By Mark Heintz
A year ago I wrote about the changes that were going to be implemented for the 2015-2016 school year for human geography. You can read about that here. Not all of those changes were implemented and some changed along the way due to feedback from instruction and assessments. A year later, I can tell you it has been a great year from my perspective. One of the best takeaways of documenting my curriculum and focusing on mastery was that I know what I wanted from the beginning.
I have loved knowing what my course is. This year, students have been challenged by readings at or above their level. Students have become better at making a claim and providing specific pieces of evidence that support that claim to support their argument. Students are writing more, and it is better than ever. There is still a lot of progress to make, but it is pretty amazing.
Since I documented what I wanted and clearly stated the content objectives- clear writing, reading and interpreting charts, graphs, and map skills people can engage in specific things about what my course isn't. My learning targets that are assessed through multiple choice are low level. One of the standard objectives for each unit is to define a few vocabulary words. So, on the test, that is what is being assessed. That assessment is used to see if the students understand the basics. The content objectives allow students to explore charts, maps, graphs, and texts around each concept or objective. There are very few content objectives, but the students made incredible progress towards them and the skills.
A final note, I only put assessments into the grade book. We had three assessments second semester with four parts each. There are twelve grades in my grade book. I have not had behavioral issues because everything we do is centered around the major skills and the clear content objectives. Students stopped asking, "Is this for points?" I have not been asked if there is anything they can turn in to raise their grade and only have a week left in the school year. When students ask is there anything they can do to raise their grade, I respond by saying, "Show me you can read, write, or interpret charts, maps, and graphs." I feel very confident that a student's grade reflects their ability level and knowledge of the content objectives. That is a good way to end to the year for my as a teacher and for my students who have learned more, and became better readers, writers, and interpreters of charts, maps, and graphs.