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 Twenty-four: Answer the Question

This week the content focus was primarily on European Imperialism from 1750-1900. Here were the standards for this week:

  1. Students will understand the causes of Imperialism in the 19th Century.  We are learning to understand why & how Europeans took over other places around the world.
  2. We will show that we can do this by Listing three methods used by Europeans to imperialize between the years 1750-1900.List three reasons Europeans used to justify imperialism between the years 1750-1900.

This week’s skill focus was still centered on analyzing charts, maps, and texts and pulling evidence from documents to support a claim.

  1. Write one cause/effect, and one comparative short response that reflects an understanding of essential content.
  2. Analyze charts, maps, graphs, and texts.
  3. Write a thesis statement, contextualize a prompt, and draw evidence from two documents to support the thesis.  

Cite Specific Evidence

First, how do I know that the students know the content and how to do the skills?

This semester, I am including, or trying to include student’s perspective on the week.  For this week’s post, I asked two students to document their learning on the standards.  It was a great week to do this, for I missed two days this week due to a family emergency.  I shared a Google Doc to document their progress.  Each day,  I looked at the shared document to view their understandings of what took place during the day.

Katia volunteered to document their learning and reflect this week.

Here is what Katia had to say.

Katia: The past 2 days, we’ve been completing a checklist to get through all the documents for the DBQ we’re going to write tomorrow (next week if there’s a snow day [there was a snow day]). You need to read the documents and get 100% on a comprehension quiz before you get a code that unlocks the next document. I think this is beneficial to me because writing the actual DBQ is generally easy for me, but understanding what the document is trying to depict is the challenging part. It was logistically confusing to everyone at first, but overall the concept of the activity was effective and we’ll see how it helps us write the actual essay.  

Me: I wrote a blog a few years ago about the structure of the lessons Katia described.  You can read it here: Lock and Key Methods.

Katia: First thing on the agenda today was a familiar, short Schoology quiz in which we have to decide whether a component of the DBQ meets all the requirements to receive a point. In this case, they were thesis statements for the African response DBQ. These can be pretty tricky when you’re not sure how picky to be, and it gets subjective based on the person. I guess that just shows how blatant we really have to be with our writing so there is no doubt to the reader that we’ve included each little checkmark. We also discussed a lot about the prompt and how these essays are going to be laid out based on these examples, which helped out a ton in writing the actual DBQ. Believe it or not, essays are much easier when you know exactly what you’re trying to talk about!

Katia: It was time to start writing the actual DBQ. To group the documents into 2 different arguments, my partner Dino and I looked through the document quizzes we’d taken last week to see which had promoted violence and which promoted diplomacy. Relying on those quizzes made it easier than it has ever been. Based on the class discussion, we also tried to implement a cause-and-effect type reasoning, outside information, and redundancy of using the prompt over and over again. As I mentioned previously, we really have to be obvious with what we are trying to write. I felt really good about this writing and I know exactly where we’re going to go with it when we pick it up again, which is a pretty rare feeling. If we could train ourselves to analyze the documents like we did when we took the quizzes, it would make a huge beneficial difference.

My Reflection and Impact

This week was interrupted by a snow day, which meant that the student did not get to finish writing the entire DBQ until the next week.  Despite the loss of the day, students were able to analyze all or most of the documents.  Another student was supposed to reflect this week, but he was sick a few days and the snow day impeded his ability to do that.

Reflection: I wish I would have written a weekly blog years ago.  More importantly, I wish I would have included the student perspective years ago.  I love Katia’s insight on the process. She stated, “writing the actual DBQ is generally easy for me, but understanding what the document is trying to depict is the challenging part.” Katia typically does great in the class and does not seem challenged by most of what we do.  But I love that she provided some insight into what works and gets her to dive deeper into her learning. 

Katia commented on the writing which highlights the subjectivity of writing.  “These (thesis statements) can be pretty tricky when you’re not sure how picky to be, and it gets subjective based on the person. I guess that just shows how blatant we really have to be with our writing so there is no doubt to the reader that we’ve included each little checkmark.” The difficult part of teaching the course is that writing is subjective, yet the College Board attempts to standardize the test.  This is difficult when students are working towards mastery, yet have a specific audience they are writing towards.

For me, the biggest takeaway from the week is working on getting students to reflect on what is working for them.  I hope they walk away with a greater sense of what type of learner they are.  Albeit, they are a course that has a very rigid curriculum.  Through reflection, I hope they reveal how they learn and can help me focus on that skill set in the future.  

Reviewing the week, the students were in a state flow.  They did not really need me.  I had set up a learning plan, which is still very teacher directed and another issue to address later, that gave the students a strong purpose, allowed the students to work at their own pace, and be challenged.  It is great to see the students working together towards a common goal and not need me to validate their learning as much.  

Read week twenty-five here. 

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