Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sharing Learning Targets with Students

By Melissa Curtis

We’ve been hearing a lot about clear learning targets and meaningful feedback the last couple of years.  Many teachers I know have been using learning targets in their curriculum for years, but maybe not explicitly sharing them with their students or getting any feedback.  I have been using a simple yet effective way to use daily goals or learning targets in my classes that might be helpful to other teachers.

First, I have created a document called Daily Goals that I post in Schoology.
Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.41.24 AM.png
Students open this document in Notability every week.  They can reuse the same one from week to week and just erase last week’s info.  Some choose to upload it from Schoology each week and “add to existing note” so they have one long note instead of 36 different ones throughout the school year.  Each day when they come into class, I have the daily goal projected on the screen for them to write down in the left-hand column.  I post these in my calendar in Schoology so even when students are absent, they can see the daily goal and any handouts/links we used that day.  Here is an example:

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 12.44.10 PM.png
At the end of class, I ask students to write a response to the daily goal.  This should be a thoughtful comment about what we learned that day in class.  It guides students and myself to focus on the clear purpose of the lesson.  By Friday, their daily goals document should look like this:


Every Monday, or first day of the week, I walk around the room and check their goals from the prior week.  I give students a small homework grade of 5 points for this.  The real value though is in getting a snapshot of what students learned that week.  In their own words, they are narrowing down my curriculum into the simplest forms.  I usually spot check one or two days for each student and I can comment on any mistakes they have made.  I can also get a sense of the whole class and clear up any misconceptions as a group.  

In my experience, students like the structure and routine of a class.  They know when they come in to take out their iPads and start writing down the daily goal.  At the end of class, it provides closure for the lesson and I can call on random students to help answer it for the whole class.  When students are absent, it provides a quick answer to “What did I miss yesterday?”.  It has become an expectation that most students buy into pretty quickly.  Yes, there are some who don’t do it or copy it from a friend, but you can monitor those individual cases pretty easily.  I have been doing this for years and like the simplicity and accountability of the daily goals.  Now, I will start calling them Learning Targets :)

Feel free to use or modify anything you see here!  

Friday, February 10, 2017

Grading Practices and Student Engagement

By Kristen Gierman 

As teachers, we are constantly reflecting.  But as the semester winds down, we devote a particular attention to grades.  That’s not to say we do not notice the successes and less than of our students throughout the semester, but we are more in tune with the trends within the grading system as the semester nears its end.

This year I noticed a striking oddity when it came to my particular gradebook for World History.  The lowest category across all of my classes was reading.  Now that’s not to say that my students cannot read, dislike reading, or just avoid it altogether.  But perhaps there was a flaw in the way we were assessing it OR in the strategies students were using to be successful.

Put simply, the reading of our World History sophomores is elevated compared to that of the Human Geography freshmen.  While most would argue that this would seem or should be a natural progression in a school setting, what I mean by this is that the stakes are raised tremendously.  As a member of both the Human Geography and World History teams the past three years, I have noticed that students generally succeed or find reading in Human Geography “easy” because the curriculum is about the world that they live in and in doing so help create.  For instance, analyzing the impact the media has on stereotypes is a normal process because the students live it, feel it, and perhaps have strong opinions on the matter.  World History, on the other hand, asks students to take a trip to the past, analyze verbiage from a different time, and find interest in the unfamiliar.  Comparatively speaking, for a student the task of reading becomes more complex or daunting than ever.  

As a result, I have made it a personal goal to incorporate more document-based work in the classroom this semester.  I am doing so in the hopes that students experience growth in their reading skills and confidence.  Furthermore, it will also require that they become engaged in historical inquiry.  The usage of documents forces students to ask questions, collect evidence, and produce claims about the past.  The difficulty with document-based work is that it can be extremely complex and time consuming.  The benefit, as I have already seen, is that the students have become more engaged in the process and their learning has become more authentic as we continue to practice this skill regularly.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Restorative Justice Practices in the Classroom

By Steve Lesniak

Restorative justice is a relatively new term being used in school settings across the country.  Call it what you want, but simply put, it is good practice.  Before I touch on how I use restorative justice in my classroom, it is important to understand how it connects to Senate Bill 100, passed by the Illinois General Assembly in 2015 and put into place for the 2016-17 school year.  SB 100 essentially prevents schools from issuing discipline to students without documentation of interventions along the way.  While this may not be much of a change for many school districts, there is another component of SB 100 that has had a more visible impact on schools.  Unless students put themselves or others in harms way, it is extremely difficult to issue an out-of-school suspension to a student.  As I take time to reflect on SB 100, I see how restorative justice complements its goals very well.  Ultimately, if a student is cutting class, the idea is not to issue an out-of-school suspension.  The logic just doesn’t make sense.  “You’ve been cutting class, so we are going to punish you by not allowing you to go to class.”  Doesn’t this just give the student what they want anyway?  Restorative justice forces that student to stay in school and make up the work he or she missed in class.  More importantly, if utilized correctly, restorative justice will change student behavior.  

