November 16, 2011
Exploring Assessment: Oral Summative
I find assessment to be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching. Since I began student teaching, I have been experimenting with various types of summative and formative assessments. The following sample is one attempt at refining my practice.
I think a standard written exam is more beneficial to the teacher than a learner. The teacher has concrete evidence of the student's progress and can use this evidence in a formative way in her future lesson planning. The student, however, is stuck with a piece of paper which they may not want to see again, if the grade is bad, or may not feel the need to see again, if the grade is good. Whereas valuable skills of time management, historical writing, analysis, and critical thought should all have been employed in producing a written response, the student is hardly aware of their progress in these skills because the teacher's response to them is summarized in a rather detached letter grade.
Whereas I do not intend to completely give up written assessments, I decided to take advantage of Ruth's presence and expertise and your, dear cohort, feedback to try something different and assess the students orally.
These were my goals:
- To provide the students with an opportunity to speak intelligently about history for a substantial (or so did the two allotted minutes appeared to be) time period.
- To encourage the students to speak in a structured manner and support their arguments with evidence.
- To provide the students with a sense of agency in their learning process by asking them to create assessment questions in the form of a study guide.
- To use technology while creating a study guide and uploading it on the web.
- To try to break the anxiety barrier between the teacher and the student. I'm not that scary. C'mon.
- To assess students' understanding of the unit and its essential question.
The class before the assessment was dedicated to creating a study guide. The students were divided into groups of two. They were asked to generate a list of five essential questions and five essential understandings for a specific section of the unit. I deliberately used the language of EQs to check for students' understanding of the term: since I write an essential question before each class, I wanted to make sure the students fully understood the concept and its utility in organizing information.
Here is a list of questions the students generated in one section of the class:
- Explain the difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide
- Why were the Armenians used as a scapegoat by the Turks?
- What were Ataturk’s man goals?
- What were Reza Shah’s main goals and how did he differ from Ataturk?
- What are the effects of the oil industry in Saudi Arabia?
- Why was Palestine so controversial and how did the Balfour Declaration influence the outcome?
- Why did Africans expect that Europeans would give them independence?
- What are the pros and cons of colonization?
- Some colonial powers made reforms, were they successful? Why or why not?
- What was “Pan-Africanism” and what was its significance
- What was Guerrilla Warfare?
- Why did the revolution in Russia inspire others to fight for their beliefs?
- What is Comintern and what did it establish?
- Who was Ho Chi Minh and what influence did he have on Vietnam?
- Who was Gandhi and what did he push for?
- What was civil disobedience and how did Gandhi use it?
- What is Zaibatsu and how did it affect the economy of Japan?
- What was the reason for the Nationalist and Communist parties to create an alliance in China?
- What was the significance of the Long March and what kind of warfare did they use?
- Who are Mao and Chiang Kai-Shek and what were their goals and beliefs?
- What was the majority of China's population like? (education, wealth)
- How did the Nationalist Party break up from the Communist Party in China?
- How did Latin American countries make most of their profits?
- How was the U.S. involved in Latin American economy?
- What were the effects of the Great Depression on Latin American economy?
- What kind of political regime did most Latin American countries have?
Before the end of the class, the students uploaded their questions on the class's website to be used as a review guide. I explained that the assessment's questions would be drawn from the study guide, and the students, although nervous, responded well to the idea of being the conductors of their own test process.
The next day was the assessment day. I cut up the review guide into strips of paper with a question on each. I folded the strips and put them into a basket. To make matters even more exciting, I put one blank "SURPRISE!" strip into the basket and explained that whoever would draw it would need to speak with me about any subject of her choice and would receive an automatic "A" for the exam. The chances of getting the blank paper were 1/26 in one section and 1/24 in the other. Nobody drew the surprise strip in the first section; the last girl to draw the question out of the basket drew it in the second class, to much excitement of everybody invlolved.
After the questions had been drawn, the students spent ten minutes consulting their notes and study guides in preparation. I told them they could take notes when they prepared their answers but would not be able to use them while talking with me.
In addition to the question the students pulled out of the basket, they were asked to reply to the essential question of Unit 2, which was: "Is there always a nation in nationalism?" In their responses, they were asked to connect the essential question with the question from the study guide.
These were the grading criteria sheets each student received:
Accuracy of information ______________________ out of 10 points.
Examples (at least 2) ______________________ out of 10 points.
Eye contact ______________________ out of 10 points.
Coherence of arguments ______________________ out of 10 points.
Response to Unit 2 EQ ______________________ out of 10 points.
At the end her exam, I asked each student to assess herself. Then I filled out the grading criteria, and we compared our scores.
