Microsoft Onenote for Assessment at KS3; Why was 1st July a military disaster?

Assessment at KS3 is very very tricky.  Despite having been teaching for more than 10 years, I still find assessments challenging, they can even turn into disasters.  In fact, it may not be a case of ‘if’, but rather, ‘to what extent’, as the student planning above suggests…..the image above shows student planning and thought process using Microsoft OneNote.


Recently, my head shared a video of ‘What makes good assessment’.

To be honest, I watched some of this, but still am unsure of actually ‘what makes a great assessment’ (maybe I should watch the whole thing right?!)

Anyway, here I share an example of a recent assessment at KS3 using Onenote Class Notebook.

In year 9, throughout the study of The Great War, a typical assessment enquiry question is ‘Why was 1st July a disaster’?

We plan in class and for homework, typically identifying 3 main reasons that are then developed, explained and analysed.  E.g, over reliance on technology, lack of/rigid communication and strength of the German forces.

However, knowing this assessment was to be set and completed on Onenote Class Notebook, I suggested to the students we increase the challenge, so that the question stem was adapted.


We came up with:

‘To what extent was the Battle of the Somme a disaster for the British’?

This was an enormous change to the original question, but I allowed the students a few weeks on Onenote homework to complete this, giving them feedback and guidance in class, specifically allocating a few minutes each week to check progress, answer questions and to give examples of each bullet point (see below).  All teacher whiteboard notes are in Onenote and accessible form home; my surface is my whiteboard!

Changing the question stem allowed students to realise the importance of paying particular attention to the individual parts of the question.

  1. Their 3 causes from the original question, where previously would have been 3 developed paragraph with a conclusion, was now having to be reshaped into 1 developed paragraph that answered only part of the bigger question.  Their initial planning therefore only covered the first day of this battle, what about the other 140 days?  Was it as complete a disaster as they had initially suggested?
  2. The key phrase that needed breaking down was ‘to what extent’ and agreed definition of the criteria for ‘disaster’.  This question stem is often seen at A Level.  They relished the opportunity to take on the challenge of what is effectively an A Level History question.  They were  now aware of the need to search out and find evidence to balance the disaster that as the 1st July 1916.

Underneath the assessment heading I provided them with check boxes.  These would be the key pointers that would show me they had focused on the question and developed their answer.  These were:

Including these bullet points allowed for differentiation.  in general, one could argue these became more difficult going down the list, effectively generating a rough mark scheme by which to grade the student.

The planning that went into some of the answers was just fantastic.  see the example below:

The example above is a fantastic model of how Onenote can make planning effective for the student.  It is clearly laid out, using colour coding, and containing literally everything one needs to then tackle the question.  The student has rehashed my class notes into a form they recognise themselves, using typed text as well as digital inking.  I have a feeling the inking was done with a mouse.  As far as I am aware, none of my students have a surface tablet or stylus.

Where  to plan?

I could not decide what the answer was for this question.  What I mean is, where should students do their planning?  On the whole, they did not always have access to a laptop in class so some planning was in their books handwritten.  Some planning was on laptops, in Onenote. But then, once in Onenote, where should the planning go?  NOT in the HW area, as this messes up my ‘review student work’ list.  Literally, every new page they create in this section shows up in the ‘review student work’ list.

Actually, in the end, I requested all planning be kept on the SAME page that I set the question.

This works better as it means when clicking through the student list (see below, with names inked out) it does not clutter up the area.

Why do I care about planning?  It is useful for the teacher to see.  There is a direct link between achievement in this assessment and the planning put in.  To have evidence of this planning is useful for the teacher.  This was therefore printed with their final write up, all on the same page. Wherever possible, print it in colour, as it looks beautiful!

Above; notice some extra pages in there, created by students.  This does tend to clog up your ‘review student work area’.  There are solutions to this but I will discuss these another time.

The student write up for the above planning is here:!AoPNvT3beVb3htAlmW-TDsqOq4LvBw

This student did a great job of writing this up!

So what did I learn from this assessment?

  • The early bird catches the worm.  With every piece of work, those students who have not jumped on board and started their Onenote HW are the ones very likely to be underachieving in the final mark.  Further questions need to be asked….What support do they need to get going? Do they need further scaffolding of the question (after all, it is a HUGE question to tackle). This is why the Onenote live ongoing progress checking by the teacher is crucial to intervention, early on.  Don’t be afraid to copy over an example piece from their peers, this is what makes Onenote so useful and practical, you already have access to the whole class HW before hand in!
  • All planning should, where possible, be on one page, or in an allocated area by the teacher.  For larger pieces of work, such as A Level coursework, constraining planning to 1 page would not work.
  • From a teaching perspective, too many students did not grasp the concept of ‘contemporary sources’, suggesting the need for me, the teacher, to focus on this skill more, particularly in light of upcoming reformed GCSE History.
  • That it is ok, sometimes, to set incredibly challenging enquiry questions.  High or low ability, with the right support, using Onenote to provide specific guidance to each student, all should be able to respond to the enquiry set in a meaningful way.

Finally, what made this assessment even more special was the fact that, just weeks before the deadline for hand in, the students visited the Somme, travelling to France and Belgium on a History trip.  Some students chose to make good use of their own photos in their assessment:

Nothing beats visiting the actual locations in History….priceless.

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