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 Eleven: Answer the Question

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

My skill instructional goal was centered on document analysis, contextualizing a prompt, and using evidence to support their claim.  The students displayed their understanding of the documents through short answer and the document based question.

Cite Specific Evidence

How do I know the students learned and how do I know if they know what they were supposed to learn?

We have been working on contextualization as a class this whole quarter. This week was no different.  The students worked on the contextualization skill with a prompt on new forms of governance that emerged in Afro-Eurasia.  I had the students write one with their elbow partner.  In the clip below the students are working together and writing it.

In this clip, I am walking around giving feedback and then AirPlaying several examples of their contextualization.

Another skill focus this week was selecting evidence to support a prompt.  I had several prompts this week that the students wrote evidence related to the topic.  Then, I had the students select from the evidence that was on topic to see what was on prompt.  Then from there, I had the students use the evidence to defend/support the claim.  In the clip below, the students were working through this process.

Another skill focus this week was document analysis.  The students read and wrote about documents pertaining to the Byzantine and Song Dynasties.  Again, they wrote out their understandings about the documents as it related to the rise of these two empires. They had to select evidence from the documents to support their claim.  
As the students wrote they used their content knowledge. In each of the videos and pictures, the students displayed such great understandings of the content. This week I have been visiting a lot of teachers in a variety of disciplines, and one of the constants that I am seeing is if students write out their understanding then they know it.  When they verbalize it, they don’t always have a great grasp of what they know.  So, quick verbal checks are great, but I love that I can see my students understandings in their writing. I feel so much stronger about their comprehension.  And they do, too.  It is clear that they are able to recall information and know they can.  At one point I said, “I’m so proud of my baby historians.”  They were excited at the progress they have made.  
I failed to use documents on the last day of the week.  I wanted to have the student showcase their abilities with a small dbq, but I did not get to it.  Again, I wish I could stay totally focused, but sometimes I go off the rails and shift towards the end of the week onto a different skill.  In that same vein, I have moved lessons around to ensure the biggest skills are being targeted by the end of the unit. But sometimes I revert back to things I think I am missing.
On to more positive notes!  In the video, I love the students’ abilities to contextualize.  They are improving on it and are able to consistently hit the skill.  Also, they know what they are doing!  When I ask them what goes into it or have them grade a sample, they nail it.  They know what goes into it and how to do it.  They are getting great at selecting evidence to support a prompt. The video above supports this as the students work through their understanding.  
However, the students’ ability to relate the evidence back to the prompt remains difficult.  I need more students examples of it and need to continually emphasize this skill.  I need to give more feedback on this specific skill and they need more time to work on it.  

Reflection and Impact

The students read and wrote daily.  This has not been a change this week, but I am constantly reminding myself that I am making their thinking visible.  They are writing to learn and writing to show their understanding. Doing this daily can be a time-consuming process that can be tedious as it relates to students selecting evidence to support a prompt. But the routines are so clearly established. The students don’t hesitate at all in jumping into the process. As I watch the videos and reflect back on the daily pictures, it is encouraging to see how quickly they dive into the process without needing to be redirected as to what the skill is.  
Furthermore, watching the process each week I realized that I am constantly giving feedback and showing high, medium, and low student samples.  This allows students to see what they need to do grow.  If a student is low, I am meeting them where they are at and providing feedback.  AirPlay and the whiteboard tables are crucial for this. I am not using technology for technology’s sake.  I am not waiting a day to provide students with feedback about their writing.  Or handing high samples to certain kids and low to others. All students are a part of the process and getting the feedback instantly.  

Read week twelve here. 

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