Thursday, April 19, 2018

One Year in AP: What did Students learn? (Week Thirty-two)

By Mark Heintz

Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Thirty-two: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on World War I. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Analyze the responses to the influenza pandemic of 1918.
This week's skill focus was still centered on analyzing charts, maps, and texts and pulling evidence from documents to support a claim.
  1. Write one cause/effect, and one comparative short response that reflects an understanding of essential content.
  2. Analyze charts, maps, graphs, and texts.
  3. Write a thesis statement, contextualize a prompt, and draw evidence from two documents to support the thesis. 
Provide Specific Evidence: 

This semester, I am including, or trying to include student's perspective on the week.  We are in the final weeks of the course and I wanted to know what the students learned.  I asked a few students to send me a document that defined what they learned over the last eight months.  It was a very open question and I told them it did not have to be just content or skills.  Here was one of the responses.

Student Response

I didn't really know what to expect with this course because I'd heard so many different takes on it from the juniors and seniors I know who'd taken it - some people said it was the hardest social science, some said it was the easiest. At the end of my year in the class, I have a couple observations and general feelings.

First of all, I think the structure of the general course is really easy to understand. There were a lot of ways the grand scheme of world history was broken down into a lot of patterns which only really began to come together at the end. It's incredibly difficult to connect everything after learning it in fragmented bits, but I don't know if there's really a shortcut to putting the pieces together. I had my own method with filling out blank worksheets that helped me a ton, but I know people that do pretty well even without this.

As for the structure of the class itself, I think the checklists were more efficient than any giant textbook I'd have to carry around. Being someone who lives for routine and organization, I appreciated the consistency the Thursday checklists. As much as I didn't ever want to do them, I have to admit that it's probably tons better than annotating a 10-page packet or trying to translate a textbook into comprehensible content. I also think the way the checklists were structured well in that they threw in a lot of reviews (annoying, but effective). A lot of people complained that the excessive review was too difficult for a weekly thing, but I personally didn't mind it because it helped so much. For the first semester final, studying was so much easier than it was last year for APHG because the checklists incorporated continuous review rather than me teaching myself all the content over again.



A big component of this class was an emphasis on writing. Some of the other classes started learning how to write DBQs and short answers after the entirety of first semester, and that just seems crazy to me. Considering things can still be confusing and we've been working on them all year, I can't imagine what it'd be like learning them so late. I think the idea of adding in a component of the DBQ every unit was a great idea because before you know it, you can do the whole thing and know how it all fits together. Obviously, there were times that I was pretty confused about the format, but after doing a lot of examples in class and analyzing them, I'm comfortable with the process. Honestly, I didn't really enjoy writing with partners because it didn't exactly portray what I did or didn't know. I either felt like I was carrying the group or that I was “cheating” because I wouldn't have known the content by myself. The best progress for me came when we had to write individually and get direct feedback from the teacher because it was brutally honest in what you could and couldn't do. Overall, I think the amount of planning and thought put into this class really shows and it's been enjoyable for me despite the work required.

Another Student Response with a Differing Opinion on the Checklists

If I were to change something about the AP course I would probably change a part of the checklist. Sometimes I feel that the review for each checklist is intimidating because of the timer it has, I used to rush through it to be able to finish. If I redid this course I would hope to get more practice on stimulus tests and have more opportunities to help improve my grade. Otherwise having a good mindset about AP helped me improve in this class and gain more interest in taking the course.

My Response

I didn't know what to expect with their responses. I purposefully did not want to skew their reflection so I intentionally made the question very open-ended. Because of that openness, I have a few other student reflections that go into different directions.  As for this week's reflection, it is interesting to note that "learning" was more about school and the nature of systematizing learning instead of truly what they learned.  For example, how the checklists were orientated or the group work with writing.

Furthermore, the student addressed what "worked" for them.  I love that the students were aware enough of their workflow and how best to tackle the tasks needed to be completed.  Even the student who had a different opinion of the checklists wrote more about the structures in place rather than the learning. I think students are cued into being compliant with tasks rather than what they are learning or why.  But maybe the "doing" is how they perceive learning.  Cal Newport has this quote from his book, Deep Work, that resonates with me and what I am thinking.





I am not sure the students know what is valuable to them. I think they want to be connected and have validation.  Because of this, they resort back to industrial metrics of visibility and compliance. They want to show me that they have "done" things and put in the effort and the writing on a daily basis and checklists do that.