These are the average scores for the assessment:
50 out of 50 in Group 1
46 out of 50 in Group 2
Although I believe the scores were an accurate representation of the students' degree of preparedness for the oral assessment, I do not think they fully reflect student proficiency in the content of the unit. Thus, here are my questions:
- Were my grading criteria too loose?
- Should I have used a written component as part of the assessment?
- Should I have used a more formal component, like multiple-choice questions, which the students would have done without consulting their books?
- Was the assessment an adequate way to finish the unit?
- Should I have graded the group work of the previous day, when the students generated their study guides? And if I should have, what criteria should I have used? I'm not sure how to assess the quality of essential questions, and I don’t think introducing Bloom's Revised Taxonomy would have done the trick…
I believe the students practiced and demonstrated important skills while preparing for the exam, and I believe they have met the goals I had set. But the grades look inflated, and I'm not sure what I could have done to avoid that.
The next day, I asked the students to respond to three questions in their entrance tickets. The questions were:
- Did the assessment teach you any valuable skills?
- Why, do you think, we did it?
- Shall we do it again? Do you have any suggestions?
Here are their responses.
Did the assessment teach you any valuable skills?
- The assessment did teach me valuable skills, instead of just memorizing and spitting back information we were able to talk about it and observe different points of view.
- Yes, public speaking skills.
- It taught me how to speak about history.
- Yes, it taught me new skills, one was how to back up my argument with examples or reasoning.
- Yes, it taught me skills like thinking on my feet and being able to explain the significance of the topic that we went over in class and getting to connect it back to the unit essential question. It wasn't very nerve-racking; it was worth it. It gave me practice for real life.
- Sort of.
- The oral assessment did teach me how to use correct vocabulary. It was not worth being nervous about, however, because we've been taught and learned about these things many times before the assessment.
- They taught me how to make better eye contact and come up with supporting ideas for my opinions when I am talking to someone face-to-face and not just writing like we usually do. It felt like an interview, and it prepared me better to have proper conversation. It wasn't it to be nervous.
- Yes, the assessment taught me to make eye contact and to relax. It was worth being nervous about because I got a great grade and it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.
- Yes, it taught me how to explain things and talk in front of someone.
- I think the preparation for the oral assessment taught the most, not only about the material itself but about how to give simple yet complete responses.
- The oral assessment did teach me good skills. It taught me how easy it was to speak one on one with a teacher. It was not worth being nervous about at all. It was quick and easy.
- Yes, it taught me to keep eye contact! It was not worth getting worked up about, it was very easy.
- I didn't participate in the oral assessment, but it is important to practice speaking in awkward situations because it is an important skill to have.
- I thought the oral assessment taught me how to formulate my thoughts and opinions in an easy way. It was not something to get nervous about because we studied beforehand. I enjoyed expressing my opinion and I thought it was very helpful to have the oral assessment.
- I didn't learn any new skills but I was able to practice some old skills during the oral assessment, which helped me improve these previously learned skills.
- I can't tell if it gave me good skills because it's the same speaking and organizing skills as debate. It wasn't worth getting nervous about but I can't help but get nervous.
- The oral assessment taught me to look people in the eye and say what I know. This was worth getting nervous about.
Why, do you think, we did it?
- To be able to talk about reasons and topics and points of view instead of simply answering short questions. History doesn't consist of short-answer questions, it consists of people communicating and sharing knowledge.
- To bring a new kind of assessment to our minds, to change things up.
- I think we did this assessment because even though we only had to answer one question, we had to be familiar with all the topics because we didn't know what question we would get.
- I think we did this so that it would be more one-on-one and so that we wouldn't be nervous in front of the whole class.
- I think that we did this assignment to challenge ourselves in coming up with an answer to a certain topic to see how well we could openly talk about historical ideas and connect them back to a bigger picture.
- To see how well you have been teaching and for you to see how much information we can collect and study and then present in a short period of time.
- We did it to test public speaking skills and to prove to us that talking is not that hard.
- I think we did the assessment because you wanted to see how well we can have structured ideas and thoughts and present them to you properly. I think you wanted to see how well we react when talking and not just writing.
- I think we did this assessment in place of playing jeopardy. It was a new way to review material we have learned. Also, it taught me great skills.
- I think we had an oral assessment because you wanted to see if we knew what we were talking about and if we were able to put it into words.
- I think we had an oral assessment because it is a direct way for the teacher to see how well we are doing.
- I think we had an oral assessment because you could tell how much we did and didn't know.
- We had an oral assessment so we could experience an one-on-one situation, esp. b/c my generation is so bad at 'in person' conversation.
- Same as #1, speaking is important for college/job interviews, and it is important to get practice.
