I have to thank our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, for the fantastic alliteration in this blog post title. I was so excited about our Social Studies Evaluation Activity today that I had to share the success story with her during bus duty, and she provided me with the perfect phrase to sum it up: passion + persistence = perfect practice.
For those that have been following my blog this school year, you’ll know that I’ve really focused on the use of inquiry in the classroom. I love what inquiry has done for my students. They’re better thinkers, problem solvers, independent workers, and cooperative learners. For all of these reasons, I wish that I tried inquiry before this year!
That being said, one of my biggest struggles is with inquiry and evaluation. I have lots of formative assessment. With so much small group work, students constantly receive feedback and use this feedback to make changes. I find that I’m giving students fewer marks though, and since I still have to give a mark on the report card, I need/want evaluations prior to this. That’s where Kristi’s blog post on evaluating “process versus product” became so powerful for me.
Last weekend, I developed a “process evaluation” that I was very excited about, but for various reasons, the activity did not go according to plan. I reflected though, and today, I tried again. What’s wonderful about blogging, and especially blogging about inquiry projects, is that there’s so many educators out there that are willing to share their feedback and offer words of advice. I had people do this on my “failure post,” and it was actually Kristi’s words of advice on this post that resulted in an even bigger change for me today.
My initial modified plan was to write the three questions (from the last evaluation activity) on chart paper, and have the students Chalk Talk about the question that interested them the most. Then we would have an inquiry circle to expand on these ideas and create some new learning. As I was writing the evaluation questions out on chart paper this morning, I thought back to Kristi’s comment comparing my initial activity to the three-part lesson. It was the words, “three-part lesson,” that changed things for me. Maybe I needed to scaffold the learning more for my students. For students to see the link between the topic that they researched and the question that they answered, possibly I needed another step.
So as I was preparing the activity this morning, I made yet another change. Instead of writing the questions on chart paper, I wrote the topics on chart paper. My new plan was to put these topics out, and let the students pick the topic that interested them. Then they could use their notes on the topic, as well as additional research, to share their learning with each other. Using Chalk Talk, they could ask questions and answer each other’s questions too. My thought was that this would help the students think more deeply about the topics that would later act as “evidence” for their questions.
Chalk talking to share learning about the fur trade. pic.twitter.com/oh7Xwgp2f9
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) November 29, 2013
Once I wrote all of the topics on chart paper, my plan was to type up the questions that students would need to choose. I was going to use the questions from Wednesday’s activity, but as I was typing, I changed my mind again. I started to think about Kristi’s comment regarding “question stems,” and I wondered if what the students needed was a gradual increase in the complexity of the questions. Instead of typing up my initial one question, I wrote two questions on each page: one was slightly more complex than the next one. Students could then choose the “group of questions” that they wanted to answer: even choosing between the two questions on the page, or using the one question to lead to the next one. Again, students would Chalk Talk their answers: using questions to help push each other’s thinking forward. We’d then end with an inquiry circle, where students would further explain their thinking, and we could make links between the topics.
Reflecting on questions based on various Social Studies research. pic.twitter.com/mcSrojQjN9
— Aviva Dunsiger (@avivaloca) November 29, 2013
While this activity took longer than expected — and we’ll need to finish things up on Monday — the changes worked. Students all shared lots of information about the different topics, and then they used this information to answer at least one — if not, both — of the guiding questions. The first question on the page helped the students with the second (more difficult) question. Reviewing the vocabulary first, also helped. As a class, we took the time to go through the rubric together as well, which helped students understand the requirements to get the marks that they wanted.
I joked on Twiter that it took until “attempt 463” for inquiry to work, and while this is certainly an exaggeration, it’s true that I had to make a lot of changes before things started working well. Even this morning, as I was prepping for my changed lesson, I was making more changes. Change is good! As teachers, we need to be willing to make changes, try, fail, revamp, try again, and repeat this process many times … hoping, praying, and believing that success will happen. And it will. This is teaching. This is learning. This is inquiry.
How do you maintain that practice and persistence to ensure that you get to this “perfect practice?” I’d love to know more.
I am glad that it work out!! Kristi is right that it is process over product. I think to if you reflect back on your observations you do have marks. I find that I have less product marks but more evaluation through inquiry. Which do I prefer? More eval and less take home and mark. However, your right, we still need to have something to report. This is where I found trajectories or learning progressions to come into play. With a trajectory in mind you can take your evaluations and say here is where they are, where they went and where they need to go. You can even give a mark based on what is expected for your grade level based on curriculum expectations. I find I have more time for family, blogging, tweeting and keeping my parents in the know.
As for how I keep going, it’s the conversations with other educators I have on the weekend, after school, during classes and online that do it. Thanks again for another great post.
Thanks for the comment, Jonathan! I love the idea of evaluating process versus product, and I know that with all of the formative data I’ve collected, I certainly have other mark possibilities. It’s the ability to communicate these marks to parents and students (prior to report cards) that I think is important. Yesterday’s format definitely works for this purpose. I can definitely see repeating it!
Now as for trajectories, this may seem like a silly question, but do you create your own for Social Studies? I’ve found some online that I’ve used for math before, but not for Social Studies. I can certainly see the benefit of a trajectory, so any more information about this, would be great! Thank you!
And thanks for always adding to the conversation! I learn so much from what you share, and I appreciate how much you always push me to continue on (even when things don’t go right the first time).
As with me, love your open reflections and learning. Your pushing me to do more writing and blogging. As for trajectories: I have started to write my own both for math and for other subjects.
To start just think of the big ideas you want to teach. I often put them in the middle of the page because they are what I want them to get there. Then I think what would students do first. The very basic, how will they get to the big ideas. Then finally I think how will they go beyond. For science and social studies the trajectories are not as big as math and language because they are content based. In fact they end up being more language trajectories. My math ones are based on my research, readings and learning of kids and math. I have learned a lot from VanDeWalle as he often has trajectories in his book and of course fosnot. My number sense ones are based on hers and hers alone. I have made ones for geometry and measurement too. Need to work on algebra and data management. Hope that helps.
Jonathan, I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing some more writing and blogging! I’m actually off to read your post after this. 🙂
Thanks for the information about trajectories! I definitely need to explore this more. I think that they could help with evaluation as well, as then you know where students start and where they need to go. I used the Fosnot trajectories when I taught Grade 1. I think it’s time to look at her junior ones, and begin making some of my own. I know what I’ll be doing over Christmas now! 🙂
I KNEW it was working this time! My evidence? I walked in your classroom – it was strewn with bodies everywhere, intently focused on their tasks. Your students – every single one of them – completely ignored me, even as walked almost over them to get to you. Usually when I come in they are eager to share what they are doing. Yesterday they were so focused on their task I think we would have had trouble getting them out for anything short of a fire alarm. They were engaged, doing some heavy duty thinking, collaborating and creating evidence of this. Thank goodness for attempt 463!
Thanks Kristi! This is so true! Usually it’s my students that notice you first, but yesterday, it was me … and I was most concerned that you were going to trip over the 29 bodies sitting, lying, and working basically everywhere. 🙂 In retrospect, it’s neat to sit back and reflect on how much sharing and learning was happening in a quiet environment. Students were even collaborating without talking. Hmmm … this does make me think more about the power of quiet. Maybe another blog post … 🙂
But yes, seriously thank goodness for attempt 463, and thank you again for helping me make this attempt work. I do love the power of learning together. Now, I just need to bottle what happened yesterday, and continue to make this work for our future inquiry activities. This is certainly all part of the fun, and I have to admit, I can’t wait!