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 Nineteen: Answer the Question
What is the impact of reflecting on student learning for an entire semester?
In short, weekly reflections focused my teaching on the students’ learning of the intended curriculum. I know that seems like a common sense statement, but I feel a lot of instruction can focus on the teaching instead of the learning. Because of this weekly blog, I am focusing on the outcome rather than the delivery system. Since the purpose of the weekly blog was on student learning, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the students’ learning increased. As the first semester concludes, I am taken aback by how much my students grew. I want to reiterate that it has been the students who made the gains and it is them I am praising. They are the ones who are being applauded for their growth and continued ability to demonstrate mastery of the content and the skills. This blog merely has been a way for me to document their growth and prompt more intentional and deep reflection on my part to guide their future learning.
To get back to the normal flow of the blog, what was the goal of the week? To give context to the as to what the week before winter break looked like, the students took finals this week. I only saw my particular students two days. Over the course of that two-day period, I administered a three-part final. The final was cumulative, therefore I will forgo the usual listing of all the content standards, because I have documented the many standards throughout the previous eighteen posts and there are too many to list in this particular blog. If you are so inclined, you can go back and find all of the content goals.
- Write one cause/effect, and one comparative short response that reflects an understanding of essential content.
- Analyze charts, maps, graphs, and texts.
- Write a thesis statement, contextualize a prompt, and draw evidence from two documents to support the thesis.
Cite Specific Evidence
I do not want to get too much into the data. I love data, as it is one way to determine if progress is being made; however, as the purpose of this week’s post, I merely want to point out that the students excelled in all three portions of the test.
1. An eighty question multiple-choice content exam. These are just basic fact recall on all content that has been covered in the year. The class averaged two points higher than the previous unit exam.
2. A document based question writing portion on the Columbian Exchange.
The students were assessed using the following rubric:
The final examination increased requirements over the previous unit exam. The document-based question included two more documents than the previous unit exam. Despite the increase in the number of documents, the students maintained their proficiencies.
3. A twenty question multiple-choice stimulus exam.
Here was the biggest student increase: the class averaged one and a half points higher than the previous unit exam.
Explain the Reasoning
What do all of those numbers mean and tell me?
At the beginning of this week’s blog, I stated that reflecting each week increased student learning. This cohort of students entered the school year behind last year’s students. There were more students who had never taken an AP course and the group who had taken an AP course prior to this year were not as successful as previous cohorts of students in that class. By focusing on student learning, the students rose to the same ability level as last year’s students in one semester! Basically, this cohort of students has excelled beyond expectations. They have become better writers. They have become better readers. They have more understandings of human history. They have a better comprehension of global processes and agents of change.
Reflection and Impact
While documenting student learning each week consumed a significant portion of my time, the process was incredibly worthwhile because I know the students are getting better. Not only do I know they are getting better, the blog has increased relationships with the students. About six weeks ago, I started sharing the blog with the students. I post the link in Schoology for them to access. Since this blog has served as a tool to increase my focus on them, I want them to read my thoughts each week about what we did. I care deeply about their progress and I feel the blog helps convey that students.
As powerful as this blog has been, I am shifting the focus for second semester. I am hoping to get more student voice in the posts. Each week I hope to have a few students document how they know if they know it or don’t know it when reflecting on the learning targets each week. Since the purpose of this blog, and the weekly reflections, is to impact student learning, I feel I need to get more of their input and allow their voice to be a driving force in the blog. So, as I continue to hopefully post each week, you will read more of their input. I cannot wait to see what will be documented!