- I think we had an oral assessment because you want to know our true opinions and answers on different topics. I also think having an oral assessment helps you really think about the question.
- I think we had an oral assessment to think further about the topics we learned and to get more practice in some skills.
- I think we had an oral assessment so we can learn not to depend on others or their notes to learn what we need to focus on while taking notes.
- To prove that we have retained the information you have taught instead of repeating it back.
Shall we do it again? Do you have any suggestions?
- Yes, you should do it again. One suggestion would be having the door closed. A large contribution to the stress was having your classmates listen in.
- Yes, it was fun and simple. No grading oneself.
- I think we should do it again because it was a good way to wrap up the chapter. I don't think we should do it for every chapter, though, because I would miss jeopardy.
- Yes, I actually prefer this to jeopardy. Although jeopardy is nice, I feel intimidated and put on the spot a little. This is good for me, but doing more of these would be nice too.
- No, I do not have any suggestions. I think the timing was fair (1 minute) and it helped to gain a bigger understanding of the chapter.
- No, we shouldn't because some people found themselves being put on the spot. I would rather play jeopardy or do a short open-note handout where the questions are there for us to answer.
- Yes, it was nice. But I think everyone should have a minimum of 3 min/2 min and that's it. Also, get 5-10 minutes to study before the first person goes.
- No suggestions because the exercise prepared me to have structured conversations with teachers and prepared us for how to act in an interview.
- Yes, I think we should do it again because I enjoy the formal way of being assessed as opposed to playing jeopardy. Perhaps a good balance of both would be great.
- Yes, I thought it was a fair way to see if people had paid attention and to see where everyone was.
- I think we should do it again because it is an easy, non-stressful way to get a grade.
- Yes, we should do this again because it helped me learn more and actually retain what I learned.
- I like the oral exam/assessment we took, and I think we should have one again.
- Even though it was uncomfortable for a lot of people, it was good practice so we should do it again.
- Yes, I think we should have another oral quiz because it really helps me understand the topic and I like expressing my opinion.
- Yes, I think we should. It helps you practice previously learned skills and improve on them, and you get an overview of the topics.
- No, because I am not a fan of speaking and getting graded because I forget what I am going to say.
- Yes, we should. In my opinion, it is easier that the test.
Overall, I believe the assessment was a successful and important learning exercise. It was integral to the students' learning and provided them with an unconventional way of demonstrating their skills, which would be important in their future academic studies and in life in general. I hope to improve upon it and use it in the future.
November 1, 2011
I have watched the video of my teaching at least 15 times by now. At first, I watched it to make sure my annoying idiosyncrasies have not disappeared since the summer. Then I watched it to pay attention to the flow of the discussion and absorb what the students had to say. Finally, I watched it to observe my practice. The latter was the most difficult exercise.
I was filmed on Friday, October 21st, during our class on current affairs. That day, we began talking about women's impact on history. The lesson's essential question was: "What is our power makeup?" The essential understandings were:
- Students will be able to articulate some gender stereotypes.
- Students will be able to explain why gender stereotyping is damaging and incorrect.
We began the class with an entrance ticket, which I asked the girls to share with the class. The prompt was to describe a time when the students felt most powerful as girls. Five minutes later, the girls read their responses, and although I wrote their answers down, I am glad I have them video-recorded, too: it was very interesting to go back and watch not only what was said but also the reaction of the rest of the class. Even though the cases of empowerment were very specific, the rest of the class seemed to relate to them: the girls agreed and cheered when others described feeling powerful while beating boys at a sport, getting better grades than boys, or winning in a debate.
After the entrance tickets were shared, we watched a short video clip, called A Slip of the Tongue (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6061551977859737596#). It is a piece of poetry, written and recited by a man and reenacted by a young man and a young woman. I asked the girls to consider two questions as they were watching the video, which I showed on a slide before I played the movie for the first time and repeated before we watched it the second time. The first time we watched the movie, the girls were fascinated by the speed of its presentation and its humorous aspects: they giggled and talked back. The second time, however, was different as the content of the message was sinking in.
Then we had a discussion. I asked the girls to answer the two questions I had asked them to consider:
- What is her sisters’ ethnic makeup?
- Why has rejection never sounded so sweet?
When the two questions were answered, I asked the girls to talk about gender stereotypes. Then we discussed why society approaches male and female promiscuity with different standards. The reason for this conversation was formed some time before when I observed the girls in their English class. They were talking about All Quiet on the Western Front, and the teacher asked them to imagine themselves as the French girls who were willing to sell their bodies to German soldiers for a loaf of bread. Two girls in that class, who are also my students, made a comment that struck me. They said that they saw nothing wrong with the behavior of male German soldiers, because "guys will always be guys;" the French girls, on the other hand, behaved in an absolutely inappropriate manner, which made them, as my students decided, "slutty." I thought it was important to bring this conversation back and discuss it in the light of stereotypes and power.