I am not sure how to completely remove this thought or get at the value of learning rather than compliance.  A lot of what they are commenting on is related to the way we do school.  I want to get at the point where the students are valuing the conversations, the new understandings, or how to solve problems.  I am rethinking my language, task needed to be completed, and the entire grade book.  I need to communicate more with the reasoning behind everything and allow for more student agency and inquiry-based learning.  I need to get the students to find their voice in the process.






Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Reflections on Reading: What is our goal? What influences students?

By Kim Miklusak

Often we hear people bemoan a perceived or real decrease in sustained reading in our students.  Teachers express frustration that students don't read outside of class or are not reading at a level that teachers feel they should be at.

This year our Senior English students were doing independent reading choices for 20-60 minutes a week in class, and I know more classes have added this across all grades.  So as the Senior English teachers prepared for our Independent Reading Book Circles, I asked my students to do a brief journal entry on successes and barriers when it came to their reading.

In the words of Paulo Freire in Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare to Teach, he says, "As a practical-theoretical context, the school cannot ignore the knowledge about what happens in the concrete contexts of its students and their families.  How can we understand students' difficulties during the process of becoming literate without knowing what happens in their experiences at home or how much contact they have with written words in their sociocultural context?"

I want to share some of their responses here.  They certainly caused me to step back and reflect as we set our goals and targets for our unit: was our goal a quiz at the end?  Was our goal just to finish a book?  Was our goal to inspire a love of reading?  In the end our goal was to have sustained dialogue about a reading both within one book circle and across books.





Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Year in AP: Teaching is Getting in the Way of Learning (Week Thirty-one)

By Mark Heintz

Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Thirty-one: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on the development of modern-day China. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Identify one country and explain how they promoted economic development in the post-Cold War era.
  2. Compare and contrast how communist states of the Soviet Union and China controlled their national economies.
This week's skill focus was still centered on analyzing charts, maps, and texts and pulling evidence from documents to support a claim.
  1. Write one cause/effect, and one comparative short response that reflects an understanding of essential content.
  2. Analyze charts, maps, graphs, and texts.
  3. Write a thesis statement, contextualize a prompt, and draw evidence from two documents to support the thesis.  
Cite Specific Evidence

First, how do I know that the students know the content and how to do the skills?



To focus on the content objective, I used thirty, small cards with a single vocabulary word on each one from the 1950's - present.  I used them several days in a row.  One of the days, the students sorted the words by AP theme.  After they sorted the cards, they picked an AP theme and wrote how each of those terms they placed in the category could be used to define the twentieth century.

DBQ

The rest of the week was centered on the document based question. To target the DBQ, I used the 2014 document-based question.  Here is the prompt:


The writing focused the students' ability to construct a body paragraph.  I asked the students to write two different paragraphs on the relationship between Chinese peasants and the Chinese Communist Party.  The goal at this point in the school year was to have the students bring in outside information into the argument.  To help students incorporate outside evidence into the writing, I gave the students some sentence starters.


Bringing in outside evidence is incredibly difficult and very few students were able to do it. Here is an example of one of the students writing.  Despite their difficulties, they are amazing at drawing alpacas! 



In the next example, there is evidence of the students linking documents together. 


Students self and peer reflected on their writing in a google doc that contained a writing rubric.  After they wrote, they self-evaluated on the points they thought they earned.  Then, they gave it to a peer to check their work.  Finally, I checked their work.



Explain the Evidence

I love the manipulatives!  They are such a great resource to have.  Once you cut them up, they are so versatile.  It is a way to get students up and moving.  It is a quick check on what they know for them and for me.  I love them and I use them as often as I can.

On to the writing.


I struggled with this week and that is part of the problem.  I had a lot of teacher agency.  I wanted to give the students more time to work on their product and writing.  However, I kept interrupting their progress to show examples and direct their learning.  Let me give you an example.  I had set up one day of class to have the students work on a paragraph.  I gave them about thirty minutes of class to work on it.  I was walking around the room and answering student questions.  Students were giving feedback.  It was great until I got involved.

I noticed a few examples of student writing and I wanted to share them with the class.  I had the student AirPlay the sample and then the class analyzed the writing.  This was the problem.  Displaying the student sample when others were working on their writing undermined their progress and process.  It became more about me sharing a sample and then students mimicking that example rather then them working on their process.

I did this three days in a row to differing degrees.  The "teaching" got in the way of the learning.

