Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blending Reading and Writing to Understand the Content

By Mark Heintz

This semester I put more emphasis on students reading to gain an understanding of the content and writing to prove their understanding of the readings and content.  Throughout the semester, I shifted my teaching style to center on students reading and writing daily.  This shift came my students giving me feedback and their writing and my own reflection on the time it takes to develop the skills of academic writing and understanding of primary and secondary sources.  Since the shift, the amount of daily feedback each student received on their progress towards these skills has increased and their understanding of the content increased.

For the past week lessons, the following were my content objectives:

  • List five ways rulers continued to use religious ideas to legitimize their rule. 
  • List three supporting details that explain how the Spanish, Dutch, French, and British empires rose in both hemispheres.  
  • List supporting details that explain how the Manchu, Mughal, Ottoman, and Russian rose to power.

For the final, the students will be assessed on a stimulus based multiple choice exam and three short answer questions which mirrors the content objectives and the style in which the course is presented.

My students gain background information on the content objectives from a series of videos I made.  You can read about that process here.  The videos have freed time in the classroom to analyze documents and practice the writing. 

The students are reading and unpacking difficult documents like the ones pictured above. Two documents such as these can take entire period to analyze.  Each day they continually work towards mastery on these skills all while reinforcing their understanding of the content.   I am fortunate enough to have white board tables which makes it easy to read student samples and provide feedback. The students are able to ask individual questions about the documents and their writing. Since they write on the tables, I can easily provide feedback related directly their questions.  Furthermore, I can differentiate between poor writing skills or a gaps in their content knowledge.  Since they are writing so frequently, I am understanding their voice ways to fix it for each student.  After each day, I can pause the class to models of student work to emphasize a common mistake or praise progress.

The students are having to master the content knowledge to work through the documents and writing.  As seen in point C in the above sample, the student needs to draw more specific examples to prove their point.  It takes time to develop the ability to make claims about the past and defend them with historical examples that actually support the claim they made.  I am proud of the progress my students have made this semester! 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Students Giving Teachers Feedback

By Mark Heintz

Elk Grove High School teachers have engaged in peer observation groups (POGs) for the past seven years.  Being a part of a POG has been invaluable and one of the most influential forces behind my teaching.  For most of that time, the groups have tried a variety of ways to get students involved in the process.  In December, I wanted to expand that effort to directly asking students for feedback on some of the changes I implemented throughout November and December.  I wanted one lesson to be a common talking point for everyone.  To guide this process, Rachel Barry came into my class to observe a lesson.  Later in the day, she facilitated a discussion, in the Collab Lab, with the three students from the class and me.*

The process was amazing! I sat and wrote as much of what they were saying as quickly as I could.  I tried not to talk and allow them to give feedback on my teaching.  Rachel asked the students guiding questions.  She was instrumental in serving as a neutral, non-judgemental facilitator.  One of the key takeaways was to go slower.  Sometimes I will use four or five documents and the class is confused on the first one.  I tend to cram more into a lesson, because more always feels better in an AP class when time is scarce.  After the discussion, I modified the lesson for the next day with the focus narrowed and only used two documents.  

At the end of the next day's lesson, the three students noticed the change and were grateful that their feedback was used.   I have used the student feedback of less is more as a mantra as a I continue to plan out the rest of the year. Two of the students did a write up that I think was worth sharing and hopefully will inspire you to do something similar.  

Student #1
Anyways, in general I'd say my experience with our little get together was positive. Being able to converse with you and Ms. Barry in a smaller environment allowed me to talk more and say things I most likely wouldn't have shared in our normal classroom setting. For other more shy students this would absolutely be a great opportunity to get feedback from people you normally wouldn't. Plus on your end I would bet it is nice to see how people are understanding your lessons and if they are able to not only apply the information we were taught, but talk about it and the bigger picture. And I also liked how you asked us how you can be a better teacher and how we might learn this information better. That is something that shows us students our teachers care about our education. Though to be honest some students may feel intimidated by how it was just like 5 people in a room, but I don't think this will be much of a problem for our class at least. Anyways, hopefully you got something out this email and I'll be seeing your tomorrow

Student #2
My experience in the collab lab with Mr.Heintz and Ms.Barry was good. Were were allowed to express our feelings about AP. It was one of the very few opportunities we were allowed to speak for the whole class and ourselves. We all said the good and bad things about the lesson. What I liked about the whole experience was Mr. Heintz was open minded to our suggestions about how he could make the lessons in class easier for us so we can understand the content and how to write better without getting confused. The next day Mr.Heintz took our suggestions and the lesson was a lot better, and even some of my friends said "that lesson today wasn't that bad" "I think i finally learned something." I think Mr.Heintz and Ms.Barry shouldn't only ask us, but ask the whole class about suggestions and how they can implement that into a lesson.

*The students were selected based off their availability during the day.    

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Positivity on Twitter

By Mark Heintz

As part of the new year, I made a resolution to share my classroom on Twitter this year. I feel one of the roles of a teacher is to communicate with the community that they serve. Over the past two weeks, I have tried to tweet at least once every day about the nature of the lesson or progress towards a goal.