Here are some of the most memorable comments made as a result of this conversation:
- Women have high expectations for themselves because "they are supposed to be these statues of perfection, and they can't slip up." Thus, when one of their kind falls off the pedestal, they are very harsh in their judgment.
- The reason for double standards is in the fact that women can get pregnant.
- "Women are supposed to appear pure. For men, it's not a concern if they appear pure as long as they are strong. And then it became a cultural thing, when sleeping around made a woman not pure but made a guy seem strong. And this is why there is a double standard: it's negative for a woman but positive for a man."
- "When boys see you, they usually judge you on how you look. So you want to look presentable. I don't think they care too much about your personality, at first."
- "When you are with boys, you are stereotyped. Then you want to look like a typical girl. I have my makeup on, my hair is down – I'm a typical girl. But that means that we stereotype ourselves by giving the boys what's acceptable."
- "If we ever went to a co-ed school, we would never act like that."
- "You want to look good…Unless you want to end up with an ugly boy…Because the ugly ones are the only ones who care about your personality."
I think the conversation was incredibly enlightening. But here is my big caveat: What did it accomplish? We talked about stereotypes, but I cannot make the girls stop believing in them. We talked about double standards and decided that they are unjust, but the girls still hold on to them. We talked about girls' power and decided that it is more than appearance, but the 7th comment above, at which the girls laughed and with which they almost unanimously agreed, shows that our internal strength and beauty do not matter, unless you "want to end up with an ugly boy." What did I teach, then? I have been trying to answer this question for over a week now. Was providing the girls with a platform, from which they could share their ideas, enough? Should I have been more aggressive in our conversation and insisted on my beliefs in gender equality? I thought I would save my personal beliefs for another time, treating that first discussion as a diagnostic assessment of where the girls stood in terms of their own values. I most certainly learned a lot from them, but did I teach them anything that day?
October 25, 2011
Teacher Research Presentation: Progress Report
I knew what I would want to research for my TRP when I saw somebody's presentation almost a year ago during the event for admitted students. When I learned that I would have a chance to focus on one methodology and record the process of its implication in my practice, I thought it would be my great chance to examine the benefits of using fairy tales in a history classroom. I have regularly used fairy tales during my time as a teacher before the MAT program, and I found them to be a highly effective vehicle for delivering big and challenging ideas, but I wanted to back my empirical finds with theoretical and statistical evidence.
Then began the process of determining what subject-specific skills I would like my students to improve through the use of fairy tales. My first inclination was to focus on critical thinking. My mentor and I discussed the cognitive development, which occurs in most adolescents transitioning from 9th to 10th grades: they move from concrete thinking to a more abstract thought process. I thought fairy tales may assist my students as they try to climb up the ladder of Bloom's taxonomy towards higher analytical skills. Upon reflection, I decided my focus was too broad.
I narrowed it down and decided to focus on the use of fairy tales in teaching critical thinking in historical writing. At the beginning of the year, I gave the students a diagnostic assessment to determine their writing patterns. I asked the students to analyze, using historical examples, two quotes from All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque, which they were reading in their English class. We were studying World War I at the time, and I wanted the students to transfer knowledge from their English class into History as they manipulated familiar language themes with support of historical evidence. I graded the students' performance using the SAT Timed Essay Rubric. The average score the students received for this assignment was 24 out of 30 (80%). A week later, I asked the students to analyze Cinderella and compare its characters to key participants in World War I and the Russian Revolution. I used the same rubric to grade the students' work, and the average score they received was 29 out of 30 (97%).
When I saw how significantly student writing improved, I thought I would be interested in researching reasons why a fairy tale format was an effective way of teaching analytical writing skills. After some reading, I discovered that one possible explanation of the increase in student performance was the growth of students' academic self-efficacy: because the text was familiar, students' higher expectancy for success had a positive effect on their self-efficacy. As a result, I decided to shift my focus from using fairy tales to teach critical thinking in writing to the use of fairy tales in enhancing self-efficacy in analytical writing. As I was contemplating the shift, I had an experience, which made me realize that self-efficacy and academic confidence were pivotal values that needed to be taught in the environment where I currently work. I did some research of available literature and am still interested in pursuing this subject further.
I do, however, have some reservations about my TRP. First of all, because I cannot measure self-efficacy, it cannot be a focal point of my research. Instead, I want to ask my students to write an annotated fairy tale as part of their final semester assessment. It will have a hidden meaning and will include the historical themes we studied in the course of the semester. This way, I can trace the growth of their analytical writing skills, and student progress is measurable. Simultaneously, I can talk about self-efficacy as one of the factors which had a positive effect on the students' performance as I make a connection between the growth in academic performance and the use of familiar children's fiction.
