Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Year in AP: A Really Positive Message (Week Twenty-three)

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-three: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on European Imperialism from 1750-1900. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Students will understand the causes of Imperialism in the 19th Century.  We are learning to understand why & how Europeans took over other places around the world.
  2. We will show that we can do this by Listing three methods used by Europeans to imperialize between the years 1750-1900.List three reasons Europeans used to justify imperialism between the years 1750-1900.
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.

Payton and Jillian volunteered to document their learning and reflect this week.

Here is what Payton had to say.

Evidence





Payton: On Monday, we read 8 separate documents pertaining to Japan and Russia's industrializations. With partners, we sorted these documents into different categories, and whether the two documents proved a similarity between the industrializations of Russia and Japan or a difference. I thought this activity was helpful to understand how Russia and Japan Industrialized, as we were able to see the different information on the documents organized in front of us to give us a general idea of what information the documents contained.  


Payton: On Tuesday, we took a quiz in class, mainly pertaining to the industrial revolution, and how it affected the production of goods (changing from in home to in factories). Though at the time it was something to complain about, this quiz provided a nice check to see if I had actually learned and retained the material from before. It didn't take very long, and I was able to show myself that I knew the material and could move on to the next topics and keep focus on what we were learning this week



Payton: On Wednesday, we got back with our partners from Monday and put our organized documents to use. Using the 8 previous documents and with the help of our activity from Monday, we wrote essays(sans a contextualization paragraph) based on the prompt of comparing and contrasting Russia and Japan's industrial revolutions. My partner and I decided to evenly split our work between us, she was to write the paragraph on the similarities, and I was to write the one on differences. I always like writing essays in class, as I feel that's one of the most helpful ways to apply what we've learned, practice our DBQ writing skills, and get possible feedback. This is one of my favorite ways to learn in class, either with or without a partner so we can either get another person's input/help while writing or to test out our own skills and see how we are writing what we're currently learning on our own.



Payton: On Thursday, we read two documents, and sorted facts or questions from them into three categories: I wonder, I knew, or I learned. The "I wonder"s were the thoughts and questions we didn't have answers to while reading the text, the "I knew"s were the facts in the documents we already had prior knowledge of or knew completely, and finally, the "I learned"s were new facts or information we learnt from the documents. I found this activity to be helpful, especially when done in groups. We discussed these both with the class and our groups and I found it helpful to share the "I wonder"s, as someone else in the class would answer them and it was something else new I learned.

Here is what Jillian had to say.



Jillian: It forced me to think critically about the document we were reading and helped me look back for details I might have missed. Overall it helped me better understand European colonialism and its effects on the rest of the world, specifically Africa.



Jillian: By having us apply evidence from multiple documents, writing a little bit on this subject encourages one to understand it better. In this case, it helped me gain a greater understanding of the industrialization processes of Japan and Russia. This is because the prompt required to not only describe the two but compare them to each other: analyzing their similarities and differences.




Jillian: Summarizing key aspects of multiple documents makes you think about what information from them is actually important, helping you pick apart actual main ideas in the text. This helped my understanding for exactly that reason.



Jillian: Although this is admittedly much less finished than my last piece of evidence it did help my understanding for the exact same reason, through summarizing.

I don’t usually take photos of my writing on the whiteboard tables, but all of the whiteboard stuff we did this week helped a lot. It’s almost like writing it out by hand makes it stick in my brain better.

My Reflection and Impact 

Last week, I tasked myself to have students focus on writing more.  It was great to read the student-feedback centered on writing their understanding of it.  Additionally, it was encouraging to read that the students focused on their learning.  I loved to read their thoughts that pertained to what was helpful or not.  For instance, when Payton stated, "I always like writing essays in class, as I feel that's one of the most helpful ways to apply what we've learned, practice our DBQ writing skills, and get possible feedback. This is one of my favorite ways to learn in class, either with or without a partner so we can either get another person's input/help while writing or to test out our own skills and see how we are writing what we're currently learning on our own."

This quote encapsulated everything I love about the course. It was great reading that the student was able to articulate it so clearly. Reading it really made my day.

Jillian furthered my joy of having the students reflect on their learning each week. She stated, "By having us apply evidence from multiple documents, writing a little bit on this subject encourages one to understand it better. In this case, it helped me gain a greater understanding of the industrialization processes of Japan and Russia. This is because the prompt required to not only describe the two but compare them to each other: analyzing their similarities and differences." I love how she spoke about the impact of writing. It is the exact reason I want the students to write. It forces them to think; therefore, they garner a greater understanding.

Before reading their response, I felt the week was not great. From my perspective, I felt the week was not organized well. I felt I fumbled a few things and was not clear in a lot of the directions. However, I am moving towards more student-driven lessons, which is going to lead to potentially more chaotic days. Hearing that the student feedback was overall positive, I feel good about having more student voice and agency. Also, I am glad that I am asking for their feedback so much. It helps in rough patches and allows me to be positive about the progression of the course.

Read week twenty-four here.

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