Thursday, September 28, 2017

One Year in AP: Moving On (Week Six)

By Mark Heintz


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 down right 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 see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along in the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Six: Answer the Question
My content instructional goal this week was centered around how empires grew and rose to power.

My skill instructional goal was centered around the document based question.

Cite Specific Evidence

This week was a little short because of the religious observation of Rosh Hashanah. I started the week on a positive note.  To do this, and review content at the same time, I had the students play Classical Era pictionary. It's fun and sets a good mood for the week. All of the pictionary words were technologies invented in Classical China or before.  For instance one of the words is paper.  The activity gives memory cues for the students to add to their essays later on. Furthermore, it builds foundational content knowledge about Han China.

On to the skills. I was so proud of their ability to pull evidence from readings this week.  They were able to correctly identify key pieces of evidence to support claims.

The students wrote contextualization statements nearly everyday this week.  In addition to their statements, they analyzed primary sourced documents and pulled evidence to support claims.

Again, they practiced writing thesis statements everyday.  This was based on the feedback from last week's setback.  

I also threw in content checks every day.  One of checks was a twelve card puzzle on the methods of political control.  The students had to sort which method of political control went with each empire. It was incredibly hard at first, but watching the students work through the content and hearing their dialogue with group members allowed me to gauge how much they knew.  Slowly, they are start putting together the ones they know and then the puzzle comes together.

To explain the activity a little more, each of the edge pieces had a fact that were outside of the time period.  So Mali, Inca, Hagia Sophia, and Muhammad were edge pieces because I haven't covered it yet.  I quickly saw which students needed direction because they were pairing Hagia Sophia with Qin and Han. But over all, they were very impressive and proved their content knowledge.

Explanation of the Evidence

Worlds better (pun intended (it's a world history class))!  Their ability to add context improving daily. The sentence starter I used helped them address the skill. From the practice and peer to peer editing,  they have a greater understanding of what the purpose of context is.  Doing it everyday solidified the skill and provided a basis for what they need to improve.  There is still a lot of work needed in this area.  But overall, they are doing well and I am impressed with them for as early as it is in the school year.

There were numerous checks for understanding on their content.  I felt they are still some gaps and I need to address those next week.  They are having trouble understanding the trade routes and their connection to the growth of empires.  Other than that, the students are demonstrating an impressive depth of content knowledge of the classical era.

Now to the thesis.  That was a low point last week.  I gave them similar conditions this week and tested what they could do.  It was so much BETTER! There are some errors still occurring.  Some kids need some one on one attention.  Others made simple mistakes such as forgetting the time period.  But it was a lot better.  I uploaded three examples for you to sample.

Reflection and Impact

My biggest takeaway: I need to spend the time where it is needed.  I know that sounds simple.  But it is hard on the day to day to remember that.  I can manage the macro scale when looking at the whole year, but it is hard for me to stay focused when it feels I "covered" it or am spending significant time on something.  I know they need more work on thesis statements, so I need to spend the time on writing thesis statements.  Writing is over 50% of the AP exam and it is a skill that will transcend the course.  I need to address my instruction on the biggest needs.  Those biggest needs come from the feedback the students giving me.  That feedback is telling me to spend more time on writing.

Read week seven here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

When Conversation Becomes Difficult . . . How do We Facilitate Better Communication?

By Linda Ashida

A recap of a Team on Tuesday conversation facilitated by Kim Miklusak.

Sometimes controversial topics are embedded in our course curriculum.  Sometimes controversial topics come up due to an unforseen comment by a student, or due to issues in the news.

Whether planned or unplanned, teachers can find it challenging to facilitate conversation around controversial issues in order to allow for differing viewpoints to be expressed in a way that allows all voices to be heard, and in a way that facilitates understanding and empathy.

An idea:

After Kim Miklusak connected with valuable resources to support teachers in facilitating difficult conversations, she wanted to share them with colleagues and create a forum for teachers to exchange resources and strategies of their own.