My second reservation is that people may view my choice of teaching methodology as overly simplistic and monochromatic. In response to this criticism, I am ready to refer to Lemov's "hook" in establishing connections and Wiggin's and McTighe's "knowledge transfer" as a high pedagogical aspiration. I believe fairy tales attract students' academic attention and assist in the process of transfer. I also think that accessible allegories of fairy tales contribute to a growth in self-efficacy, which becomes apparent when I compare student performance in analyzing Remarque and Cinderella.
My TRP is an evolving work. I have not looked at it as a chore I need to perform in order to graduate. Instead, I have been collecting data while I teach as I have been trying to teach as well as I can, and even though I am still working on wording my title or defining the areas I would like to address, I think my TRP has a strong potential.
October 11, 2011
I must begin my reflection by separating the two types of text I ask the students to read: the textbook and primary sources.
1.1. The most frequent reading the students do for the class comes from the textbook. Until today, I did not do any work to ensure the girls' access to the text prior to their reading. The students are supposed to have read half of the textbook we are currently using in their past history classes, and I counted their successful completing of last year's course as an indication that the text is generally accessible. Today we started a new unit, and it turned out that the students could not get to my homework page over the weekend; because they were unprepared for the class, I had to change my lesson plan on the spot to accommodate for this unexpected and unprecedented event. As a result, I deviated from the routine and ensured the students can access the text by reading it with them while modeling note-taking on the board.
1.2. Note-taking is a skill I have been emphasizing this semester, and I have been modeling note-taking on the board every day since I began teaching. While reading from the textbook, the students are always asked to take notes, which they can later use in various formative and summative assessments. I have had a cursory look at students' notes as I circulated during writing assignments, and the notes looked satisfactorily detailed. Yet a feedback comment I received from a student last Thursday made me think I need to pay more attention to both note-taking and how it leads to better reading comprehension. The comment said: "I really like how you try to make class interesting but sometimes I would like to talk more about the individual things in the reading so I can understand more about how they all fit together as a whole for when we have things to do in class and at home." So in addition to talking about my EQs' arch on Friday to explain the logical progression of our classes, I introduced the Cornell System for Note-Taking today, and we took notes as a class as we went through the reading together.
1.3. After the reading, the students participate in question-and-answer discussions; analyze other sources using the information they received from the textbook (one writing assignment asked the students to analyze two quotes from Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, which they are currently reading in their English class, and support their analysis with concrete examples they learned from history); and perform in summative assessments (they played a jeopardy game at the end of the unit and participated in a mock trial of Nicholas II and William II).
2. Primary sources.
2.1. We had our first current affairs class last Friday, during which the students were asked to read and prepare to discuss a New York Times article. Prior to their reading, I asked the students to participate in a whip-around anticipation questionnaire: I asked them to tell me if they believed killing was ethical. 20 students said it was not, 5 students said that it depended on the circumstances. Then I asked the students to read an article about a woman, who was acquitted of a murder of her abusive husband. After the students finished reading, I repeated my question. 13 students said the killing can be ethical.
2.2. While reading the article, the students were asked to provide responses to four questions, which ranged from the level of "Understanding" to the level of "Evaluating" in Bloom's taxonomy and which I gave them as a handout. I did not collect the responses and explained to the students that the questions were intended to assist their comprehension and give them guidance in the subsequent discussion.
2.3. After the reading, the students participated in a student-led discussion while I sat back and took notes. It was a deliberate discussion and our first discussion of this kind. The students began by answering the last question off the handout, and after everyone contributed to the whip, the students began making connection between the article, the question of morality, and what they had been learning in class. I am happy to report that Drake and Nelson would be proud of my girls! The students avoided ungrounded blather, there was no debate competitiveness, and they became truly involved "in reasoning and choice." (Drake 161) Since Drake and Nelson believe that "[t]he choice, or decision, students make regarding their position on issues occurs subsequent to the discussion of a number of historical sources," (Drake 161) I am wondering if our preceding discussions might have laid a foundation for Friday's success.
October 4, 2011
The CC9 parents of New York City began organizing to demand educational reform in their school district not because of students' math proficiency, lack of access to better facilities, or a deep sense of social injustice, but because 70% of their kids did not read at a grade level. When I was teaching my lessons yesterday, I realized that I could not approach my lesson objectives nor lead the students towards answering the essential question because there was a vocabulary gap we needed to close before the students could advance in their learning. Thus, when I was reading chapters from Kylene Beers' When Kids Can't Read: What Teachers Can Do and Marzano's Building Academic Background Knowledge through Direct Vocabulary Instruction, I was both reminded about the pressing need to teach vocabulary in any academic setting and inspired by the suggestions the authors offer.