The first positive result of my efforts to tweet has been connecting with other teachers and getting new ideas.  A few weeks ago, our school Periscoped a few classrooms to share a live feed of daily classroom learning.  You can read about that here.   I received some feedback on the lesson and changed my plan the next day to incorporate their ideas about including argument towers to improve student writing.  I thanked them for the suggestion on Twitter. It was great to get new ideas and share the results!

Another positive result has been feedback from parents and guardians. I have a few parents/guardians who actively follow me on Twitter and one tweeted at me:

It was a positive affirmation of my efforts to share what was happening in the classroom.

Finally, the first few days of the new year, the pictures in my tweets largely came from my first period class. A student in my second hour said I was unfairly biased towards my first period. He was right, so I now engage with all of my classes throughout the day. The students are interested in what I share and how I share it. They are turning into historians!

It has been a great start, and I can't wait to see future outcomes!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Get Students Writing! Modeling, Peer Collaboration, Argument Towers and More!

By Linda Ashida

Your students need to synthesize information from varied sources--complex texts even--to defend a claim or hypothesis, make an argument, debate an issue, persuade or present a point of view.

How do you get there?

That is just the question that many teachers have been examining recently recently in the Collab Lab.

Some recently scaffold Persicoped lessons from English and Social Science classrooms gave us some ideas.

Then Google Hangouts conversations with some of our D214 colleagues gave us even more ideas! Becky Kinnee and Carrie Mattingly shared a valuable resource that included an "Argument Tower" strategy to scaffold the writing process and to help students "get it" as they synthesize information from multiple texts.
You can check out the resource here: Building an Argument Tower (From the AP World History Blog by Jonathan Henderson).

Let's see how Mark Heintz incorporated the strategy in his AP World History class in a series of week-long scaffolded steps to help his students prepare to write a document-based essay.  

Key Steps:

1) Present the Guiding Question:
How did people legitimize their rule between 1450 and 1750?

2) Activate Background Knowledge:  
Mingler Activity: Using key ideas from the upcoming documents, Mark created a "Find someone who . . . "  activity that got students up and moving, connecting with peers, and using vocabulary and important words/concepts that they would encounter in the readings. 

3) Model:  Document #1
Mark started with the first document with a think aloud and questioning with the whole class to help students interpret the key information and isolate evidence that supports the guiding question, or claim. Students annotated their own document on their iPads while one student modeled the notetaking by mirroring her iPad on Apple TV.

Check out this video to see the process in action:

4) Paired Collaboration: Document #2
Following Mark's model with the first document, students worked through the second document with a partner. They helped each other interpret the document, write key evidence (in support of the guiding question) on the whiteboard tables, and make connections to the evidence from the first document.

5) Peer Review, Self-assessment and revision: Documents #2
After writing their own responses, the pairs rotated to another table to give feedback to their peers.  Students were guided to give meaningful feedback based on the DBQ criteria. Then they rotated back to their own tables to review the feedback and make revisions.

6) Repeat steps 4 and 5 with Document #3

7) Argument Towers: Synthesize evidence from Documents #2 & #3
Following the steps in the Argument Tower resource, Mark guided the students to use colored index cards write to write and categorize their thesis, evidence and reasoning to organize their thoughts to write the introductory paragraph for their essay.

This kind of scaffolding takes time, and Mark is continually reflecting and asking students for feedback on the process.  He finds that in this student-centered approach, students are more engaged (he can hear it, and see it, as they work with their partners), and they demonstrate deeper understanding on both the content and the writing process as compared to a teacher-centered approach.

In the student-centered process, students see more models, get ongoing feedback from teachers as well as peers, and they have multiple opportunities for revision.  Students gain deeper understanding and confidence in the writing process, which better prepares them for second semester writing when the scaffolding will be gradually removed and students will write on their own.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Periscoping our Way into Collaborations Across D214 and Beyond!

By Linda Ashida

The Collab Lab is very excited about our recent professional learning adventures using Periscope and Google Hangout to connect us with colleagues in other D214 schools and beyond!

These virtual professional learning experiences offer a great opportunity learn from our peers--and see strategies live and in action--without having to leave our own buildings. The follow-up Google Hangout chats foster a rich exchange of ideas on teaching practices that impact student success in our classes.

Today Kim Miklusak hosted "Round 3" (Previous Collab Blog posts describe "Round 1" and "Round 2"). Kim invited colleagues to join her AP English Language class, live-streamed via Periscope, to see a student-led writing skills workshop. 

At the beginning of the broadcast, Kim shared this written overview of the class to give context for the lesson that the virtual visitors would see:
Hi! I'm trying something new in class today; a student-centered writing skills workshop.  

Students have selected (or been assigned) their weakest of the 3 AP Language essay types.  Two days ago they planned their writing based on an old AP Exam essay prompt and yesterday they wrote their essay.  Today and Friday they are doing a variation of  a writer's workshop to read peers' essays and offer feedback.

They will start in a group of people who wrote the same essay to check content.