A Plan: 

The Collab Lab's Team on Tuesday served as a perfect vehicle to do this. Kim sent an invitation to all staff at EG. Kim also wanted to include colleagues from Rolling Meadows High School, who shared interest in this topic. Google Hangout would make that possible!

The Result: 

15 staff from Elk Grove and Rolling Meadows, from across disciplines (Science, Math, World Language, English and Fine Arts) connected and shared their questions and ideas to facilitate better conversations when controversy can undermine communication. Teachers shared examples of situations they found challenging. They offered specific strategies and resources to respond in ways that foster an atmosphere where differing viewpoints can be expressed and listened to with respect, and questions are asked respectfully to clarify and build understanding and common ground.

To get a better ideas of the conversatoin, check out this link to the Google Doc we used to take notes and curate resources.

Do you have ideas, resources or questions?  We'd love to hear from you! Leave us a comment below!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Student Involvement in Assessment (Part 2)

By: Rachel Barry

This is the second post in a series focusing on involving students in the assessment process.  For the first post, click here.

In continuing to include students in the assessment process, I am exploring methods of self-reflection and peer editing, as well as open to suggestions that I hope other educators will share with me.  For our second quiz, I had my regular Algebra II students edit their own quizzes.  First, I had them take the quiz as they normally would, and I made marks (in blue) only if the problem was incorrect.  I gave no scores.  Then, the next day I handed back the quizzes, along with a green pen, to each student.  Students corrected the problems that they got wrong in the green pen. 

The conversations were awesome!  The topic is simplifying radicals, so it is common for students to make silly mistakes or make the same mistake throughout all problems.  Many students quickly realized what they did incorrectly and were able to make the necessary adjustments to their work.  For the students who struggled on this topic more than others, I was able to give them more one-on-one instruction to better understand this topic.

I loved this activity, and I'd rather not call it an assessment.  I feel that the students learned so much from being given a "second chance."  The struggle that I have is that I am obligated to report something in the gradebook.  This year, I am only reporting summative unit test scores towards students grades, so a
ll quizzes are going in the formative assessment category in the gradebook (a 0% category).  Because of this, I had some flexibility on how to report this to be as informative as I wanted.  For the score, I averaged the two scores, and in the comments section, I reported both the original score and their edited score (as seen to the right).  I LOVE the comments section!

I'm continuing to explore new methods to build a positive learning experience and student self-reflection from the assessment process.  I would love to hear any ideas that you have as well, so comment here, tweet at me, or stop down in the Collab Lab!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

One Year in AP: failure (Week Five)

By Mark Heintz


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 down right 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 see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along in the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Five: Answer the Question

My content instructional goal this week was centered around how empires grew and rose to power.

My skill instructional goal was centered around the document based question. Also, I tested the students on last weeks skills, just the thesis and contextualization to see the retention of their abilities.
Cite Specific Evidence

Throughout the week, the students analyzed documents and more documents.  And more documents. By the end of the week, they were able to pull evidence from a document and connect it to their thesis.

It was great! The students dove into the documents and were able to write out their understandings. Check out the video below!

On the content side of things, there were numerous checks for understanding on the content.  I know and the students know what they know and don't know.  These checks were crucial.

Additionally, I did a thesis skill check to monitor progress from the week before in order to see if they had retained mastery. I gave the students and unannounced prompt to see if students could still write a strong thesis independently without support in the same way they will need to do on the AP exam.  This thesis check proved my instruction and their reflection from last week were inadequate. Many students did not master the thesis and contextualization skills. Their responses demonstrated that they were not at the level I thought they had achieved. nor at the level they thought they had attained, based on last week's progress.  Some responses were not clear, revealing potential confusion. Other responses were missing components or were contradictory.

