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Reflections Part II: The Standards

9 May

The other reflection that students complete after each round of activities is about their progress towards mastering the standards. Like the EQ reflection, it allows us to see what successes students are having, and it allows us to help our students through the frustrating early stages of the inquiry process. When one of my students wrote, “I really dislike this reading standard, because I feel like it would go a lot better with poems than with texts,” I was able to step in and remind her of a full-class DIDLS activity we did for Matthew Arnold’s “The Definition of Poetry.”  She could then reattempt that standard with a clearer focus and direction.

By requiring this reflection, students are forced to keep the standard and all its components in mind as they complete their activities. Another student of mine reflected on how an analysis tool helped him work through a poem and meet his standard:

My reading standard asks to analyze the way the authors writes, rather than what it means. This means going in depth and looking at why the author chooses certain words or themes and how their sequence affects the text. A TPCASTT accomplishes this standard because analyzing tone and connotation really analyze word choice–which is a key part of this standard. Also, the paraphrasing and title steps in the process analyze why the author chose those words–another major part of the standard.

It also allows the student and teacher to see growth over time. When our students work through the ILP, they aren’t only experiencing the inquiry process to answer their EQ, but they’re also experiencing it as they figure out how to fulfill their standard. One student wrote: Continue reading

Student Post: Refining an Essential Question

6 May

I can’t tell you my name, but I am a junior in Ms. Donhauser’s Honors British Literature course. I want to talk about my experience with the Inquiry Learning Plan and my search for an essential question; through my irritation and sense of utter defeat, I broke through to find something worth studying. It began in class with me being consumed by my despair; I had no good essential questions on my learning plan and I was stressed that my activities were due with no real EQ that seemed useful. The only question I had was “How dangerous is humanity’s thirst for knowledge?” The only problem was that I was dead in the water with my question; it was more of a guiding question rather than a good topic to study. I felt this question was specific to my text; it didn’t relate to what I wanted to pursue in this unit. I had to continue my research for a more overarching question but I felt hopelessly lost in my texts…until… Continue reading

Reflections Part I: Essential Questions

2 May

After each round of activities, students complete reflections on their essential questions and their standards:

The EQ reflection explains how the texts or research are helping the student answer their questions; it provides specific evidence for the student and teacher and serves as a synthesis piece, which can be a hard skill to master. During the first reflection, students may be focused on only one or two texts, but in order to develop a more useful understanding of the time period or theme, they must look at how multiple texts interact with each other to answer the questions. Ultimately, students want to ask themselves, how do the texts of the unit relate to each other and create a unique argument?

Perhaps most importantly, the EQ reflection aids students as they work through the inquiry process–it helps them work out their confusion and have really fabulous a-ha! moments. To do this, they have to determine what they’ve learned and what new questions are arising. Where do they go from here? One of my Brit Lit students writes this as part of her first reflection:

When I started this unit, I figured that with so many female authors, females would have gained respect and position in society. When I started reading pieces written by males, however, I found the same stupid views of how weak and second-class women are. Wilkie Collins wrote several derogatory comments a paragraph, such as “do all a woman can (which is little, by the by)” or “I am inaccurate as women usually are.” No wonder there are so many essays from the time by women angrily protesting men! As I move forward I would like to try to find a text that is by a woman written from the point of view of a male, so that I can find out whether or not women would sneak comments into the dialogue of male characters like Collins did with his female characters. In the future I think I will probably stick with this question, because I like tracking how the answer changes from time period to time period. Continue reading

Acclimating Students to Self-Assessment

29 Apr

It’s pretty difficult to get someone to accurately self-assess, no matter what the circumstances. Too often we’re concerned with what someone else will think of our assessment, and our confidence levels (low or high) get in the way of letting us see our true abilities and accomplishments. Previously, when we asked students to tell us how they did on an assignment, usually one of three scenarios occurred:

  • they are unfairly hard on themselves
  • they inflate their grade because they “put a lot of work into it”
  • they’re so unclear about the criteria that they have no idea how to score their work

Our students were no exception, and we wanted to change that when we began implementing the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP).

Getting students familiar with the assessment criteria contained in the standards is the first step in this process. However, in order to accurately assess, students need to become intimately familiar with the nuances of the standards and ways in which they can go beyond their basic requirements. Therefore, students generate their own rubrics for each of the standards, which we will then use to assess their activities.

To keep things simple, we give them a blank template with three categories: developing, proficient, and advanced proficient. We equate those to D-F range, C range, and A range, respectively. Proficient work, we tell them, is meeting the standard. Work in this range shows competency with the requirements of the standard. Advanced proficient should extend the standard, not just do more of it.  We discuss what it means to go beyond the requirements, not just to meet them.  Lastly, work that falls in the developing category might represent someone’s first attempt at the skill or content and, as a result, falls short of demonstrating proficiency. Of course, the rubrics are given feedback and approved before they are finalized; it is through this process that students internalize the standards that we introduced them to earlier and become intimately familiar with these skills.

The assessment process continues in student-led conferences during which students discuss the evidence of proficiency found in their activities and final assessment. It provides the opportunity for them to reflect upon and discuss what they intended to do versus what the evidence shows. By articulating any gaps, they can recognize areas for improvement, and by pointing to examples of their work that meets the standard requirements, students can see real growth. This reflection is one of the keys to learning, and although it doesn’t specifically count toward a grade, it demonstrates to us a student’s understanding of a standard on a deeper level than the product alone ever could. Assessment becomes more than a final grade; it is a self-reflection, an opportunity for students to learn from an assessment so they can transfer skills and knowledge, and a discussion of learning itself.

The Plan

1 Apr

While the first iteration of the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) was similar to a blank UbD template, we’ve spent the last three years reorganizing and refining the plan (we’re actually on version 8.0!). As Heather and Marci explained in earlier posts, the plan uses elements of the ISP and Guided Inquiry, and it’s also a tool that helps students organize their thoughts and examine how their inquiry progresses. The plan is divided into four sections, the first of which is where students outline the materials they will be studying.  Depending on your discipline, this first section could contain mathematical theories or artistic movements.  Over the course of one unit in my current British Literature course, students have to read five texts from a time period; one is a long text and one is a piece of non-fiction, but the remaining three can take on any format, including poems, speeches, works of art, etc. We also require that students use supplementary resources to aid in their inquiry; for our students, these range from Wikipedia entries to literary criticism.  As a result, section one contains a variety of sources – some that serve as the object of students’ inquiry and others that support their inquiry.

The next section is titled “What I Will Learn: Desired Results” and has students identify essential and guiding questions for the unit. We’ll discuss how we help students come up with these questions in a later post, but this step can be done in conjunction with finding texts or after reading a bit of the core text. In this section, students will also list the standards that they choose for the unit; my Brit Lit kids attempt at least four standards: a reading, writing, speaking and listening from the CCSS, and other standards possibly from AASL, NCTE, or another category from CCSS. These standards are chosen after students reflect on their diagnostics, something Cathy will explore in a future post.

So, these first two sections of the ILP really serve as a cover page of sorts, to let teachers, librarians, or anyone else who is reading the plan see what the student is attempting to learn. The majority of the work for the unit will be completed in the “Student Growth” section of the plan. Students generally complete three rounds of three activities and reflections; these activities are based on at least one standard and should help the students answer their guiding and essential questions. The reflections are crucial for students to stop and assess what they’ve learned and what they see as holes in their understanding. What will they need to do in the next round in order to improve their skills? What information do they still need to find?  Although reflections provide insight into future improvements and needs, they also show students how much they’ve learned.  This ability to monitor their own learning is crucial for today’s students.

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