Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Year in AP: Students Plan the Lessons (Week Twenty-eight)

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-eight: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on World War I. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Understand the causes of World War I. 
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 had a rough teaching moment that led me to a provocation.  Why am I not involving students in the lesson planning?  Why are they not an integral part of the process? So, I asked my students if they would help me plan the whole week.  The students helped me plan.  I asked my class if any of them were available later in the day to meet with me to help plan the week.  It was awesome!  I was meeting students directly with what they needed.  Here is a little bit of what they had to say.



Kunal

The Friday before we met to plan the week, the class was not focused on the task and behavior wasn’t the best, making the collaboration much more pertinent. During the discussion, Kayla, Jose, Max, and I gave you feedback on things that could be changed or added to the curriculum. The following day when you implemented our ideas, I had a smile on my face to see that you were trying our suggestions.

Me

Okay, I am geeking out at this moment.  I was hoping that all of you would recognize that I was implementing your ideas. First, I loved them! Second, I am learning with you.  I want to maximize the time with all of you and make learning a joint effort.  

Kayla 

Also, we talked about going over pictures for DBQs also. We have done that and I feel like as a class we now better understand how to use pictures and put them into our DBQs.   When we said the two minutes of class discussion on the board would help with context... you included that and now I feel like the class is getting better at understanding the context that we will use in DBQ.

Me

One of the biggest concerns that arose from the meeting was how they struggle with analyzing and understanding pictures.  We came to the conclusion that class time needs to be centered more on the use of pictures.  Therefore, the DBQ I gave them only had pictures.  I agree with Kayla that it helped them have a better understanding.  

Kunal

That week, I thought the class was significantly more focused than the week before, though there were a few occasions where a few people were off task. (Such as when we had a sub: a few students were doing homework for other classes or were on their phones but most were on task) I feel that the mini-lectures you give before a certain activity proved to be quite beneficial. Students can review the content that might be needed and get a refresher on either the time period or how a specific question should be answered. Continue the short two to three-minute lectures, but don’t make them too long. 

Me

During the lesson planning, the students wanted me to lecture more.  We worked through it and we came to an agreement.  They would recall what they knew about a particular topic and then I would "lecture" on my thoughts for a few minutes. I would keep it short and the students would partake in retrieval practice in the process.  Bill Ferriter has a lot of posts on lecture and their potential impacts.  Here is a great read.   As I have conducted these two-ish minute lectures, the recall process in a low-stakes environment has provided me with great insights into what my students know and allowed for me to correct some of that misinformation.  

Jose

I feel as if the students were more engaged, not only us, but the rest of the students were. I saw a little more life and seriousness in the classroom than usual. Even when Heintz wasn’t here students were engaged.

Me

Jose corroborated Kunal's idea that the students were more engaged in the week's lessons.  I was out one day for a district event, and they both stated that the students were more engaged when I was not there.  

Kunal

I have really enjoyed coming to the Collab Lab and working with you. This was one of the first times that I’ve ever gotten the chance to plan the school week, and it was a new experience for me, allowing me to learn the numerous things teachers have to do behind the scenes when it comes to planning and all the considering of whether what they’re doing is effective. Thank you for the opportunity! 

Me 

Why is this such an anomaly? Why aren't students a part of the planning process? Granted, it took me twelve years to get to this point.  But his reflection is a testament to the impact it has had on his learning experience.  Imagine if we all did this? 

Reflection and Impact:

I received the best insights of my career from the students in that planning session. As a whole, the students were more engaged in the lessons.  I attribute that to planning with the students.  As I type that statement, I realize that is such a no-brainer comment.  Of course students would be more engaged if they planned it!  I feel like it puts the students and me on a level of mutual understanding and respect.  I am there to help them and they are there to help me.  I want the school to be engaging and create a set of conditions that maximize learning.  I feel that planning with the students creates conditions that encourage learning.

I have decided to take a few moments next week to include the entire class in the lesson planning process.  It will use class time, but I am hopeful that it will maximize the rest of the week.  Eliciting feedback from the students reminded me of how great my students are.  Furthermore, I have been teaching this course for ten years, and I am still learning.  There is so much to learn and the students are going to help me learn more than I will them. 

Read week twenty-nine here.

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