They will then rotate however they choose in order to work on skills-based writing elements from the rubric and peer editing docs with guiding questions. Students will then make edits based on the feedback.

Friday they will read the AP anchor papers and highlight elements on their paper, writing a short reflection on what score they would get and why.  There are no grades on this.  It is just practice in their weakest essay type, timing, and skills.  As an added rule, they are only allowed to ask me 2 questions this whole week.  They have to rely on their peers and the samples to guide them.

We broadcast from Kim's class for about fifteen minutes to give a good idea of what the rotations looked like and how the students used the guiding questions to focus on peer assessment, self-assessment and revision. We were able to see the students directing their own learning and collaborating with their peers, while Kim served as the facilitator of the process.  She circulated around the stations and listened to their conversations. On a few occasions she stopped to offer feedback to the whole class; but the students did most of the talking in this lesson.

After visiting Kim's class for ~15 minutes we invited D214 colleagues to join us for a 20-minute Google Hangout to debrief the lesson. We reflected on applications in our own classes of this kind of a student-centered writing process that uses clear criteria to guide both self-assessment and peer evaluation with multiple opportunities for non-graded formative feedback and revision.

We also discussed ideas to improve and expand our virtual collaborations, along with ideas to curate resources to share with other colleagues, even if they didn't participate in the class visit.

We'd like to thank Laura Monahan, Katie Alexander, and Dawn Bodden for joining us in the Google Hangout and sharing their insight and feedback.

We will be hosting "Round 4" of virtual professional learning collaborations next week in Rachel Barry's Math Class (Tuesday 1/10). Mark your calendars and stay tuned to the Collab Lab Twitter for more details on the schedule and the lesson. For now we can tell you that it will be an opportunity to see differentiation and formative assessment strategies using the app Class Kick.

Want to join us?  Do you have ideas for virtual professional learning collaborations like these?
Please let us know!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Virtual Class Visits & Professional Collaboration Across D214 Schools

By Linda Ashida

Live streaming isn't new, but the Collab Lab has recently been exploring innovative ways to use this technology to expand professional learning connections across schools.

In our first virtual professional learning adventure, we used Periscope and Google Hangout to connect with teachers at Riverside Brookfield High School to live stream from two classes at EG and then debrief with the teachers at both schools.  Even with a few tech glitches, that experience proved to be so valuable, energizing--and FUN!--that we couldn't stop thinking about the possibilities to use the same technologies to expand professional learning connections across our own District 214 schools.

That led to Round 2: Our first D214 Virtual Professional Learning adventure.

Seven teachers from three D214 schools connected with us at EGHS via Persicope to visit Mark Heintz' AP World History class.

Our colleagues connected to our Periscope broadcast, and, just like with Facebook Live, they were able to interact with each other, and me while I live streamed, to make comments and ask questions.

Mark's lesson offered examples to our virtual visitors of the varied ways he engages students in interpreting primary source documents to find evidence to support a claim, in order to later synthesize information from those complex texts. After working through the first document as a class, with Mark modeling how to interpret and note key evidence, the students worked in pairs to interpret a second document and respond to the prompt on the whiteboard tables.

As students collaborated with their peers, Mark circulated to offer support and feedback, and pause, when necessary to give clarification to the whole class.

After students responded to the prompt, with evidence from document 2, they rotated tables to read another group's response and offer feedback to their peers.

Students then returned to their tables to reflect on the peer feedback and make revisions.  They wrapped up the class by taking photos of their work to continue with new documents and synthesis writing the next day.

Mark's lesson included models of work, student-centered engagement in learning, ongoing feedback, peer assessment, self-assessment and revision. None of the work was graded. It was all part of the formative learning process to build students' reading and interpretation skills and lead to improved quality in their final summative writing assessment.

Following the live stream form Mark's classroom, we connected via Google Hangout with the visiting teachers from the other D214 schools to debrief the lesson, share feedback, and make connections in student learning across disciplines.

Once again we were energized by this kind of collaboration connecting us with colleagues across schools.  Not only did we share teaching strategies and learn from one another, but we also discussed possibilities for future collaboration across all of our schools.

In fact, we've already planned our next live stream from Kim Miklusak's AP English Language class, in which students will be engaging in a writer's workshop. Look for a new post on that soon!

And, based on feedback from the group that visited Mark's class, we have already modified the process. Participants suggested that more teachers would be inclined--and better able--to participate if the the class visit and debrief conversation were shortened and occurred during the same class period. Guided by this advice, we will live stream from Kim's 1st and 2nd hour classes for fifteen minutes and then debrief with our virtual visitors for 20 minutes in a Google Hangout. We will also look for ways to include more student voice in the process, whether it is asking questions directly to students during the class, or asking a few students to join us in the Google Hangout conversations.

We'd like to thank Matt Hamilton, Teri Buczinsky, Erik Hodges, Kate Glass, Jeff Vlk, Becky Kinnee and Carrie Mattingly for joining our Collab Lab tream in this first D214 Virtual Professional Learning experience and sharing their feedback and insight for future collaborations to support our students.

Do you have ideas or suggestions?  Would you like to join us?

We'd love to hear from you!