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.

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