I plan on emphasizing key vocabulary terms in each unit of my instruction. They are conceptual words, which are crucial for both the content I teach and the essential questions I ask. Without these words, students' familiarity with the subject will not deepen to the level of knowledge and understanding. Below is the list of conceptual words for the unit I am currently finishing on World War I and the Russian Revolution:
- total war
- trench warfare
- war of attrition
The first instance of students' contact with these words occurred through the textbook reading I assigned as their homework. The words were described (not defined) in the text, and some of the students wrote these descriptions down as part of their note-taking (the students have been asked to take notes on their reading from the first day of school). Then, to make sure everybody understood these concepts, I asked the students to describe them as they occurred in our classroom learning. The students were asked to write down their own descriptions or definitions after they were provided in class orally. To make sure the students retained this knowledge, I used the words in our daily questions-and-answers sessions: whenever I used a specific word, I asked somebody to tell me what it meant. In the second week of the unit, the students received a handout, which I plan to use as the semester progresses. It was created by Ruth Macaulay; it is called "The Over-worked Lincoln Student's Guide to the 'isms,'" and it lists, describes, and illustrates the key ideology terms of the 20th century. The students were asked to read and annotate it (the practice of annotation is common at Lincoln, and the students use it on a daily basis in their English classes). Finally, during the summative assessment today, in the game of historic jeopardy, one column of the questions the students needed to answer was dedicated to the conceptual words they had learned in the unit.
In comparison with most of the students I taught in the past, my current students' vocabulary skills are rather strong: they correctly use words like "hubris" and know how to spell the past form of the verb "to lead." However, language mastery is not ubiquitous in my classroom. To help less confident students, I began using the SAT Timed Essay Rubric three weeks ago, and it has been successful in letting the students understand their strengths and weaknesses. Vocabulary proficiency is one of the categories on which the students are graded. I plan on using the rubric in the future, as I plan on continuing to ask for descriptions of conceptual words. To improve my practice, I plan to use more graphic organizers. I am also very interested in logographic cues, and I plan to use them to see if they will meet my students' needs.
September 25, 2011
When I began planning my first unit of instruction this semester, I was mindful of the lessons I learned over the summer. I started with the end: I tried to clearly articulate what I wanted the student to know by the end of the unit, and I decided to make regular assessments an integrated component of my instruction. Essential questions were of crucial importance in my planning process. Here is an arc of my essential questions for the unit:
Lesson 1. How does one analyze primary visual sources?
Lesson 2. What were the main reasons behind global political instability in the early 1900s? What effects did industrialization have on modern warfare? Why was World War I the first global conflict in history?
Lesson 3. What qualities made WWI a unique and first global conflict?
Lesson 4. What is the cost of technological progress?
Lesson 5. Why wasn't "the war to end all wars" able to achieve its goal?
Lesson 6. Why in Russia? Why a revolution?
Lesson 7. What were the key ideas behind the Russian Revolution and the course of its events?
Lesson 8. What is the role of individuals in history?
Lesson 9. Can political leaders be ethical leaders too?
Looking at the questions analytically, I realize that despite the breadth of some of them (the components of Question 2 are impossible to even superficially address in the 50 minutes of my class time) and the intentionally poor grammar of others (we discussed why the language of Question 6 is academically questionable), my essential questions follow a cognitive arc I was trying to establish. They start off with Levels I and II of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy: remembering and understanding are emphasized at the early stages of the unit. As the students acquire content competence, the questions escalate to Levels III and IV: during Lessons 4 and 5, the students are asked to analyze the cost of World War I and apply their knowledge of war technology to other situations. When a new subject of the Russian Revolution is introduced, the focus of the questions shifts back to the first two levels of Bloom's taxonomy. The unit ends with two questions, which tie the themes together and require the students to evaluate and create (Levels V and VI of Bloom's taxonomy).
I think that this arc serves two major goals. First of all, it builds a scaffold of both skill and content competence. Secondly, it is designed "to effectively frame our content goals" (Wiggins 107), and because prioritizing content is a particular area where I would like to improve my teaching practice, I abide by the guidance the essential questions provide. Further in the chapter, Wiggins and McTighe implore: "Instead of thinking of content as stuff to be covered, consider knowledge and skill as the means of addressing questions central to understanding key issues in your subject." (Wiggins 107) I believe that if I continue applying Bloom's taxonomy to my essential questions as I prioritize content, I will be able to create a congruent relationship between content and skills while remaining focused.
