Problem-, work- or example-sheets are traditional formative assessment devices in maths and science disciplines, but are also found in professional disciplines such as law and accountancy. Students are issued with a list of examples to be worked through in time for the next taught session, when they are discussed in class. They may well be self- or peer-assessed, and the teacher may or may not see them.
- Most courses in which there is a substantial element of intellectual skill involved, where this can be exercised without recourse to complex equipment which students may not be able to access.
- Usually, but not exclusively, in convergent subject areas (for sheerly practical reasons of dealing with many alternative and equally valid answers).
- None, as long as the precautions are followed, and the students do have the tools to handle the exercise.
- The preparation of problem sheets is very time-consuming. They have to be devised so as to focus only on the material covered to date, and yet to make use of that material comprehensively.
- Take careful note of feedback about how long such problems take the average student: it is easy for the confident teacher to under-estimate how long they will take the struggling student.
- It is fairly common practice to make the
examples more difficult as the student works through the paper. This ensures that:
- There is something for everyone
- You can get a rough idea of class level by finding out how far each student got
- You can develop the sheet as a teaching device, by building later examples on earlier ones
- It is wise to develop a policy on collaborative working: it is likely to happen anyway, and students can learn a great deal from itóbut if you place too much store on the results of these problem sheets, you may simply end up encouraging plagiarism (and even harassment and exploitation of some students). The old saw about, "the only person you cheat is yourself" may well be true, but does not often carry much weight. It is important to devise an approach which stops short of encouraging this.
- Central to such an approach is the way in which the processing of the answers is carried out in the class. Use it as an opportunity genuinely to find out where students are experiencing difficulty, rather than leaving any students who confess to problems feeling that they are inadequate and stupid.
- Make efforts to anticipate common problems: "Anyone end up with a minus answer?"..."OK, it's a common difficulty. Look back to..." By showing that you recognise the difficulties students may experience, you respect them and encourage them.