In my classroom, like many classrooms, there are students who are lacking motivation or can be a distraction to themselves and their peers.  In the past, many teachers, including myself, would have simply dismissed the student and sent them to the dean.  While this might seem like a quick fix, it really creates more headaches for teachers.  Now, that student has missed the lesson for the day and certainly won’t master any objectives set forth.  How can we utilize restorative justice in the classroom?  First, it is important to build a relationship with students.  Many students who act out have often been met with scolding and ridicule by adults.  While it is sometimes necessary to discipline students, it is also imperative that students know that teachers care about them.  Many of our most troubled students have been beaten down by the education system, and they might have bigger issues going on at home.  Establishing a relationship and showing students that they are in a safe and caring environment will help them to trust that we have their best intentions at heart.   Once that relationship is established, I like to redirect students’ disruptive behavior to questions pertaining to our lesson.  When a student acts out in my World History class, I immediately ask that student, or the entire class, how the people living during the time period we are studying would have handled the situation.  For example, right now we are discussing Absolutism and the Divine Right of Kings.  A student in my class was talking while we were going over a quiz.  I asked the class to share how an absolute ruler might handle the situation of a student showing flagrant disrespect.  It sparked great discussion and was a great segue into our discussion on the Enlightenment.  

While many classes do not have a way to relate their content to disruptive behavior, there are still ways to talk to students and have them assess their own behavior.  Kicking students out of class without following up shows them that we don’t care about their education.  Problem solving and taking time to talk with students is a better way to establish that positive relationship. Equally as important, it teaches students how to improve their behavior and performance in school.  Some may call this restorative justice, while others may just call it good practice.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Argumentation Skills Using Current Events & Gatsby

By Kim Miklusak

This year I have decided to flip the order of how we access The Great Gatsby.  In the past we have read texts that center around the idea of whether The American Dream is accessible to all people at all time and have used supporting text as analysis and comparison.  This year I have decided to start with prior knowledge of The American Dream and wait until the end of the unit to analyze whether it exists today and for all people, using this information to analyze Gatsby rather than applying it to Gatsby as we go.  To begin the unit, students brainstormed and wrote a 1-page response that I hung up on the walls for them to read now and return to later.

Then for 3 weeks (3 days each week) students will work in groups of 3-4 to analyze an article about a given "right."  Some of the rights are more "traditional" such as the right to arms, freedom of religion, freedom of speech.  Other topics are less traditional like the right to select your own gender label, the right to clean drinking water, and the right to quality literacy education.  Each group pulls a random envelope with an article--all recent, all from various political leanings and sources.  The students read and annotate and look up any other information they may need.  They then state the author's argument and analyze the limitations, applications, and implications using sentence starters and guiding questions.

Finally, students randomly drew defend/challenge as their stance.  Their task was to respond to the argument and provide convincing evidence and analysis as support in a 1-page written argument.  I was pleasantly surprised at how engaged students were in these discussions: some partners separated their groups to work in secret before sharing their work with "the other side."  Some groups worked together with "the other side" to talk about complexities as they worked.  At times students argued stances other than their own beliefs to respectfully challenge their peers verbally and in writing.  We pushed each other to look at other implications such as states' rights, identity, laws, etc. They also discussed the best ways to frame the argument and how to be most convincing in a short amount of space and time.

We will be broadcasting this lesson via Periscope on Tuesday, February 7th.  Check out our @EGCollabLab Twitter account if you're interested in tuning in.  I will write more about the assessment for the unit and reflections later!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blending Reading and Writing to Understand the Content

By Mark Heintz

This semester I put more emphasis on students reading to gain an understanding of the content and writing to prove their understanding of the readings and content.  Throughout the semester, I shifted my teaching style to center on students reading and writing daily.  This shift came my students giving me feedback and their writing and my own reflection on the time it takes to develop the skills of academic writing and understanding of primary and secondary sources.  Since the shift, the amount of daily feedback each student received on their progress towards these skills has increased and their understanding of the content increased.

For the past week lessons, the following were my content objectives:

  • List five ways rulers continued to use religious ideas to legitimize their rule. 
  • List three supporting details that explain how the Spanish, Dutch, French, and British empires rose in both hemispheres.  
  • List supporting details that explain how the Manchu, Mughal, Ottoman, and Russian rose to power.

For the final, the students will be assessed on a stimulus based multiple choice exam and three short answer questions which mirrors the content objectives and the style in which the course is presented.

My students gain background information on the content objectives from a series of videos I made.  You can read about that process here.  The videos have freed time in the classroom to analyze documents and practice the writing. 

