Developing Analytical and Evaluative Skills Using Connectives

As I write, we are at the time of the year when both GCSE and A Level students are asking teachers to remind them how to “do analysis and evaluation”. As they prepare for examinations, they remember that for A Level Business Studies and A Level Economics, there is now a greater weighting attached to the AO3 and AO4 assessment objectives of analysis and evaluation.

The A Level specifications state their aims of “…encouraging (students) to develop their skills as independent learners, critical thinkers, and decision-makers” (OCR, Economics, p4); “…students develop the knowledge and skills needed to understand and analyse data, think critically about issues and make informed decisions.” (AQA, Economics p4); and “…acquire a range of relevant business and generic skills, including decision making, problem solving, the challenging of assumptions and critical analysis.” (Edexcel, Business, p8.)

As we encourage our students to access higher marks through developing these skills, it is good to remember that we are also helping them with their general welfare. Making connections, seeing a problem or a situation from different points of view, weighing up alternatives, making judgements where there is contradicting evidence, are important life skills that will enable them an easier transition into adult life. From a school perspective, these skills need to be ones that they communicate through their writing, and so the development of analytical and evaluative skills needs to be set in the context of written literacy.

Reporting in 2003 on good assessment practice in Business Studies, Ofsted recommended extended writing as an assessment practice which would allow students to learn a depth of understanding and knowledge of economics and business concepts (Ofsted, 2003, p3). Subsequent reports related to Business, Economics, and Enterprise education focused on the need for more opportunities for students to be able to demonstrate the skills of analysis and evaluation (Ofsted, 2008, pp9; 23; 25) and ‘…questioning was too often restricted to the recall of information, so that opportunities were missed to gain a fuller indication of students’ knowledge and understanding, and to develop the higher level skills of application, analysis and evaluation.’ (Ofsted, 2011, p6).

A survey of examiners’ reports from Edexcel GCSE Business (Unit 5) from 2010-2014 highlighted the need for the students to write in a way that allows them to develop strands and make links to the question set. The June 2013 examiner’s report is more specific about the teaching of extended writing and identifies how one candidate has used effective connective words to develop analysis (p22) and states in its summary ‘Use relevant connectives such as ‘therefore…’, ‘this leads to…’, ‘as a result…’, as this will help build explanation and analysis to show a clear understanding of issues, causes, and consequences.’ (p35) Teachers are being advised by the awarding bodies that they need to improve students’ extended writing, and that using connectives will help the students to write more.
So, how do we go about this in a way which provides a method whereby students have a framework which will help them in examination situations, but also a framework that enables them to develop their learning through their writing?

The research study for my doctorate emerged from a need to investigate how student attainment in GCSE Business Studies could be improved. Following work carried out for a Best Practice Research Scholarship (BPRS) scheme in 2002 (Davies et al. 2002) and a related Curriculum Journal article (Davies et al. 2003), I wanted to pay attention to whether improvements in writing could contribute to improvements in attainment. As a subject leader and a classroom teacher of business and economics I was conscious that my students needed to improve their subject attainment, and it was not their knowledge and understanding that was holding them back from accessing higher marks in examinations, but often the application of their skills of analysis and evaluation. As their subject performance is assessed through written public examinations, it is their written literacy that needed to be addressed. Using a writing to learn approach based on data response and case study, I used writing interventions which focused on students’ use of connectives (e.g. if, because, however) in developing their own responses to case study questions. This strategy allowed the students to use a model which provided them with the opportunities to exercise their own creativity in how they developed their narrative.

Using a randomised controlled trial method, the students in the research study were all set the same three writing interventions. The first writing activity was common to all, and acted as a pre-test, the second writing activity was the test piece with a control and intervention group, and the third writing activity was the same for all students and served as a post-test activity. For the second test activity the intervention group were provided with a stimulus grid of connectives and encouraged to use as many as appropriately as possible (see table below). The control group were not given this stimulus prompt.

Each writing activity was assessed on the number of sentences, the number of connectives used appropriately, the sum value of those connectives, and a subject attainment mark based on the answers to the case study questions.

Did the use of connectives help to improve the subject attainment of the research study GCSE Business students?

The analysis of the results of the three writing activities for the whole sample found that in the second writing activity, where the intervention group used the connectives’ grid, those students were writing more sentences, using more connectives and using higher scoring connectives. In addition, their subject attainment was much higher than that of the control group. This suggests that the prompt to use connectives was used, and that using connectives led to an improvement in the writing, which then led to an improvement in the subject performance.

There did appear to be an improvement in the subject attainment score between the pre-test first writing activity and the post-test third writing activity for the intervention group students, whereas there was no improvement for the control group, and the subject attainment gap between the two groups had widened. It was identified that whilst the intervention group were perhaps not writing as much, they were now writing with more craft and skill as they were using the higher order connectives to make the links between subject concepts and ideas. Being able to allow the transition of ideas and generate more reflective comments using connectives appeared to create more opportunities to score more highly on subject attainment.

So, it appeared that the stimulus connectives’ grid was useful, and that there was improved attainment when used, as well as evidence of a spill over effect in the following writing activity when the grid was not provided. This is just an example of one way in which using connectives can be practised and students can be trained to develop their skills of analysis and evaluation.

Dr Jo Bentham

EBEA Subject Lead – Business

Editor’s note:
“I give students a sheet of connectives for them to keep in their folder or exercise book. I have packs of connectives that I spray around the room for use in group work such as posters and presentations. I have also put a connectives poster in all my classrooms. I have also marked a piece of written work and then held a ‘boost my marks’ session in which students use connectives and their feedback to improve their marks.

How do you use connectives? If you have an effective approach let me know and I will include it in the next issue.“

References:
AQA (2014) A Level specification – Economics [online]. Available from : http://filestore.aqa.org.uk/resources/economics/specifications/AQA-7135-7136-SP-2015.PDF [accessed 20/02/2018]
Davies, P., Bentham, J., Cartwright, S. et al. (2002) Using reciprocal teaching to develop student’ language and understanding : a franchising case study. Teaching Business and Economics, 6 (1): 22-31
Davies, P., Bentham, J., Cartwright, S. et al. (2003) Developing narrative skills through case studies. The Curriculum Journal, 14 (2): 217 -232
OCR (2014) A Level specification – Economics [online]. Available from : http://www.ocr.org.uk/Images/170839-specification-accredited-a-level-gce-economics-h460.pdf [accessed 20/02/2018]
Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2003) Good Assessment practice in Business Studies. London : Ofsted.
Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2008) Developing young people’s economic and business understanding. Business education in secondary schools, colleges and initial teacher training 2004/07. London : Ofsted.
Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2011) Economics, business and enterprise education – A summary of inspection evidence : April 2007 to March 2010. London : Ofsted.
Pearson Education Limited [2014] Edexcel Level 3 Advanced GCE in Business (9BSO) Specification [online]. Available from: https://qualifications.pearson.com/content/dam/pdf/A%20Level/Business%20Studies/2015/specification-and-sample-assessment-materials/9781446914694_GCE2015_A_BUS_WEB.PDF [accessed 20/02/2018]