Carrie Eneix and I worked on a long-term project with ninth grade students referenced in the following posts:
- Poetry uses the Left Brain: Creative Writing, and Research?
- Writer’s Workshop: Effective Peer Feedback.
To briefly summarize the process, here were the stages:
- Introducing research in creative writing in conjunction with The Secret Life of Bees
- A creative writing assignment incorporating research with a focus to either, A. use an animal or creature as a metaphor or B. to write as a member of a “self-selected” community
- A writer’s workshop to share work and receive feedback
- Performance of the final work in front of the class
While this assignment was inherently about “creative writing,” it met many of the Core Curriculum Standards while also engaging students enough to create some of the very best writing and research I have seen in a classroom. Some of her students’ work literally gave me chills. I would love to post it here, but alas, I am not able. I do have many of them recorded and can show them to any interested teacher in the district.
Here is a list of all of the standards addressed by the three-week unit:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3 (Substandards A-E). Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.)
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grades 9–10 here.)
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas…
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
From going through this process, I think I learned how assessing and teaching the skills in the standards can be a rich, creative experience. It also confirmed for me that students are willing to do amazing work and put in the hard hours if the task is worthwhile and engaging to them; the concepts of rigor and relevance really are entwined.
Overall, I would say working with Eneix and her students was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable experiences I have had thus far as a coach. Eneix was willing to take a number of risks in the classroom with me- which is not an easy thing to do. In addition, because I was in her classroom for a longer period of time, I felt I really got to know her style and her students; it became a true “co-teaching” experience.
Previously mentioned, Susan Turley gave a diagnostic assignment in which students were asked to present about a theme in Lord of the Flies in small groups. These presentations were to gauge students current levels in a variety of areas including: writing, speaking and listening and analysis of literary and non-fiction texts.
After the presentations, Turley gave each of the students a copy of the CCS for grade bands 11 and 12. Students then sat down with their group members, combing through the standards and assessing the presentations to see which standards they had addressed, missed or mastered. They used the following scale to mark next to the standard:
- + : Mastery
- check mark : Did it
- check mark – : Tried it
- – : Not addressed
After students had discussed the standards in groups, the designated “project leader” sat in the inside of the two concentric circles of chairs in the classroom. They were asked to share a “mastery level” standard and discuss “what they felt they had done well” to capture evidence of this standard. They were also asked “Why they felt they had done this well.” Afterward, they were prompted to share, “Where they felt they fell short.” Turley reviewed her notes as students shared and gave her feedback. She also asked prompting questions to the other students such as:
- What do you all think?
- Does anyone disagree?
Ultimately, Susan asked the group what grade they would give themselves on the project for the final outcome, stressing the fact that this information was to explore their own reflection and not utilized by her to determine a final grade.
Following up on Susan Turley’s work with Lord of the Flies in her Honors Thematic Studies 12 class, students gave fifteen minute group “diagnostic” presentations relaying a theme from the book this week. The products had to display the following components:
- Analysis of Literary and Non-Fiction Texts: Students analyzed the text within their groups via their own ideas and a scholarly article provided by Turley
- Writing: Students could choose to write in any form about their theme (This could be via Power Point, essay, song lyrics etc.)
- Speaking and Listening: Student presentations had to have the following components: an attention grabber, an overview of their analysis, and a summary/conclusion
- Product: Students created a physical representation of their theme and analysis; see the pictures below as examples:
This initial project was built upon the students’ summer reading assignment, the content for which the class had already been tested. Functioning as a diagnostic to assess current levels of performance in a range of areas, students were not given much guidance in regards to the final vision they should be presenting. Instead, they were allowed the opportunity to address the standards and expectations in their own way. The diagnostic created a “building point” for future areas of improvement and a summary of current strengths.
In addition to this functioning as a gauge for Turley to consider current levels, students were also given an opportunity to be reflective about their own learning using the CCS after they had presented. I will be writing about these CCS conferences in a second post about this project.
“Testing” in this different format is interesting. In the literature and educational conversations I have been a part of, diagnostics often take the form of “pencil and paper” tests which are often lacking in student engagement, but why does this have to be? Are there ways to explore the potential of students where they might even surprise us in how they fulfill the standards?
This reminds me of a speech used in my classroom, Randy Pausch’s “Last lecture” given at Carnegie Mellon. In it he describes his class Building Virtual Worlds. The first project he gave had few parameters for what the “worlds” students would create needed to “look like.” He stated in his speech, “The kids said, ‘Well what content do we make?’ I said, ‘hell, I don’t know. You make whatever you want. Two rules: no shooting violence and no pornography.'” He was concerned with programming skills they were acquiring- not set outcomes.
He explained how the very first project defied all his expectations. The bar had been set very high for the rest of the year; but he would not have known that without giving the students permission to try and freedom to engage.