The classroom culture we have established since the beginning of the year is that of an open conversation. I plan my lessons around direct student participation, and I try to keep the students involved during both the student-centered activities and during the teacher-centered DTPs. The students are respectful of others' opinions and engage in active listening by responding to what their classmate said before them. I try to model asking questions that "burst through the boundaries of the topic" (Wiggins 106); frequently, students awe me with the depth of their own inquiries.
To enable constructive discussions, certain things needed to be in place. When we talked about students' expectations of the class as a group, 29 student recommendations were submitted. 9 recommendations had "learning together" as the key expectation for the whole class; 9 recommendations mentioned "respect;" 6 suggestions emphasized "collaboration;" and the final 5 highlighted "participation in discussion." It is obvious from student responses, that mutual respect is as important to the students as the learning process they are engaged in; the daily discussion we have in class would be impossible had respect not been of such a value to the students. At the same time, the emphasis on discussions solidifies respect in students' academic performance.
As far as current events are concerned, it so happens that "one day a week [is, indeed,] reserved for students to examine current events form a global perspective" (Kirkwood-Tucker). On Fridays starting next week, the students will be asked to choose a current event they would like to discuss and present it to the class. I really like Kirkwood-Tucker's idea of grouping students into news teams with various roles assigned to them and plan to implement it in the future. The main challenge I envision while teaching current events, which has prevented me from beginning our weekly discussions earlier, is making room for such "textbook diversions" in my lesson plans. When I planned my first unit, I was not sure how I can connect the history we are studying with the history that is happening now in a comprehensive way. Now I realize that the connection will be easy to make through essential questions. And if I am "serious…about the question being pursued" (Wiggins 112), I will be able to solidify the significance of my essential questions with both current and past events.
September 21, 2011
In addition to pondering over my lesson plans, contemplating assessments, and focusing on my ideas for the TRP, I have been thinking this week about equality in education. The more exposure I receive to teaching and the more I talk to my colleagues who work in various academic environments, the more I realize that democracy in education may be as elusive as the American dream I tried to capture upon my arrival in this country. Bauer's articles reminded me of the "Matthew Effect," which we discussed in the summer. The impact of the "Matthew Effect" on literacy is described in Making Content Comprehensible for Secondary English Learners: The SIOP Model:
"Traditionally, to meet the needs of students who struggled with grade-level reading materials, texts have been rewritten according to readability formulae or lexile levels…The adapted texts included controlled vocabulary and a limited number of concepts, resulting in the omission of critical pieces of information…The result is that the 'rich get richer and the poor get poorer.'" (Echevarria 26)
Although the above quote talks about the attitudes encountered by English-language learners, there are many parallels between experiences shared by students with disabilities and non-native speakers as both groups attempt to assert their right to quality education, in which teachers "slow down instruction when needed and clearly explain concepts and assignments," the kind of education from which "everyone could learn." (Bauer 140)
Although there has been some progress in trying to transform general education into a more democratic and inclusive of diverse abilities structure, I feel like the current academic environment is far from perfect in regard to recognizing students with disabilities. Bauer writes: "The IEP has been called 'the heart and soul of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act'…and the 'corner stone of special education'…Yet, the IEP process is sometimes described by teachers as useless, time consuming, threatening, and pointless." (Bauer 193) I do not teach students who are entitled to IEPs, and I have never taught such students in the past. I have provided students with peer note takers; I worked closely with tutors; I recommended voice recognition software and pens that translate handwriting into a typed digital text; I supported my lessons with graphic organizers and gave countless extensions on timed tests. That was the extent of my past knowledge about learning differences. Although I am currently teaching three students with learning disabilities – they all require extended time during tests and additional explanations upon request, – I have never seen an IEP or participated in a conversation which determined what an IEP should look like for individual learning needs. The learning environments in which I have worked were always academically challenging and exclusive: the rich got richer, and the poor could not get in…
But despite this relative, artificially created homogeneity of abilities, I am trying to diversify my teaching methodology to emphasize the Universal Design "of objects, environments, and activities so that they are able to be used by all individuals, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptations or modifications." (Bauer 140) I believe that the key principles of Universal Design both facilitate comprehension for students with learning difficulties and make lessons more effective for the rest of the class. I provide "multiple representations of content to learners" (Bauer 142) when I plan visual (pictures, graphic organizers, video clips), auditory (music), kinetic (stand-up-sit-down), and textual (fairy tales) activities. I intend to allow for "multiple options for expression" (Bauer 142) when I let students choose from a variety of media (video, PowerPoint, slide show, written text, theatrical performance) in their formative assessments. And I work on "providing multiple options for engagement" (Bauer 142) on a daily basis: I attempt to create a challenging and engaging learning environment while supporting students' learning skills and recognizing their areas of strength and weakness.
