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 Thirteen: Answer the Question

My content instructional goal this week was centered around the rise of empires in the post-classical era. Similar to the last two weeks, but the focus shifted away from Afro-Eurasia placing the emphasis on the empires in the Americas.  I wrote this statement last week and I will write it again, there are a lot of different 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.  I love that the skills repeat each week. One, because these skills are difficult, but two, it allows me and the students to see improvements in their skills across time. Also, through writing out their understandings of the content, the students see patterns between civilizations and they realize how their skills development reinforces their understandings of the content.

Cite Specific Evidence

How do I know that the students know how Inca and the Aztec created an imperial system and to be able to do the skills above?  Furthermore, how do I know that the students know if they know?

Over a few days, the students put together two different document based questions.  One was on the Inca Empire and the other was on the Aztec Empire.  These two dbq’s were the last instructional practice before the unit exam.  I wanted one more practice for the students to be able to get feedback and give feedback on all of the skills they have been working on throughout the unit.  In the video clip below I explained the dbq and the purpose behind it.

Here the students used their content knowledge and skill sets to reconstruct the deconstructed Aztec dbq.

In the clip below, the Students provided feedback to peers using the rubric they will be evaluated on later in the week.  The students wrote their responses on the tables and the feedback was written right next to it.

Here is just a cool compilation of photos and videos from the day.  Thanks to Linda Ashida for coming in each week and documenting the work! 

Explain the Reasoning
The evidence in the videos above represented the final practice and direct instruction of the unit.  As stated above, I wanted one more final preparation for me and the students to know what they need to do for the exam.  In the video below, the students wrote their understandings and then gave feedback to their peers.  I took pictures of their work/feedback and then shared their understandings via AirPlay with the class.

I love that the students were able to give feedback that was accurate!  I want them to know what they know and how to do it.  In the clip above, they were able to do that.  The goal this year is to get the students to the point where they know how to do it and can identify when they have done so without me giving them feedback. The sample above shows that the students correctly identified common, simple mistakes such as writing on topic but not on prompt.  Therefore, not only did the students master the writing, they were able to determine if they knew it or not.  
Here is another example of me explaining to a few students of how the dbq will continue to grow.  I also state that perfection is not a realistic expectation in the context of the dbq.  The College Board knows that and students can still get a 5, the maximum score, without getting anywhere near a perfect score on any of the components of the exam.

Reflection and Impact

Overall, their progress this unit was great.  The workflow has increased exponentially.  I spend less and less time spent explaining the process or steps, as students are accustomed to the routine.  The students go right into the activity and get to work.  I believe this has been accomplished by the constant dedication to the process.  But it also shows they know how to do it because they are not needing me to explain it each time.  I am encouraged by their progress in the past few weeks.  In the next blog post, I will digest the latest unit exam.

Read week fourteen here.

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