My Reflection and Impact


I am glad I had this time to reflect.  I am not sure if I would have noticed what I was doing if I did not write this blog.  The students love examples.  I love examples.  However, that wasn't the point of the day.  I wish I would have had all the students finish their writing and then share examples.   As bad it is my sound, I need to stay out of it sometimes.  I definitely need to let the students find their process and find their voice.  They need to have the process allow for them to help craft their identity.  Furthermore, the writing process and a DBQ is a venture into inquiry learning.   A DBQ offers so many different directions to answer the question.  But to allow inquiry learning to take place I need to them the student explore.

Next steps:  I need to let learners learn.  I need to create conditions that maximize learning and then let them go.  That is going to be focus for the reminder of the year. 

Read next weeks here.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Year in AP: What Grade Have I Earned? (Week Thirty)

By Mark Heintz


Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Thirty: Answer the Question

This week I am going to take a break from the usual format.
Provide Specific Evidence: 

The quarter just ended and I have only a few weeks left in the semester.  At this point, I wanted to get a feel for how the students felt they were progressing.

I was inspired by Jesse Stommel's post on how he has not graded in the past seventeen years.  You can read his post here.  I feel that I am in a similar mindset as Jesse in regards to grades.  I have written about how grades have hurt some of my student's mentality.  The grade changed the narrative of course for them and altered their perception of their progress.  Using grades as a baseline and to determine their perception of what went into a grade,  I wanted to know what they felt was going well for them and what they valued as a student.

To gather data, I posted a Google form that asked the students to state what their current grade is, what grade they felt they have earned, and explain why they earned the grade they selected. I was amazed at the honesty in their responses.  There were quite a few students who gave themselves a lower score and some of their responses really made me think about the year.  

Here is what some of the students had to say.

Pete

So far this semester I've been very productive with my checklists and participating during class, which I think in particular has been a strength that has helped me understand some confusing topics throughout history. Occasionally I slack off, but I don't think I'm alone in that aspect. Currently, my grade reflects my assessment scores, which I know I can improve during our next testing. Helping others with their studies also bolsters my understanding of many of the subjects, simply because I go through once more whatever topic is at hand. I believe that at times I can focus a bit better, but as long as I continue being successful with my checklists and participating in class, I will be able to earn and prove why I deserve an A in this class.

Me

I feel that Pete's assessment of his semester is what a teacher would hope for.  He has a good sense of what he needs to work on and has a few minor suggestions for himself. I love how he blends traditional metrics of success while connecting his learning to helping others.

Rabia

I feel like I have earned this grade (B) because I know my content and how to write my DBQ and short answers but I’m a bad test taker. The checklists I do complete but the reviews from last semester were very challenging and some of the videos do not help. I have completed all of the current checklists from this semester on time. I do struggle with the content but I know enough of it to be able to complete my work. It may seem as if I don’t put in the effort when it comes to those old checklists I do try very much so but it gives me a lot of anxiety with the fact they are timed and how far back some of the questions go. I try to complete all of the inside and outside work of class to the best of my ability

Me

I have been questioning how to make the checklists a lot easier.  Some of the content reviews in the checklists get long and most of it very specific.  The older checklists make it so the students can't see the forest for the trees. I need to come up with a different plan to get the students to keep going back to the older content.  I want to make changes to the process because the students feel that I don't think they put in the effort when I knew they do!  Schoology enables me to I see how long they spend on the quizzes and some of them spend an enormous amount of time on each quiz.  I want to give them successful ways of moving forward while spending less time doing it.

Also, Rabia is not the only student to highlight that they are a bad test taker.  There is a lot of pressure put on these students centered around the tests.  Some of that anxiety translates into poor performance on something they know and I know they can do.  It frustrates me and I am constantly looking for ways to de-stress them.

Brandon

(Current grade D, stated he has earned a C) Checklists were unfinished. Did not ask for help. Other classes to worry about. Not the most intelligent student. Stress. Sports. Other classes add on. Hard to stay on track after other work. Tired. Sleep schedule ruined. Sleep. Hungry. Need more time in a day. More studying.


Me

I love his honesty. I agree with him that shouldn't have a D.  He has a lot of other interests outside of AP and he does complete almost everything I ask him.  He needs sleep.  When he is not too tired, he is great in class. His writing has improved tremendously this year and he is able to make connections to material across time.  I need to find a way to increase student agency in a course that is very rigid.

Joanna

I think I deserve a C because I don't try as hard as I should in and out of class. I feel like I'm behind on a lot of information that my classmates know and I don't know how to catch myself back up. I go into tests thinking I'll do poorly which leads me to not try very hard in the first place. I basically set myself up for failure because I've given up on my grade in the class. I got a two on the AP test last year so I'm not that worried about this year which also isn't a good mindset.

