Thursday, April 19, 2018

One Year in AP: What did Students learn? (Week Thirty-two)

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-two: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on World War I. Here were the standards for this week:
  1. Analyze the responses to the influenza pandemic of 1918.
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.  Here was one of the responses.

Student Response

I didn't really know what to expect with this course because I'd heard so many different takes on it from the juniors and seniors I know who'd taken it - some people said it was the hardest social science, some said it was the easiest. At the end of my year in the class, I have a couple observations and general feelings.

First of all, I think the structure of the general course is really easy to understand. There were a lot of ways the grand scheme of world history was broken down into a lot of patterns which only really began to come together at the end. It's incredibly difficult to connect everything after learning it in fragmented bits, but I don't know if there's really a shortcut to putting the pieces together. I had my own method with filling out blank worksheets that helped me a ton, but I know people that do pretty well even without this.

As for the structure of the class itself, I think the checklists were more efficient than any giant textbook I'd have to carry around. Being someone who lives for routine and organization, I appreciated the consistency the Thursday checklists. As much as I didn't ever want to do them, I have to admit that it's probably tons better than annotating a 10-page packet or trying to translate a textbook into comprehensible content. I also think the way the checklists were structured well in that they threw in a lot of reviews (annoying, but effective). A lot of people complained that the excessive review was too difficult for a weekly thing, but I personally didn't mind it because it helped so much. For the first semester final, studying was so much easier than it was last year for APHG because the checklists incorporated continuous review rather than me teaching myself all the content over again.



A big component of this class was an emphasis on writing. Some of the other classes started learning how to write DBQs and short answers after the entirety of first semester, and that just seems crazy to me. Considering things can still be confusing and we've been working on them all year, I can't imagine what it'd be like learning them so late. I think the idea of adding in a component of the DBQ every unit was a great idea because before you know it, you can do the whole thing and know how it all fits together. Obviously, there were times that I was pretty confused about the format, but after doing a lot of examples in class and analyzing them, I'm comfortable with the process. Honestly, I didn't really enjoy writing with partners because it didn't exactly portray what I did or didn't know. I either felt like I was carrying the group or that I was “cheating” because I wouldn't have known the content by myself. The best progress for me came when we had to write individually and get direct feedback from the teacher because it was brutally honest in what you could and couldn't do. Overall, I think the amount of planning and thought put into this class really shows and it's been enjoyable for me despite the work required.

Another Student Response with a Differing Opinion on the Checklists

If I were to change something about the AP course I would probably change a part of the checklist. Sometimes I feel that the review for each checklist is intimidating because of the timer it has, I used to rush through it to be able to finish. If I redid this course I would hope to get more practice on stimulus tests and have more opportunities to help improve my grade. Otherwise having a good mindset about AP helped me improve in this class and gain more interest in taking the course.

My Response

I didn't know what to expect with their responses. I purposefully did not want to skew their reflection so I intentionally made the question very open-ended. Because of that openness, I have a few other student reflections that go into different directions.  As for this week's reflection, it is interesting to note that "learning" was more about school and the nature of systematizing learning instead of truly what they learned.  For example, how the checklists were orientated or the group work with writing.

Furthermore, the student addressed what "worked" for them.  I love that the students were aware enough of their workflow and how best to tackle the tasks needed to be completed.  Even the student who had a different opinion of the checklists wrote more about the structures in place rather than the learning. I think students are cued into being compliant with tasks rather than what they are learning or why.  But maybe the "doing" is how they perceive learning.  Cal Newport has this quote from his book, Deep Work, that resonates with me and what I am thinking.





I am not sure the students know what is valuable to them. I think they want to be connected and have validation.  Because of this, they resort back to industrial metrics of visibility and compliance. They want to show me that they have "done" things and put in the effort and the writing on a daily basis and checklists do that.


I am not sure how to completely remove this thought or get at the value of learning rather than compliance.  A lot of what they are commenting on is related to the way we do school.  I want to get at the point where the students are valuing the conversations, the new understandings, or how to solve problems.  I am rethinking my language, task needed to be completed, and the entire grade book.  I need to communicate more with the reasoning behind everything and allow for more student agency and inquiry-based learning.  I need to get the students to find their voice in the process.

You can read week Thirty-three here. 




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