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

Week Nine: Answer the Question

My content instructional goal this week was centered around commerce in the post-classical era.

My skill instructional goal was centered on the long essay.  The essay was: Analyze similarities and differences in TWO of the following trade networks in the period 600 C.E. to 1450 C.E.

Med. Sea
Silk Road
Indian Ocean Basin

The focus was on the thesis, contextualization, and using evidence to support an argument portions of the essay.

Cite Specific Evidence

The content and the skill this week overlapped perfectly.  Each day layered more content that the students could use in their essay.  Students contextualized the prompt first and wrote their response. Then I had them write the thesis.  The next day they selected their evidence.  Finally, on Friday the students put all of the pieces together.

To have students check their content knowledge (and get out of their seats), students grouped together around maps I had hung around all over the room. As I shouted out content questions, the students competed against one another to correctly identify where that information could be found on the maps. The great thing about the activity was that students getting up and walking around the room served as a brain break at the same time that it allowed them––and me––to check their misunderstandings. Here is a short video of that in action:

The students then analyzed a chart on trade to activate background knowledge and to begin pulling evidence to support a claim to prepare for their writing.

Here are the students working on their statements.  

Here are the students chunking information and selecting which evidence best supports their claim to continue to prepare for their writing. At the same time, I circulated and their notes allowed me to see their thinking, ascertain their understanding and respond to misconceptions and questions.

The week was powerful.  The layering of the skills and the content worked great.  The students self-assessed their work every day.  I put the rubric on Schoology so the students constantly referred back to it to check their progress.  At the end of the week, the students worked on the essay by themselves, and the progress was amazing. The self-check went great and they understood the flow.  
The students knew the content.  I posted the objectives on Monday and through the warm-ups and map breaks, they mastered it.  It was fairly easy to comprehend, but it was a lot of information.  I was impressed at how quickly they picked it up and could use it in their essays.  

Reflection and Impact

I loved the week.  I spent a lot of time on one topic and skill set, but I felt like it paid off.  I actually listened to myself for once and stuck to the plan.  I normally lose focus and shift to something else by the end of the week, but this blog helped me stay on course.  On Friday, I was going to change my plan and deviate from writing the essay.  But then I reminded myself that the essay was the focus! It seriously took willpower to have the students write the essay on Friday, but I was so glad I did.

Read week ten here.

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