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 Fifteen: Answer the Question

This week’s post is a bit different than my usual weekly reflection.  Overall, I felt that the class was generally progressing positively towards the outcomes of the course with a few exceptions.  But how did the students feel?  After last week’s post, and this nagging question of how they felt, I knew it would be important to get the students’ perspective on the course.

An additional prompt for me to find out how my students felt came in the form of a text message that came earlier in the week from Kim Miklusak. She shared a few thoughts from her PHD program.  Her texts were, “Can the participants of your class tell the narrative of your class? Does the assessment result in a narrative impact?” From my previous blog and her texts, I knew needed to hear from my students.

Her first question (“Can the participants of your class tell the narrative of your class?”) is one in which I think students do not often get the chance to reflect on and share with the teacher.  Students are great about sharing their narrative with their friends or with the teacher if something is going great or horribly wrong.  But if they are doing just fine? Can they still tell the narrative? More importantly, do they share that narrative with teachers? I wanted to find out if they could.

The second question (“Does the assessment result in a narrative impact?”) is more troublesome.  If a student is generally feeling good about the course and the assessment goes poorly, does it change their narrative?

I needed to know the answers to these questions.  To find out, I shared with my students my previous blog post on how the assessment went. I asked the students to read it and then respond in a Schoology discussion to help me understand their narrative of the course.  Did they agree with my assessment or did they feel differently than me?

Cite Specific Evidence

Here are some of the student responses recorded in the discussion post:

After the last unit, I feel so much better about writing the part of the DBQ that we’ve learned; there’s still a ways to go, but it doesn’t really freak me out anymore. In that aspect, I think the test grades reflect that really well. That being said, the stimulus still makes me a little uneasy. A lot of the time, Mr. Heintz reassures me that I’m on track, but it’s just hard to grasp in your head when you’ve gone through years of school thinking that B’s just aren’t good enough.

I would say that I am making progress from where I was in the beginning of the year. For me, the content is very easy and my knowledge in that category is very good. When I do the checklists, I try to finish all of them weeks in advance. During the rest of unit, I watch the videos again and take notes which I later use to review before the test. Doing all these things have really helped me succeed on the content (I missed only 1 question in this unit). Although we spend most of our time in class on writing, I think that you should give us practice to do outside of class where I can try by myself without someone guiding me. Furthermore, what I struggle with the most is the stimulus section. I definitely need to work on my timing and sometimes I have a hard time understanding the passages. However, I do think I’m making progress this year and so are my other classmates.

I think that I have performed very well in this class and have learned how to apply what I’ve learned much better. Learning the information through checklists has allowed for more time to work on skills that will be on the AP test. This has helped improve our scores greatly since the focus in class is to work on DBQs since if you did the checklist, you should know all of the information. To corroborate the growth of applying the knowledge we know better, the DBQ average score have increased by half a point. This means that the class is getting smarter due to the increase in test scores which means that the learning of dbqs are improving people’s scores, helping us learn more and apply better. This is why I believe that this works and I love this teaching style since it prepares us for the more important things in the class.

I disagree with the test results. The class may have grown and increased their test scores but personally my test scores have decreased from the previous test.

I think that this class isn’t that hard I just don’t put in enough effort and time into the class to do well enough. I didn’t like the DBQ part of the last unit exam because I didn’t understand what the prompt was and I didn’t even know where to start. Content part was alright but I know I could’ve done way better had I actually studied the night before. And stimulus I felt was easy. Even though my grade shows otherwise, I feel that I have gotten better in this class since the beginning of the year. I feel that the checklists are difficult and shouldn’t reflect our grade in the class as much as it does, I understand why it needs to be done, and why it is done the way it is, it’s just the review quizzes are to hard to pass unless I try them 15 times.

I agree with pretty much everything said in the blog post, I see a lot of my classmates becoming more confident and well versed in the class material, which was reflected in the scores listed. I like this class a lot more than what my grade reflects, the teaching style of the checklists makes the information stick very well and the in class discussions are always very interesting. However, I feel like the trade-off that comes with these checklists is that they are often daunting when you are behind and hard to catch up on, especially when it comes to the review quizzes at the every end.

Explain the Reasoning 

I tried to pull a variety of viewpoints. While most of the responses corroborated my narrative, there were some that did not.  The samples above hopefully are reflective of that range of viewpoints.

Katie, Kaspar, and Raymond all more or less adhered to my narrative. I love Kaspar’s response because it offered a few suggestions for how to impact student learning. As of the time I am writing this, I have implemented a few of those into the general instruction.  Raymond’s response was included because of his style. He wrote it in the format similar to the format for the essays.  It was a proud moment and I wanted to include it.

Maggie’s response is a tough one.  I sat down with her to discuss her response.  She was one of the students who’s narrative was impacted by the assessment.  She was feeling good about the course.  She was happy about her progress in the course, not overly glowing, but had a positive feeling.  However, the assessment changed that viewpoint.  She was one of the outliers of the assessment and now she has a negative narrative of the course. This is troublesome and I need to do something about this.

Quinn’s response is interesting because he claims that the test was easy and he could do better, but the assessment had a different result.  His response makes me question the use of the checklists.  He knows he can come in to get help on them instead of taking them that many times, but doesn’t.  So, how do I reach him?   Also, how can a student be that far off of the results?  I need to build in more reflections so I can monitor student’s beliefs.

Julian’s response furthers Quinn’s beliefs on the checklisks.  Julian missed a portion of school due to health reasons and has had trouble catching up.  This is true of any AP class, but it still represents a larger problem.  How can students feel successful when they fall behind so they stay motivated to complete the work?

Reflection and Impact

I need to ask the students more frequently how they feel.  I do ask informally, but I need to do it more formally to get all students to respond and gauge how all students are feeling.

I also asked the students if they have any suggestions for me.  Not only did I ask them to respond to my narrative, I wanted suggestions if they had them.  Most students did not have any, but there were a few that I have implemented those suggestions already.

The most challenging part of the class to me and many others would be the DBQ/writing elements. When we work in class and peer grade, we don’t always get accurate/good feedback, which can be confusing at times. I’m not sure what we can do to fix this, but that’s one thing I’ve noticed and confused myself with. Possibly more group grading?

I think that you should have a writing check on Schoology in the form of a timed practice quiz every two or three days. You could make us do a thesis one day, a contextualization the next day, and a full DBQ another day. Additionally, you could give us an example writing to grade where we, the students, can check the example based of the rubric.
Taking a moment to pause and figure out what is working is crucial to improving the instructional practices that impact learning.  I do not want my class to burden students or cause them to feel inferior because of it.  Asking and responding the student’s is way to help all students.

Week read sixteen here.

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