Thursday, January 25, 2018

One Year in AP: Do Grades Represent Mastery? (Week Twenty-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 Twenty-one: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on Atlantic Revolution from 1750-1900. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. List three causes of the enlightenment and four enlightenment thinkers and their ideas.
  2. List two causes, methods, and outcomes to the French, Haitian, and Latin American revolutions. 
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?

This semester, I am including, or trying to include student's perspective on the week.  For this week's post, I asked two students to document their learning on the standards.  It was a great week to do this, for I missed two days this week due to a family emergency.  I shared a Google Doc to document their progress.  Each day,  I looked at the shared document to view their understandings of what took place during the day.

Max and Devin volunteered to document their learning and reflect this week.

Here is what Max had to say.

Evidence

A perfect score on the quiz we took in class on the given topics.


This is one of the documents we studied about the Latin American Revolution.

Reasoning- This demonstrates mastery of the given topics. A perfect score means that everything was right, which clearly demonstrates mastery. The second image is of a thesis and contextualization paragraph for a DBQ we did in class. This helped me understand the French Revolution, which I did not know much about prior to the class as we mostly learn about America in lower grades. The third image is of a document from a DBQ about the Latin American Revolution. As with the French Revolution, I did not know much about the history of Latin America, but I do now.

Here is what Devin had to say.

Evidence



We used new vocab words to write sentences about the Haitian Revolution. (Picture 2)


We wrote a DBQ based on documents about the Haitian Revolution. (Picture 3)


Reasoning

My current grade in this class is an 80.55%. This is because at the beginning of the week I was not understanding the material fully, this is shown in picture 1. Throughout the week though, we talked more about the French, Haitian and Latin Revolutions. Because of this, I know I fully understand the material represented by picture 2. We also practiced writing while using the topics represented by picture 3. These helped me understand by just reviewing the topics more and using interactive activities. I didn’t know too much about the Haitian Revolution until we learned about it and wrote with the topic. Every activity helped some of them were more fun than others, but I now have a full understanding. The third image used documents to help you write the DBQ. In this, you have to contextualize about before and during the topic. Learning more about the French revolution helped me write more context and also get me an A currently in AP World History.

Reflection and Impact

Typically the week goes by in a blur and I love seeing the visuals the students picked for evidence as and a rich source of reflection. Each student has his or her own personal narrative and experience.  Reading their work is a small glimpse into that experience. Since I do not write this blog until the following week, the pictures and their narrative have been enlightening into their point of view.   For instance, Max used different documents and different writing components than Devin.

I love how each student included the primary and secondary documents beside their writing.  I don't always include the actual source information in the blog.  Seeing that pairing it increases my understanding of their understanding of the skill.  As I read their reasoning, I think I need to be clearer in my expectations.  I want them to analyze each component of their writing.  I wish they knew what mastery looked like, to the point they can compare their own to that of mastery.  I will be asking next week's students to do that.


Each of them selected the more formal assessment for evidence on their content knowledge. I really like Devin's evolution of his understanding.  It took a while to get to mastery, and that is something I value.  I want them to master it, and the timeline of mastery is flexible.

A concern of mine is their use of a grade as a metric of their mastery.  I keep seeing that students equate mastery with grades.  I hate putting grades in the grade book early on in the semester because it can really influence how they view the course.   However, it is hard to communicate to students and parents that students are making progress on something that will not be formally assessed for weeks. Like last semester when a student thought things were going well and then got a grade they thought was inferior.  It forever changed their point of view on the course.  I need to work on getting students to understand mastery and how to communicate that better to them.




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