Whereas I try to differentiate my lessons to make them effective for heterogeneous learning styles on a daily basis, I find building self-efficacy to be a much more challenging task to accomplish. Santiago Baca's suggestions of providing challenges is very appealing to me: I tend to talk to my students assuming that they can respond to me in an educated and mature manner as I challenge their thinking with educated and mature subjects. In the past, students told me that I helped them to believe in their abilities. And even today, after receiving a less than perfect score for her rubric-graded assignment, a student told me that I had helped her understand where her strengths were and where she needed to improve as she thanked me for my constructive feedback. Yet, when I think about self-efficacy and the phenomenal "potency of one's beliefs about the self" (Baca 31), I wonder if a teacher who was not raised to see herself as capable can foster self-efficacy in her students.
September 14, 2011
I must begin my first weekly reflection with an expression of continuous appreciation of Wiggins' and McTighe's Understanding by Design. Their work is a true treasury of great teaching ideas. I mark pages as I read to make sure I can go back and put their suggestions to use, and many of my questions have been answered as I learn from the authors' expertise. Besides, I get truly inspired by the quotes they use at the opening of each chapter: I don't think any historian can remain impartial to Kierkegaard's take on retrospect: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards;" (Wiggins 56) and because it must, I proceed forward with it.
Although I only begin teaching on Thursday, I have been preparing lesson and unit plans for some time already. In my plans, I follow the model set by Wiggins and McTighe and reinstated by Lemov:
"Great lessons begin with planning, and specifically with effective unit planning: planning a sequence of objectives, one or possibly two for each lesson, over an extended period of time (say, six weeks). Unit planning means methodically asking how one day's lesson builds off the previous day's, prepares for the next day's, and how these fit into a larger sequence of objectives that lead to mastery." (Lemov 58-59)
I have been thinking about the focus of the entire semester before I begin planning individual lessons as I attempt to articulate and refine an overreaching objective and a conceptual essential question. My semester objective is to teach and support critical thinking in discussions, writing, and reading assignments. My semester essential question is "Is it necessary to experience a global conflict to desire global peace?"
The semester essential understandings, set by the existing curriculum, are:
1. The twentieth century crises:
a) War and revolution, 1914-1919;
b) Nationalism and colonialism around the world (Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America, USA);
c) The search for world stability, 1919-1939 (the Great Depression; Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin);
d) World War II.
2. Cold War and post-war challenges 1945-1970.
In order to keep assessment integral to student learning, I have been thinking of various ways of seamlessly incorporating it into my lesson plans. Wiggins' and McTighe's "Six facets to build assessments for understanding" and Bloom's Taxonomy, the levels of which I find rather similar to Wiggins' and McTighe's criteria for real understanding, have been very helpful with this task (Wiggins 163-164).
Here is the structure of my assessments as I envision it at the moment.
a) Daily: entrance/exit tickets; discussion participation; daily question-and-answer sessions on the assigned reading; interpretations of written, visual, and auditory primary sources.
b) Weekly: "living" portfolio of homework and class work.
c) Once a semester: a research paper, centered on the given theme (Revolution, Reaction, and Reform) and supported by the content studied in the course of the semester, to take part in the National History Day.
a) Unit jeopardy games.
b) Written and oral presentation.
c) Written and oral exams.
Both types of assessments will be used for diagnostic purposes, and I have already begun compiling students' work to make sure I can have a solid record of their progress. I will use this evidence of student learning when I create lesson and unit plans; I will be better prepared to differentiate instruction and prioritize content while aiming to answer the semester essential question and meet its objective.
On a slightly different note, I have also been thinking about the diagram, created by Wiggins and McTighe, on clarifying content priorities (Wiggins 71). I modified their nested ovals into a pyramid, and I see my teaching as a movement from its top to the bottom. There are many things I would like the students to be familiar with, thus the width of the pyramid's top, but few essential things I would like them to really understand, thus the tip, on which it stands. And I believe the shape of the triangle serves both as a direction for thought process, moving from superficial familiarity to profound understanding, and as a restraint on what content should be addressed: if it is not within the borders of the pyramid, then it is not essential and can be cut. The latter will be of tremendous help in my personal battle with tangents.
Another connection I made with Understanding by Design deals with the idea I have been contemplating for my teacher research project. Wiggins and McTighe write: "Our designs must help learners ask and re-ask questions about big ideas in action… The idea of "good guy versus bad guy" in history and literature has to be rethought in light of the shades of gray… in adult life and literature." (Wiggins 76) I plan to address the idea of "good guy versus bad guy," along with many accompanying shades of gray, at the end of the first unit with the help of Perrault's Cinderella.