Explanation of the Evidence

Well, I know the content checks are working.  They are acing the checks for understanding.  There are a few students that need to go back to review previous knowledge, but overall they have made strides in knowing what they don't know, and articulating it to others.  I notice this in their peer-to-peer feedback conversations and their conversations with me.  In the past, it was a quagmire trying to figure out what students need to work on.  This year, some of my revised and varied formative checks for understanding have allowed me to better point my students directly to what they need work on to help them master the content.  From the checks I did this week, I figured out that many of them had the same gaps in knowledge and I was able to to address those common gaps to the whole class.

The students were amazing with they beginning document work! However, I don't believe they have any idea what they are doing. Sure, they can analyze the document and link it to a thesis statement when I am present and walking them through the steps.  But I don't think they can do it alone nor do I believe they actually know where these scaffolded steps fit in the big picture.  That was a big pause for me.  I realized that I kept having them go through the steps, but I never had them pause to reflect on what and why they were doing it. It was as if I was driving it, and they were on the path of learning with me, but they couldn't get to the destination on their own yet.

The final one really knocked me off my feet. The previous week's instruction told me they were ready to move on.  The feedback they gave me, told me they were ready to move on.  However, the results did not match this feeling.  When it mattered, on their own, they couldn't preform. I need to go back and look at what I did, and maybe try a different strategy.

Reflection and Impact

I need to have more moments in the class where they are given the opportunity to respond and demonstrate their learning without support, in much the same way that they will have to do under the conditions of the AP test in May. I need to give them more moments where they are given a prompt they have never seen before and are working through it.  The reflection is going great, but I need them to reflect more on how they did under the specific conditions of the assessment.

Read week six here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Learning Celebration Reflections: Part Deux (It's not just for AP!)

by Dan Saken

Last week I wrote a blog about how I've changed "test days" into "Learning Celebrations" and how I reflect on them with students, specifically in my AP Psychology classes.  I received a comment to my post asking if perhaps my experiences and results would be different in non-AP classes that might not be as cumulative or "academic."  Thankful for the feedback, I wrote the following reply about how I've implemented the same procedures and ideology in mainstream classes I teach as I have to my AP classes.  Similar to the AP classes, these mainstream classes have experienced positive outcomes in terms of assessment results and a change in overall classroom culture and student mindsets.

My Reply
Thanks for the questions! I also taught mainstream US History classes last year and now a Criminal Law class this year that are not AP level. I used the "Learning Celebration" concept with those classes as well with the same success in terms of developing a positive culture in the classroom and improved results on assessments from previous years. I take a day after the Learning Celebration to reflect in those classes too using team tests, individual test corrections, self-reflections, or other activities to be able to identify what they knew and what they didn't.  

The pictures below are of my most recent Learning Celebration Reflection Day in my Criminal Law classes where students worked to not just identify what questions they answer incorrectly, but why.  By doing this kind of reflection, students would better understand what they need to work on for the next Learning Celebration: Did they get the wrong answer because they misread the question? Didn't read all the answer choices? Didn't study that content? Etc.  I got this idea from a colleague (Mark Heintz, AP World History and Human Geo teacher) to get students to not just care about the score they received, but the thinking process involved in recalling information and answering those questions.

While those classes are not as cumulative as an AP class (though they will need to know the content for the Final Learning Celebration at the end of each semester), I still want to stress the importance of filling in the gaps of knowledge so they won't get wider over time. I always like to make connections to previously learned material as I go through the course, so if the students never learned that content in the first place and didn't get a chance to realize that through our reflection, then it hurts their ability to learn the new information later on as well.  

Finally, more than any other year I have taught before, I took a great deal of class time in the first week of school to hammer home the idea of the Growth Mindset with all of my classes, both AP and mainstream. I have a bunch of posters in my room dedicated to the idea that failure is not an end result, but rather every time you fail is simply an opportunity to learn. I refer to Thomas Edison "learning" 1000 different ways of how NOT to make a light bulb before his final success. I talk about the importance of simply trying your best, being willing to try and be wrong, and when all else fails, just keep trying. That an error does not become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it. That you never fail until you stop trying. That you shouldn't do something until you get it right, you should do something until you can't get it wrong (I use a basketball analogy for that one). That "whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." I refer to these concepts constantly throughout the year as reminders as we go.  It's not just a one-day, "rah-rah" kind of thing in our's about building a positive culture and mindset throughout the school year.

