is the fifth post in a series on using ALARM in the classroom. These include: What is ALARM and why should you use it?, ALARM Logical Interpretive Matrix, ALARM Connotative Interpretive Matrix and Doing what you’ve always done better using ALARM.

Part of the ALARM model includes responding. In a high school context students generally respond to questions, whether that is for a formal or informal assessment task or a classroom activity. But let’s face it, life is one question after another.  ALARM is sold as a method of improving HSC results by improving student ability to answer extended response questions. But it goes beyond the HSC.  For now, I am just going to look at the idea of responding to an extended response question.

Before you respond you need to be able to break down what the question is asking. I know, I hear you. You are an experienced teacher, you do this already, right. So did I, so I thought but I am going back to basics before I talk about the important bit I wasn’t teaching.

A sentence has 3 parts: the subject, a verb and an object – basic sentence structure. From this the question also tells us what to do (the focus), the depth we go to (which depends on the subject you teach) and the structure (from using the matrix).

So I am going to look at a question from the 2014 NSW HSC Physics paper.

Describe the significance of the Manhattan project to society.

Technically not a question – who am I to quibble. If you watch Max Woods video on this, he suggests that the first step is for students to underline the verb. I get my students to use the highlighter colours we allocated to the verb, in this case orange.  Describe is both a syllabus verb as defined by BOSTES and a verb from the matrix and the word has the same definition in both. That is, provide characteristics and features. Coincidence, I think not. This is a low level verb.

Next, Max Woods suggests that students are taught to circle the subject, in this case the subject has two parts: ‘the significance’ and ‘to society’ separated by the object.  Here is the glitch. The syllabus verb used is very low order but the subject changes the level of complexity of the question. It is a qualifier and very KLA has their own qualifiers. It is worth making a list of them for students and for yourself.  If you are a NSW teacher they are in your syllabus as well.  I call it the hidden content and I will touch on this in a later post. I get students to use the highlighter colours again to indicate the depth of the subject.  In this case it is pink. ‘The significance to society’ takes this question all the way to Appreciate.

So the verb is what you have to do, the subject is the depth you have to go to and all the rest of the question is just the content, the stuff that you learned.  The glitch is where I was failing my students. I had lots of lovely scaffolds for the syllabus verbs. One for each of the higher order verbs like justify and evaluate. They were all different and I told students that by identifying the verb (and only the verb) they would know the depth to go to. Boy, was I wrong. That’s why I like ALARM. Students don’t get hung up on syllabus verbs. They learn to distinguish the level of treatment from the whole question, not just the verb used. They can see the hidden content.

In the next post I will look at using the matrix to write a response.

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2 thoughts on “Analysing the question, ALARM and the glitch.

  1. […] This is the sixth post in my series on ALARM.  The previous posts include: What is ALARM and why should you use it?, ALARM Logical Interpretive Matrix, ALARM Connotative Interpretive Matrix, Doing what you’ve always done better using ALARM, and Analysing the question, ALARM and the glitch. […]

  2. […] mentioned in a previous post, this outcome has a glitch.  The verb is ‘describe’ but the phrase ‘the impact of forces in […]

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