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! 


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