It definitely is difficult to convince teenagers to care more about and focus more on the process than the end result (grade), but just getting them to think a little bit differently about the importance of the process is extraordinarily helpful. I've seen a TED Talk about how the greatest predictor of success is Grit and read articles about how failure can be our best teacher. I communicate those ideas so that when students do hit a road block in their learning or don't do well on an assessment, they are ready, willing, and able to continue on and just keep trying.

I hope this helps you think about how it can apply to other classes. Obviously the "Statistics" part of the reflection I do with my AP Psych is more specific because it connects with content we learn, but I still look at the averages and most missed with my mainstream classes on our reflection days. Thanks again for your questions and good luck with your classes!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

You Made Me a Better Teacher: S1E1 We Are EG Podcast

We are excited to announce our first We Are EG Podcast!

Elk Grove High School English teacher Rita Thompson tells the story of a student who changed her life. In teaching this student how to read, she also learned a little bit about herself.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

One Year in AP: the thesis (Week Four)

By Mark Heintz


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 down right 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 see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along in the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

Week Four: Answer the Question

This week's focus was to finish the content of the Classical Era religions.  Here are the content objectives they needed to master:

Also, my goal was to get the students to be able to write a thesis statement.  Even though there are two other skills the students will master by the end of the unit, my focus this week was the thesis.

Cite Specific Evidence

By the end of the week, the students took a content assessment.  The students reflected afterwards on their success.  They filled out the reflection sheet again!   The results were very mixed.  While the average was over 80%, it was either they got it or needed more time with the content.   


Working on the thesis proved to be a very time consuming but rewarding process.  The students worked on it for four days straight.  They worked on it for four days straight with the same content.  While that might seem like a tedious endeavor, it was at times, it was so worth it! The four days were tough.  Students tireless reflected and rewrote their statements.  In the end there were results.   Here are a few examples of their progress.  

By the end of the week, the did it!  They were able to write a thesis after a full week of instruction.

Explanation of the Evidence 

Working on the thesis was incredibly rewarding.  I through out most of what I was planning to continue the work on the thesis. After the students read primary sources, they wrote a thesis.  After they read a secondary source, they wrote a thesis.  By the end of the week, it was so much better and in the end I felt that they progressed so much more than last year because I spent the time doing it. Thesis writing is definitely going to need more time, but I feel their foundational ability in it is so much better.  I took a lot of instructional time in the early weeks of the year, but it is working.

As for the content, most of the students mastered the content or just had a few things that they needed more time with. This is tough because I spent more time on the skills, we only touched on some of the content. At least they know what they don't know, which is what the goal was.

Reflection and Impact

The biggest takeaway from the week is how I have to be willing to throw out the lesson plan if they do not get it.  Why move on?  This is what I did with most of my lessons.  The students weren't able to do the thesis and I was planning on moving on to something else. I threw out the lesson and decided to focus on the thesis.   This process is already impacting my planning.  I am more flexible and willing to shift things around to ensure that the students are able to master what I am teaching.

As for next week, I changed my plan to focus more on the religions.  My lessons are shifting, but I want my students to master the skills and the content.

Read week five here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Learning Celebration Reflections

By Dan Saken

Learning Celebrations

Two summers ago, I read an article by a Baylor Sociology professor that claimed students in his class performed better on assessments when the teacher reframed "Test Days" by instead referring to them as "Learning Celebrations."  So, always looking for ways put a positive spin on things, I decided to make the change myself starting last school year.  I told students that instead of taking "tests" where students are worried about what they didn't learn, we would instead focus on celebrating what they did learn. 