Me

I am disappointed in myself for her feelings.  She is a great person and has had a few bumps in the road, which this course is very unforgiving in.  I hate how a score on a test makes someone feel inferior.  Currently, most people validate themselves with external metrics of success.  I wish the pressure wasn't so intense and that grades were not that important.  Furthermore, I wish that it could be more about learning and helping students to find their passion or interest.  I know she has a lot to offer and does amazing work, yet the curent way of me doing things does not always reward that.

Elle

I think I deserve a B because I contribute a lot of thoughts to class and although I'm not always right, I always bring forth my best effort and try as hard as I can. I also believe that while I try my best on tests and responses, I think class work and discussions should be counted for a grade as well even if it's small.  I also know that I get distracted a lot but that doesn't really inhibit my learning experience because I usually get back to my work fast. I realize that I have to turn in my assignments on time but overall I do think that a B in the class would best reflect my efforts and general knowledge of the class.

Me

A recurring comment I read was how they are distracted.    must be harping on them to stay attentive in class.  I feel that the students are almost always on task and I am really proud of them.  It is interesting to read how they want more class work to count in the grade book.  I have never done that and I am not sure if it would get the effect they want.

Reflection and Impact:

First, I need to frequently tell my students I care about their well being and how amazing they are.  They put enormous amounts of time in accomplishing tasks for the course, I just want them to know that I see their time commitment.

Next steps
: I want to ask students more frequently to assess their ability. Start earlier in the year.  Ideally, I like the idea of me not assigning the final grade, but rather the students doing it. Alsa, I am not there yet. I want students to be reflective and give me insight on what they need and what I am doing that creates conditions to help them.  I am going to ask them the same question again before the semester ends and I hope they view themselves better.  I was happy to read their insights and feedback on the process.  I am glad I did it and looking forward to seeing what it will look like next year when I start the process earlier.

Read week thiry-one here. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Learning Moment at Elk Grove

By Mark Heintz

How do we define learning at Elk Grove? 

Schools are centers of learning.  Each day, the people who walk through the halls of Elk Grove learn, connect with others, and share.  However, much of the learning that takes places goes undocumented; it is not document or shared.  As a community, let us take a moment and connect with one such learning moment in hopes to share a common vision of learning and grow together.  



If you have a learning moment you would like to share with the larger community at Elk Grove, email your request to Mark.Heintz@d214.org  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Year in AP: Class Lesson Planning (Week Twenty-nine)

By Mark Heintz

Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Twenty-nine: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on World War I. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Analyze the responses to the influenza pandemic of 1918.
This week's skill focus was still centered on analyzing charts, maps, and texts and pulling evidence from documents to support a claim.
  1. Write one cause/effect, and one comparative short response that reflects an understanding of essential content.
  2. Analyze charts, maps, graphs, and texts.
  3. Write a thesis statement, contextualize a prompt, and draw evidence from two documents to support the thesis. 
Provide Specific Evidence: 

This semester, I am including, or trying to include student's perspective on the week.  Last week, I brought in a few students to help me plan the week.  The experience led to the implementation of many powerful changes; therefore, this week, I asked the whole class to help plan the week.  I posted a discussion in Schoology that prompted each student to respond.  Here are a few of their responses:

Student A: 

We need more work on perfecting our DBQ to get at least 4/7 on the AP test, also we need to go over the structure of the short response and what we need to include in the short response to get 3 points every question. Also, maybe some practice content questions from old AP tests to help us get more comfortable with the multiple choice portion of the AP test.

Student B:

I think we need more practice DBQ’s, in my opinion. Along with that, more practice on the short answer. If we write DBQ’s this week, we should write with a partner and try to exploit each other’s strengths.

Student C:

Individual writing for sure + work on grouping the documents by ourselves with you checking occasionally to make sure we're on the right track. Sometimes when we analyze documents all together I think to myself that I would have never come up with that by myself.

Student D: 

I like the idea of working through a DBQ together in class and practicing the short answer. However, what I would like is a DBQ that we can work on completely by ourselves either at home or on a couple of quiet, workshop days.

Me:

From these student responses, I changed the whole week. The first change was to the beginning of class.  Each day, I started with an environmental question, but the daily question rotated through time periods.  The goal was to focus part of each day on the short answer and how they approach each question.  Towards the end of the week, I had the students do a more formal short answer question that I evaluated.

Here is some of the lead-up work to the short answer.

