Research tells us that critically reflecting on student work is one of the most beneficial professional development activities for teachers. This process is even more meaningful when completed in a collaborative environment. I think this is why one of my favorite parts about the Henrico 21 process is collecting student work after a lesson’s completion. I love looking at student work and discussing the following:
- What were our instructional goals at the outset of this lesson? What evidence is there within the student work that shows whether or not these goals were met?
- What are our students’ strengths? How can we capitalize on these strengths within future assignments?
- What common mistakes are our students making? How can we help them to improve?
- What instructional choices (pedagogy, resources, technology, specific activities) can we implement to improve similar student work in the future?
For Henrico 21, we often submit what we determine to be the “best” student work as a reflection of a lesson. This is a natural tendency, but it’s extremely important that we don’t neglect work at the other extreme (or in the middle of the pack), as this is often where we can learn the most about our students and our own teaching.
Meghan and I just finished this lesson with her 6th grade students. The students were asked to compare the US Constitution and the North Korean Constitution in a written format. One of the main instructional goals of this lesson was for the students to use specific evidence in order to support a written opinion. We’ve focused on this skill before with her 7th graders, but this was one of our more concerted efforts to focus on these skills with her 6th graders up to this point. In order to help the students practice this skill, we introduced the students to the Voyant tool.
For this particular lesson, we did not develop a rubric in advance for several reasons. The first is that we developed this lesson on the fly (it was actually a suggestion from her students) and did not have a ton of time before we implemented the lesson. Additionally, the students were engaged in several other graded assignments at the time of this lesson, and we did not want to overburden them. I think Meghan ultimately decided to count the assignment as a small classwork grade.
We finished the lesson last week, and after looking at the student work, I think there is a lot that we can learn. The following section contains several student examples and some initial thoughts on each of the responses (click the image to expand the response).
- I put this sample first because it’s one of the better responses that we received for this particular assignment. Finding the upper echelon of student work after an activity allows us to see what the students are capable of and provides an example of work that we can use with the class for future activities.
- This student provided a solid analysis and most importantly used textual evidence (context of various words and phrases) to support his/her findings.
- However, that said, the student’s inclusion of his/her exploration of the word “religion” stands out as unnecessary. This information does not seem to strengthen the student’s argument or provide a counter-point to his/her argument, so its inclusion its just distracting.
- The second sentence here is solid. The student provides some textual evidence to make his/her point, but maybe could provide more specific examples of how he/she knows the US Constitution is about rights and freedoms of the people.
- That said, this student’s opening statement seems to contradict his/her point in the second sentence. Which is it?
- The student provides a great explanation of the word “people.” The student uses the frequency and context of the word to explain his/her analysis, not just one or the other.
- Good ideas, but the support could be stronger. This student seemed to use the Voyant tool effectively, but does not reference exactly what he/she found in Voyant in order to make his/her points (What was the context of words like punish and force vs. opinion and share? How often were the words used?).
- The student makes a statement that is not sufficiently supported with evidence (The US Constitution provides more rights to the people).
- Freedom and rights appear more often in the US Constitution, but what is their context in both documents? Does that support the student’s analysis?
- Re: “Rules” – Give me some examples! What rules do the North Koreans have that we don’t? The student mentions that North Korea has “more” rules, but provide no evidence of his/her claim.
- The tidbit on “anti-Japanese” is interesting, but the idea lacks analysis. Why is the the student comparing Japan and England? What does that tell us about the two Constitutions?
As a side note, these same students explain their thinking here (2:07 into the video). This appears to be a great opportunity to use video to improve student work. Having the students compare their written thoughts to their verbal thoughts might be a good way to show the students what their writing was missing:
Constitutional Analysis – Classroom Action from HCPS Instructional Technology on Vimeo.
Other than what I’ve mentioned so far, one thing that stands out to me is that the students’ writing could be stronger if it was organized more effectively. The students’ analyses often appear “hidden” at the end of their writing, and I believe that’s due to the way we structured the assignment:
In the future, instead of separating these two questions in this order, we could instead ask the students “What role does a country’s governing document play in establishing the culture and political system of the country? Use your comparison of the two documents in Voyant to provide evidence for your analysis.”
Where To Go From Here:
Here are some methods that we can take to correct the issues that we saw and improve on future student work:
- Have short individual meetings with each student (3-5 minutes) while the students are completing individual work. Ask students to compare their written work to an exemplary example. Ask the students to compare and contrast their analysis and use of evidence to the other essay.
- Activities on “evidence based terms.” (Sample resources)
- Since we didn’t have a rubric this time, we could use this activity as an example for students to create their own rubric for analysis and use of evidence. The students could read each others’ written analyses and vote on the best two or three examples (The Schoolspace voting function would be perfect for this). Have a short discussion with the students about what makes these the best examples. After that discussion, put the students in groups and have them create their own rubric for the next “historical evidence” activity. What should the teacher be looking for?
- With this rubric in hand next time, the students could share their historical support work with a partner. Have the partner “pick it apart.” The partner should write down any questions they have about the other student’s writing and their thoughts on how to strengthen the argument.
Oftentimes, in our effort to keep with the pacing guide and make sure we “cover” all the appropriate content for our class, we grade our students’ work, but don’t believe we have the time to discuss, “Where do we go from here?” However, it is through analysis of student work and this type of reflection and preparation that teachers can often have the biggest impact.
For those of you in the History Blog Circle (and anyone else, of course!), what other resources or strategies would you suggest to help these students with “evidence based claims?”
And for those of you at Moody, please let me know if you ever want an outside observer to help you dissect student work. I would love to come to your team meetings and help you plan! Just let me know.