The students are reading and unpacking difficult documents like the ones pictured above. Two documents such as these can take entire period to analyze.  Each day they continually work towards mastery on these skills all while reinforcing their understanding of the content.   I am fortunate enough to have white board tables which makes it easy to read student samples and provide feedback. The students are able to ask individual questions about the documents and their writing. Since they write on the tables, I can easily provide feedback related directly their questions.  Furthermore, I can differentiate between poor writing skills or a gaps in their content knowledge.  Since they are writing so frequently, I am understanding their voice ways to fix it for each student.  After each day, I can pause the class to models of student work to emphasize a common mistake or praise progress.

The students are having to master the content knowledge to work through the documents and writing.  As seen in point C in the above sample, the student needs to draw more specific examples to prove their point.  It takes time to develop the ability to make claims about the past and defend them with historical examples that actually support the claim they made.  I am proud of the progress my students have made this semester! 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Students Giving Teachers Feedback

By Mark Heintz

Elk Grove High School teachers have engaged in peer observation groups (POGs) for the past seven years.  Being a part of a POG has been invaluable and one of the most influential forces behind my teaching.  For most of that time, the groups have tried a variety of ways to get students involved in the process.  In December, I wanted to expand that effort to directly asking students for feedback on some of the changes I implemented throughout November and December.  I wanted one lesson to be a common talking point for everyone.  To guide this process, Rachel Barry came into my class to observe a lesson.  Later in the day, she facilitated a discussion, in the Collab Lab, with the three students from the class and me.*

The process was amazing! I sat and wrote as much of what they were saying as quickly as I could.  I tried not to talk and allow them to give feedback on my teaching.  Rachel asked the students guiding questions.  She was instrumental in serving as a neutral, non-judgemental facilitator.  One of the key takeaways was to go slower.  Sometimes I will use four or five documents and the class is confused on the first one.  I tend to cram more into a lesson, because more always feels better in an AP class when time is scarce.  After the discussion, I modified the lesson for the next day with the focus narrowed and only used two documents.  

At the end of the next day's lesson, the three students noticed the change and were grateful that their feedback was used.   I have used the student feedback of less is more as a mantra as a I continue to plan out the rest of the year. Two of the students did a write up that I think was worth sharing and hopefully will inspire you to do something similar.  

Student #1
Anyways, in general I'd say my experience with our little get together was positive. Being able to converse with you and Ms. Barry in a smaller environment allowed me to talk more and say things I most likely wouldn't have shared in our normal classroom setting. For other more shy students this would absolutely be a great opportunity to get feedback from people you normally wouldn't. Plus on your end I would bet it is nice to see how people are understanding your lessons and if they are able to not only apply the information we were taught, but talk about it and the bigger picture. And I also liked how you asked us how you can be a better teacher and how we might learn this information better. That is something that shows us students our teachers care about our education. Though to be honest some students may feel intimidated by how it was just like 5 people in a room, but I don't think this will be much of a problem for our class at least. Anyways, hopefully you got something out this email and I'll be seeing your tomorrow

Student #2
My experience in the collab lab with Mr.Heintz and Ms.Barry was good. Were were allowed to express our feelings about AP. It was one of the very few opportunities we were allowed to speak for the whole class and ourselves. We all said the good and bad things about the lesson. What I liked about the whole experience was Mr. Heintz was open minded to our suggestions about how he could make the lessons in class easier for us so we can understand the content and how to write better without getting confused. The next day Mr.Heintz took our suggestions and the lesson was a lot better, and even some of my friends said "that lesson today wasn't that bad" "I think i finally learned something." I think Mr.Heintz and Ms.Barry shouldn't only ask us, but ask the whole class about suggestions and how they can implement that into a lesson.

*The students were selected based off their availability during the day.    

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Positivity on Twitter

By Mark Heintz

As part of the new year, I made a resolution to share my classroom on Twitter this year. I feel one of the roles of a teacher is to communicate with the community that they serve. Over the past two weeks, I have tried to tweet at least once every day about the nature of the lesson or progress towards a goal.

The first positive result of my efforts to tweet has been connecting with other teachers and getting new ideas.  A few weeks ago, our school Periscoped a few classrooms to share a live feed of daily classroom learning.  You can read about that here.   I received some feedback on the lesson and changed my plan the next day to incorporate their ideas about including argument towers to improve student writing.  I thanked them for the suggestion on Twitter. It was great to get new ideas and share the results!

Another positive result has been feedback from parents and guardians. I have a few parents/guardians who actively follow me on Twitter and one tweeted at me:

It was a positive affirmation of my efforts to share what was happening in the classroom.

Finally, the first few days of the new year, the pictures in my tweets largely came from my first period class. A student in my second hour said I was unfairly biased towards my first period. He was right, so I now engage with all of my classes throughout the day. The students are interested in what I share and how I share it. They are turning into historians!

It has been a great start, and I can't wait to see future outcomes!