 

In the above picture, I the students brainstormed ideas centered around the environment in the early twentieth century.


Another day, the students drew out their understandings of environmental changes in the nineteenth century.  

The second major change I made due to the student feedback was centered around the document based question.  A lot of students felt they needed to be more independent but still valued peer feedback.  To satisfy both, I took an idea that I got from Hazel Mason on using digital student portfolios.  The students created a Google Document and shared it with me.  For each stage of writing, a peer gave the student feedback.  After they received feedback and made any necessary changes, they took a picture of their work and placed it in the document to be checked by me.


The process allowed me to see the peer feedback and gauge the current ability levels of the student writing and the one giving feedback.


Most of the feedback prompted the students to fix their writing without the need of me.

Reflection and Impact:

I saw tremendous improvement in the students' ability to tackle an environmental short answer question.  I keep forgetting how much time it takes to look at questions outside their comfort level and approach it from different vantage points.  After five days of attempting to shift their thinking about the environment, they started to naturally change their approach to the questions.  Without my prompting, they thought from multiple perspectives.

As for the digital portfolios, I LOVED them!  I want to implement it earlier in the year next year.  Mainly because the students could then see the progress of their writing throughout the year.  I know writing portfolios are not a new thing, but they are for me.  I love that they made the students learning visible and allowed for a great medium for feedback from peers and me.

The biggest improvement from using the portfolios was in the students' ability to connect two or more documents to each other.  Normally, the students more or less listed documents.  They would merely say what the document was and what was in it. Then do the same for the next document.   I am always attempting to get the students to have the documents relate to each other through the use of qualifiers in their writing. After the changes, I know the students have improved in that area of their writing.  Here is a sample of that in action.


One downside to the portfolio process was that it took a lot of class time. It took four days of the week and most students did not finish the essay.  From that vantage point, it seems like a failure.  However, I contend that the time was worth it.  The feedback the students gave to each other was worth it alone.  For next time, I need to have something at the end of class to break up with the writing process.  The process required a lot of mental focus and exhausted most of them in a very short period of time.  I hope to have an end of a class activity that allows the students to talk about the process with each other.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Standards Based Grading

By Patrick McGing

I am not sure when I first came across Standard Based Grading (SBG) or heard about the idea/theory of it but at this point in my educational career (this is my 5th year teaching) I have fully bought into the idea behind it. I have drunk the kool-aid and continue to drink it. Therefore, I am going to look at my own understanding of SBG and what conflicts and challenges I currently have.

A specific question has come up multiple times now that has solidified my belief in SBG, “If you have a B in the class, can you tell me what you have learned in that class?” The majority of students cannot explain what they have learned in that course. Maybe they list a random activity that was done but that just means that they completed the activity; did they actually retain any information? Maybe? Yes? Probably something, but what? The same students will not list a specific skill they have gained.

Student reflecting on the standards covered in a project



As a Career and Technical Education instructor, a majority of our curriculum is whether you know how to complete a task or not using a skill and can you use that skill and apply it in a different manner. Thus, the amount of points something is worth is the last thing on my mind; but it is the first thing on students minds. How do I shift student’s focus on the skills they are building and self-assessing those skills and not the question of, “How many points is this worth?” and “When is it due?”


Student’s hand-drawn circuit of a display showing her date of birth


These questions make me cringe.   In my - so far short trial of SBG - I have found a few very positive things and still have many questions and challenges.


Successes:
  • Students understand the purpose of activities when tied to a specific standard or skill
  • Students strive to earn a 4/4 on each standard - demonstrating mastery of that standard
  • Students can be reassessed in many different ways - written questions, verbal discussion/explanation, or additional practice 
  • Quizzes are very focused on standards and do not include “filler” 
  • Students actually review quizzes rather than throwing them out
  • Students do not play the points game to get an “A”
  • It is much more difficult to demonstrate “A” or mastery of a standard
  • Students can list standards and skills they have mastered and learned

Challenges:
  • Explaining procedures to students 
  • Providing consistent feedback to students
  • Developing reassessments that show growth of student’s understanding
  • How many standards?
  • Scale: 1 - 4 or 2 - 4? Or something different
  • How to track students through the process 
  • How to translate SBG into a typical A - F gradebook
  • Can students still list or explain a standard 3 weeks from now?

Things that still need to be done: 
  • Better communication with parents
    • Written
    • Verbal
  • Alignment of all standards with: 
    • Activities
    • Assessments 
  • Rubrics developed for all standards 
    • Does a rubric for each standard even need to be made? Does a generic work?