While I definitely received numerous odd looks and eye rolls from students when I first introduced the idea, "Learning Celebrations" have become an important part of the class vernacular for both myself and my students.  We even blast "Celebration" by Kool & The Gang as students arrive to class (in addition to some really bad dancing by myself) to give them an extra boost of positive vibes before we start the Learning Celebration.  And though the simple name change hasn't done away with all anxiety students may feel when taking a unit assessment or magically led to all students earning A's, I did see an increase in class averages from previous years on a majority of my assessments.

Taking Time to Reflect on Learning Celebrations

A vital part of Learning Celebrations is actually getting to celebrate how well students performed the day after.  My classes set aside the day after a Learning Celebration to give students time to reflect on how they did and give them opportunities to see what they knew and what they didn't.  Student are always anxious/excited to see the grade they received, but it is even more important (especially in a class that is cumulative like AP Psychology) that students get a chance to fill in any gaps of knowledge that may exist.

A student who scores an 85% on an assessment is seemingly in a pretty good place grade-wise, but that still means that the student did not know 15% of the content.  If students don't reflect and learn the right answer to a question they missed, that 15% could continue to get wider and wider.  This would then form a considerable gap in their knowledge, leading to them making the same mistake when faced with a similar problem later on.  I have a poster in my room that states, "An error doesn't become a mistake until you refuse to correct it."  That kind of thinking guides our Learning Celebration Reflection.

Team Retake of the Learning Celebration

I have various activities I use on reflection days throughout the year, but the one I like to do with the first unit is a team retake.  Students are placed in homogeneous groups of 3-4 based on their individual scores (but they don't know how they scored until after the team retake).  I also try to group students that don't normally sit by each other or work together as much as possible to get them interacting with more of their classmates and possibly reduce distractions.  They are tasked with retaking the entire multiple choice section of the Learning Celebration, with the promise of earning some extra points if they do even better on the team retake than they did individually.

The conversations, debates, and friendly disagreements are incredibly rewarding to listen to, especially when they have "Aha!" moments related to questions or answer choices they may have read or interpreted wrong the first time through.  Their ability to arrive at those moments through self-realization or guidance from classmates is a lot more meaningful with a longer-lasting impact than if I simply told them the right answers myself.  When groups finish the retake, everyone in the group gets their individual scores back, getting time to see what they got right and wrong themselves, helping peers with questions they answer incorrectly, and ensuring their errors do not become a mistakes.

Using Statistics and Modeling Content

Once all groups have finished the retake, I talk about the class average and single out the most-missed questions for further review.  Last year, I added one more thing to my reflection days as a way to further connect to the content we learn in Unit 1 of AP Psychology.  The first unit is on Research Methods, which includes a part on statistics and how data is used to interpret results of studies.  On an Excel spreadsheet, I calculated the Mean, Median, Mode, Skew and Standard Deviation of the data on an Excel spreadsheet, along with creating a Histogram (bar chart) to see if there was a Normal Curve....all terms we learned in the first unit.  I'm no Excel whiz, but YouTube is a magical place to learn how to do things!

I share all that data and the graph with the students so they can see the statistics at work, especially with a concept such as standard deviation, which can be confusing for students.  Statistics are not overly relevant in most of the other units over the rest of the course, but I continued inputting data from the Learning Celebrations to show students on reflection days and it has become a mainstay in the reflection process.

Correlation Does Not Prove Causation! (But it's still informative!)

One last way I tried to connect the content with our reflection was through a demonstration of correlation.  In the Research Methods unit, one of the most important concepts is that "Correlation does not prove causation!"  However, identifying correlations can give us valuable information on how two variables might be related.  One required assignment I have for each unit is completing a Unit Review Quiz on Schoology that takes 20 random questions from a question bank.  Students can take the Review Quiz as many times as they like, getting a different set of questions each time, and I take their highest score as their grade.  Since there is no way to reasonably gather data on the amount of reading, studying, note-taking, etc. each student does to prepare, the best accessible and objective data point I have to see if there is a correlation with success on the Learning Celebration is if students had actually taken the Review Quiz.

