Thursday, April 26, 2018

One Year in AP: Valued Student Reflections (Week Thirty-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 Thirty-three: Answer the Question

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.  The question was simply, what did you learn this year?  Here was the result.

Student Response

Over the course of this school year, I’ve learned a lot from taking AP World History. I walked in on day one of my sophomore year into this class just like any other class, except for the fact that I was a little intimidated by the things I’ve heard about the course. After taking it, I learned a lot about history (obviously), as well as a lot outside of history itself, such as myself, the public education system, and what it truly means to learn.


One of, if not, the largest contributing factors to success in this class for me and a lot of others have been the way the class has been taught. Up to date, I’ve really loved the checklist system. Using this system has actually kept me on track with homework while simultaneously giving me the opportunity to work at my own speed on the content of each lesson. This is something I know a lot of people have struggled with, myself included, more specifically last year in AP Human Geography.  Reading and taking notes in a given packet never worked as well as this checklist system, as it didn’t engage me, took a lot of time and patience, and just felt like a drag to accomplish. While some may say to stop complaining because ‘that’s just how school works’, I do agree. Regardless, I also think these things can be accomplished in different, possibly more effective ways. As students, we’ve been enrolled in this game where we score points for submitting things and regurgitating information. How we do may determine the course of our lives. With this, we’ve had the idea of how school ‘should’ and/or is run engraved into our minds for as long as we’ve been playing. The checklist system makes it feel like everything I’d need to know is given right in front of me, quite possibly because it is (for the most part, content-wise).

What does any of this have anything to do with what I’ve learned this year? Simple- I’ve learned what system of education works well for me, and learned what I have to do in order to be successful both without this checklist system and with this system by challenging myself at my own speed rather than faintly paying attention in class. This hands-on system further engages me with my work and material, at my own speed. I’ve grown to really like this system, which has given me the chance to actually learn how and why Islam was so powerful internationally between 600-1450 BCE, as well as why that is no longer the case. While this may sound wonderful, I’ve noticed that a lot of students, myself included, have struggled with writing. More specifically, a lot of us have struggled with how we implement given or known information and context into short essays, document-based questions, and short-answer questions. This isn’t something at fault to an educator, rather a difficult concept by nature. If there is something I’d like to see improved in this course, it would be how writing, or specifically this element of writing, is taught. Again, this isn’t something taught in a sub-par manner, rather a difficult component of this course. Improving upon this would further our knowledge while bringing students up to that next level, and very likely being more successful in the class as well as on the AP Test.

Many think that much of the information thrown at us in this course is or will be irrelevant as soon as the bell rings it is final time this school year, which in my opinion is a slightly oblivious thought to have. While, yes, a chunk of the information won’t be necessary for anything of vast importance to us in the future, a fair majority of the information gives us a better understanding of the world we live in and why it is the way it is today by giving us context to its current events. This, in an ever-changing world, is valuable to have for anyone who tries to understand what is going on within it in relation to economics, politics, and conflicts which often affect the general population. That’s kind of a far-fetched thought for some, but at the same time may be something as simple as asking “why have gas prices gone up recently?” Oh right, there’s conflict taking place, in those oil-rich nations on that side of the world. Oh right, those conflicts have been taking place for long before anyone reading this has been around. Thanks, world history.



Overall, yes, I have learned that the Persians used satraps way back when. But besides this, I’ve learned to open my eyes and actually discover what it truly means to learn and understand something, as well as open my eyes to the world around me. Truly learning the given information is what lets me utilize and apply it to our world today, what’s going on around me, and why. I’m not sure I would have retained the information from this course as well as I have if I used anything other than this unique checklist system, which I’m interested to see how this system will be used in the future, possibly in other courses, possibly in other schools. This system could be useful for a lot of different students as we continue to play the education game. While we all grew up knowing it is important to learn, have we all truly understood what it means to learn? Is this something that has been stressed enough?


My Response

Wow! There is a lot to unpack.  David stated, "After taking it, I learned a lot about history (obviously), as well as a lot outside of history itself, such as myself, the public education system, and what it truly means to learn."  I love this comment! History, education, and learning all in one.  David and I have talked about the public education system throughout the semester, so it was not a surprise to me that he referenced it in his reflections.  He continues to comment on the gamification of the education system, but I really appreciated that he highlighted the learning that took place throughout the semester.  It is a hard balance for a lot of students and how grades are set up.  Sometimes tasks are more important to the students than the learning.  It is a constant challenge for me to not have things go in the grade book but still valued.  This is especially hard in a class that is required for all students to take.  I am always tweaking things to give students more autonomy in a mandated AP course. #struggle

Another comment,  "Up to date, I’ve really loved the checklist system. Using this system has actually kept me on track with homework while simultaneously giving me the opportunity to work at my own speed on the content of each lesson."  One reason I went to the checklist system, you can read about the process here, was for the students to work at their own pace.  The class is very rigid and I have in the past been stricter about the "homework".  I appreciate that he zeroed in on the openness of the content checklists.  I feel that I am still fairly linear in my approach, but to hear students say it is working is good.

David wrote, "Reading and taking notes in a given packet never worked as well as this checklist system, as it didn’t engage me, took a lot of time and patience, and just felt like a drag to accomplish."  I am not sure this is a by-product of my class or just his reflective nature.  I wish that I could have students be this reflective of what works for them.  I need to work on reflection being a natural part of the class.

Students accessing material they know is very difficult.  "More specifically, a lot of us have struggled with how we implement given or known information and context into short essays, document-based questions, and short-answer questions." It is hard to be able to transfer information "learned" in one context to another.  Doing this through writing is especially difficult.  If there is something I’d like to see improved in this course, it would be how writing, or specifically this element of writing, is taught.  This is a constant focus and very difficult to do.  I have been focusing on it the whole year and it is still a struggle.  I have been trying to get kids to find their voice and what resonates with them in history.  However, it is a standardized course and difficult to do.


Truly learning the given information is what lets me utilize and apply it to our world today, what’s going on around me, and why.  A great takeaway and I wish I could have every student realize this or have the internal drive to understand it.

As a whole, the systems of school are what can help or inhibit learning.  I think the focus is what learning really is and have a cohesive definition of it to move forward in making changes to the "system."  I love his ideas and how open he was in his reflection.  I value his honesty and wish I had that with all of my students.  Something to hope for in the future.

You can read week thirty-four here. 

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