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Our recent PD series about formative assessment with Dylan Wiliam has inspired me not only to check in more often, but also to reach back and make use of some of my best best practices, namely, the strategies for teaching critical thinking I learned 12 years ago in the Critical Thinking Consortium led by Garfield Gini-Newman. Take this lesson, for example: students are reading and thinking about William Shakespeare's essential classic Romeo & Juliet. This play is the last text of our school year, so before this point the students have examined many different things that will help them in their examination of it - including symbolism, allusion, and character development, and they have delved into the world of literary theory, focusing on Reader Response, Feminist, Marxist, New Historicist, Post-Colonialist, and Psychoanalytical theories.
After finishing the last act and reading lateral texts about the culture of honor and Shakespeare's language, the students got into groups to discuss what the play could mean - what could be a theme - and then completed an individual exit ticket asking the same question:
Reading through the exit ticket responses revealed that students had very different ideas about what a theme is and how to communicate it. Some students were still thinking about topics, some had simple ideas about theme and some were wrestling with some pretty big and complicated ideas. One student addressed the difference in his response, and this is what inspired the lesson in the first place:
After creating this slide for the lesson, and after reading more of the student responses, I came across one that did a great job moving from topic to theme and nodding to motif and its connection to the plot along the way, which led me to create this slide reviewing the difference between topic and theme and one possible pathway from one to the other. The students were able to see as well, in this one student's response, the possibility of an entire paper - the bones are here, just not the evidence!
After briefly discussing each of these slides and reminding ourselves what a theme is (our definition: a truth about human nature (or life, or society, etc.) according to the author) we did a few formative checks using the Zoom Responses to make sure we were all on the right track - this kind of thinking, like the themes, is complex and nebulous, and it is important that we are able to think about it.
Once we established that the class understood the difference between simple and complex themes, and that they could identify when the presentation of a simple theme was leading toward something more complex, the students got into groups to complete a sorting exercise with their own responses. Some they had seen in the lesson, others they had not, and they were asked - in groups of 4-5 - to have a discussion about the responses as they sorted them into the following categories on a Mural: Simple Theme, Simple but will be complex with more thinking, Complex Theme, and Amazing Topics that we've noticed and thought about which could lead to a theme:
Of course it was the student conversation in groups ABOUT the responses that was most beneficial to student learning. But the final sort, as shown in the image above, revealed to the whole class that we have some work to do in our thinking about theme.
In our summary discussion, students shared that they feel they have a better understanding and a clearer target of what they should be thinking about with regard to theme.
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Introducing Impact: Journal of Teaching and Learning at Robert College.
I am very excited to announce the publication of the first ever issue of Impact: Journal of Teaching and Learning at Robert College. The goal of the publication is to highlight the ways in which our work at Robert College is guided by evidenced practice and focused on measuring student learning and growth. It also intends to recognize that one size does not fit all, and that our work as teachers is a fine art, one that requires patience, intention, reflection, and iteration.
The theme of this first issue is “Finding our Center.” Open it up to see images and read articles focused on student-centered practice written by faculty, staff, and students. I hope you find it useful.
Call for manuscripts: the theme of the next issue will be “Feeding Back, Feeding Forward”. If you would like to contribute to the issue by presenting research, writing about your own action research in the classroom, sharing a practice, or anything else, please send me a message.
The final deadline for submissions: December 15, 2021
Publication: January 2021
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In the wake of Dylan Wiliam's last lecture, "Formative Assessment: What it is and what it isn't, when it works and when it doesn't", I was left thinking about how I could gather better information about student learning and how I could use the features embedded in Zoom to do that. I have used polls, for example, to give students agency over the directions we head in class, or over the form an activity will take (for example, in our discussion yesterday we used polls to decide whether we would do a full class fishbowl discussion or break into two groups for smaller Harkness table discussions) and we have used the stamp tool to check in with our well-being on different canvases such as this one below.
In terms of quick formative assessment, I have found it difficult to check in without having students write in the chat (which becomes very public very quickly) or fill out a form focused on their perceived learning, which takes some time (depending on how many questions you ask), but which can also remain anonymous and so can be shared back with students. I do like the sharing back, as it helps students understand the choices I will subsequently make about the coming content and skills instruction. For example, they could see that we would be spending more time on Boolean logic than we would on understanding domains just based on this pre-assessment data I collected before embarking on a research project.
I have used programs such as poll everywhere and mentimeter to collect data about a question or to have students check in with their understanding about a topic before moving on, and, of course, I have asked students to write about their understanding and provide individual as well as group feedback.
But when Wiliam started talking about finger voting, I thought wow! this is a great idea. All of these functions take time to log in and to find the right question and to troubleshoot when a student can't reach the site - but finger voting is instant, and it is effective. And that made me wonder how I might use the zoom reactions for a check in as well. Use a heart for this, a thumbs up for that, and a surprised face for the other. It was a fun and wonderful experience for all of us, and it allowed us to both laugh and check in often and quickly.