I calculated the average score of students who completed the Unit Review Quiz at least once vs. the average score of students who did not do the quiz at all.
  • Period 1: 78% (took quiz) vs. 67% (no quiz)
  • Period 2: 74% (took quiz) vs. 70% (no quiz)
  • Period 3: 80% (took quiz) vs. 74% (no quiz)
I stressed the idea that "correlation does not prove causation," so I wasn't claiming that taking the Schoology Review Quiz automatically led to higher scores.  But the data did show that those that took the quiz were at least more likely to score higher than those who did not.  Not only was I able to again connect to the content we learned in the unit, I'm hoping it will inspire more students to take advantage of the review tool in preparation of future celebrations.  After all, reflecting on Learning Celebrations is a lot more enjoyable when the scores show there's something to celebrate!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Teach the Way You Would Want Your Own Children to Be Taught

An impactful message from Ricky Castro, Elk Grove High School's Teacher of the Year, from the speech he gave at a District 214 Education event on September 11, 2017:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to share the wonderful things that our students and parents are doing with the Foundation’s support. As the Illinois Teacher of the Year, I have had the incredible opportunity to sit with the president, the governor, and state legislators in order to advocate for education. It has certainly been an incredible year for me. As I speak to many people, some may wonder what my motivation has been for my involvement in social reform and education.

I have engaged the disenfranchised and poor in Kazakhstan, India, The Netherlands, Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, and many parts of the United States, and my drive has always been the same. I am in love with the Golden Rule and that is what drives my endeavors.

The Golden Rule states, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them." You see when I teach, I teach my students the way I would want my own children to be taught.

And let me tell you something, I love my own children very much and I am willing to give them every opportunity within my reach to ensure they have a prosperous life. When I discovered that about half the Elk Grove Students were not growing up with access to a public library or a park district, I thought about my own children.

I thought about the social development my sons Lucas and Dante have acquired by doing karate and playing soccer since the age of 3. I thought about the countless times my wife and I have taken our children to the public library to enjoy the beauty of reading. After pondering about this dilemma, it really moved my heart to make a difference. It also explained why we were seeing so many students with social and academic gaps when they arrive in high school. With the Foundation's help, this year we have made our district better by providing a community-led solution to this inequity.

This summer, over 65 middle and high school volunteers were camp leaders in charge of helping over 100 Kindergarten through 5th grade students as they engaged in multiple camps throughout the summer. We fostered the idea that leaders from within should lead social reform.

Over 100 neighborhood K-5 children experienced the benefits of a library and park district within their trailer parks. These same children will be our future District 214 students.

Our camps consisted of 3 stations. There was a reading station that helped children enjoy over 2,000 books throughout the summer housed in our very own book mobile.

There was a sports station that developed leadership and teamwork skills led by EGHS students and coaches.

There was also a STEM station that invited children to make binary code bracelets, chemical experiments, aerodynamic planes, and strong structures by using architectural principles.

This project is a clear example of how we are addressing tomorrow’s problems today. All this was provided by the Foundation’s generous contributions from people like you.

Tonight, I say thank you for doing to other children as you would like to be done to your own children. The Foundation’s purpose and mission is a reflection of the wonderful values that are conducive to having a sustainable democracy and the teamwork found in supporting leadership from within communities.

I end tonight with a quote from Cesar Chavez that has become the foundation of our outreach worldview:
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about the progress and prosperity for our own community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” 

Thank you again for your generosity and service to our community.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Perspective-Taking through class "Pinwheel" activity

In previous work in Emily Mikuzis’ senior English 101 class, her students worked on exemplification—making a claim and supporting it with examples rather than reasoned evidence.  In this case, students are using the guiding question “To what extent has your education served you?” with examples from their own experience.

To prepare for this lesson students read and annotated an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” which focuses on his experience in education—specifically compliance versus critical thinking.  Students prepared by annotating form 4 different perspectives, color-coding each: urban student, suburban student, urban teacher, suburban teacher. 

They used Coates’ description of his neighborhood for the experience with urban schools and their own experiences with suburban schools.  Understanding that this pulls on some biases, the class had a conversation on empathy, per  While this is a limitation of the activity, the class talked through the nuances of each, handling it compassionately.  For example, one student pointed out that just because someone has a certain identity, it doesn’t mean they only have one perspective or a common perspective. 

Students worked independently first, then in small like-groups, then together in a “pinwheel” activity [from Sarah Wessling on the Teachers’Channel].   One member of each “perspective” sat in the “hot seat” and answered questions posed by the “provocateur,” who had prepared based on a question writing workshop held by the whole class on the previous day.  Therefore, groups were aware of some of the questions, but they could not prepare for all.  In the “pinwheel,” the provocateur also asked follow-up questions to continue and push the conversation.  Students referenced the text directly but also made inferences based on their perspective.  This is a much smaller group discussion than a Socratic with only 6 students in the group to encourage all students to participate while the outer group participated in a real-time backchannel on

After class students debriefed.  Students expressed the difficulty in looking through others’ perspective, but they also appreciated that it slowed them down, forcing themselves to rethink what they would say.  They also really liked the backchannel because they could speak from their own life perspective and experiences, which allowed them a comfortable place to share.  In the end they felt it helped them take different perspectives in addition to simply analyzing what the text means.  After this practice activity, students will return to this activity in a few weeks, focusing on multiple authors and putting them “in conversation with each other.”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

One Year in AP: the first assessment (Week Three)

By Mark Heintz


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 down right 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 see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along in the journey.

Week Three 

This week marked the end of the first unit and the beginning of the next.  The first unit is only two weeks and will provide me with important feedback on which students will need extra support. Also, the unit will help me understand how much instruction I will need to dedicate to working with documents and writing.  Every year my take away from the first unit is to do more documents and more writing. This year was no different.  You can read how last week went here.

Answer the Question

This week's plan entailed an assessment of the first unit with a reflection piece, and then shifting into the second unit. The purpose the second unit is:

The goal of this week was to have the students reflect on the first unit, to be able to write a thesis statement for the long essay, and master some of the religions content.

Cite Specific Evidence
Several moments I captured on video of the student reflecting on the first unit were very revealing. The clips reveal examples of students who were able to identify specifically what  they knew from the first unit and what they need to work on skill-wise. Listen to the conversations between the students as they look through their work.

  • Self assessment and peer assessment on the content portion of the test

  • Self assessment in writing

The students excelled at the reflection.  I needed more time than I allotted to get through all of the questions.

Explanation of the Evidence 

The students need more help with writing.  I knew that, but it was great to see that they knew that! It might sound terrible that they weren't successful in the skill, but it was more important to me that they were still successful in my goal of being able to identify what they know and don't know. I, too, learned where they are with their progress and now I can make appropriate adjustments to my instruction and to tailor support for individual students. Reflecting on their current understanding is the key to progress; and at this point in the year, that is far more important than their current grade.

I feel that the students are making progress towards mastery. I wanted to ensure they knew that their grade is in progress and it will change in the positive direction throughout time as we march through the class and grow our abilities.  

Reflection and Impact

Wow! This has really changed my instruction.  I have limited the amount of documents we go through at a time so I can ensure the students master it.  Furthermore, we started working on thesis statements.  I originally was going to only spend one day on the thesis this week and come back to it next week. However, I spent the remainder of the week on thesis statements and am still going strong into the next week.  I need to keep things simple, small, and ensure mastery.  Hope to have you read next week! 

Read week four here.