I save a lot of student work from various assignments from years past in hopes that I will reread and analyze them later. I find, though, that I don't know where to begin. I end up reading bits and pieces randomly as I'm looking for something else. This always brings new thoughts to mind, but I feel like I could be taking this practice farther, especially during the summer.
To anyone who could share: what is your process when it comes to analyzing student work/curriculum materials, after that particular group of students has gone on to the next grade? How do you revise for next year? What do you save and what do you toss?
Mary, a high school English and journalism teacher, replied:
I have a tendency to revise as I grade and evaluate student work. When I come to the end of a unit, I make notes as I go through student work. They look something like this:
– Next year: move columnist assignment with precis to the first quarter.
– Add in a vocabulary project kids can do online.
– Move video assessment to the beginning of the year?
In the front of the my unit folders, I keep track of lesson plan revisions. I write them to myself. They say:
Mary! Next time introduce (blank) first. Be sure to give lesson on (blank) prior to the writing.
OR they say: This worked well.. followed by my step-by-step outline.
Sometimes they say: NEVER DO THIS AGAIN!! :-)
As I get older and find my memory is less reliable, I have to have these letters to myself so I don't forget what worked or what bombed.
During the school year, on the day I return work to the students, I also teach skills missed. As I evaluate, I keep a note sheet handy and start to write a list of things I need to bring to the students' attention. I pull examples of strong writing from their own work to share with all my classes as examples of things like how to smoothly incorporate quotes, how to write a good transition, what a well-developed thought looks like, etc.
The day they get work back, we typically spend 30-40 minutes in class reviewing skills and reflecting. My students must write a reflection on their own papers when they get them back from me and we keep these in a folder in the room. They revisit the folder and reflections prior to tests or new writing assignments so they can remember what they need to focus on.
I have a model student notebook with all the handouts for the year that I keep in my classroom for students to access. My notes for next year are in the front of that and that is all I brought home this summer. I have plans to revamp the notebook, color-code the handouts, etc. and find other resources for projects I want to beef up for next year. My notes from the year will guide my research and planning in late August when I'll rewrite the syllabus.
Many of these habits I have learned from working with teachers in National Writing Project summer institutes. We invite teachers to do a best lesson and they bring in student work to show how us how their lessons impacted student learning. From years of looking at student work with other teachers, I can clearly see where there was an impact or where I failed to show the students what to do. I think this practice in our NWP work is what some call a lesson study. Once these habits of mind are in place, it makes assessment of lessons and student work and ongoing practice throughout the year.
Thanks for asking the question. I've never really written this down before.
Mary, thanks so much for sharing this process. As I get a little older and grayer, I'm finding more and more that the things I think I absolutely will remember at the appropriate time – like “that assessment question was preposterous” – are lost in memory if I don’t write them down on the spot. Later there’s just an annoying “duh” moment when I think, "There was something about this...."
I do take copious notes whenever I grade an assignment so that I can share with students. Often what I’m sharing are great examples from student work, ones that go beyond the realm of what I had imagined.
A middle school math and science teacher described some of her summer reflection process:
We adopted new standards and benchmarks a few years ago, and I’ve only taught through these sets of curriculum indicators twice. So there’s plenty of need for reflection. I wish my process was as precise as Mary's, but I think I'm getting better.
This summer I brought home piles of "donated" student work. Probably like you, I ask kids to donate their graded projects back to me for future generations. Recently, I sat down with those piles and sorted them into 3 categories: exemplary models, OK models, and disasters. I went back and looked at the assignment requirements, then at the work, then at the indicators, and I tried to figure out if they lined up. I put big post-its on what I need to change -- otherwise I'll forget. I wish I did this regularly during the school year, but I don’t have a clue as to where the time could be found during my frantic schedule.
As I review this student work in retrospect, I may find problems with my assignment that I didn’t see in the heat of the moment. Or I may see a glaring need to increase the amount of instruction associated with the assignment.
This summer I could definitely see that my kids often weren't able to clearly explain what they had learned to the degree I would have liked. That led me to instigate some research and some conversation with other teachers about incorporating more explicit instruction around writing in the content area. I think they "get" the science or the math, but their ability to write about it is terrible. What kind of scientist are you going to be if no one can learn about your work?
I can already see that I need to incorporate more alternative ways of communication as part of our formative and summative assessments. So, for example, instead of requiring students to always explain everything in writing, we're going to do some cartooning and some oral presentations. I’m also figuring out that I need to do more formative “dipsticking” along the way. I tried this last year with some success but I've worked out what I hope will be a better way to concept-map their thinking.
This summer review also brought to mind all the professional articles I had printed out and thrown into the "I'm Going to Read This” bin during the school year. When I skimmed them at the time, I knew they hit home for one reason or another, but I didn’t have much time to reflect. Now I’m going to go through them in more detail as a way to prod my thinking about revising and improving some stuff.
All of this fresh thinking is coming about because I’ve taken the time to look at my students’ work in progress spirals and dissect their final products. I can tell we need some beefing up.
This kind of methodical analysis has been a huge area of deficit for me in the past. I am the teacher who lives under a pile of paperwork on my desk all year long. On a personal note, I have to work hard not to have piles of magazines, books and what-not that I'm going to read stacked around my favorite Lazy Boy chair. So can you imagine me trying to sort through all of this.
I will tell you that this is also where I see the strength of our Professional Learning Community collaboration coming into play. My math teacher colleague is fantastic at using three-ring notebooks and filing cabinets. She deathly afraid of technology (she even has trouble double clicking). So part of our partnership is to cover each other's deficits. I invite her over for an afternoon or two of tasty treats on my deck, and she gets everything in order for me. Then we swap and I go to her pool where we work on getting her more up to speed with technology.
Thanks for bringing this topic up. I think it's something lots of teachers are interested in learning more about.
The original questioner replied:
Thank you for writing down these practices. Reading your descriptions is really helpful for me and interesting. I struggle with organization, especially the physical part of it, but once I have a clear sense of purpose, I usually can develop a form that works for me. I will definitely be stealing from you all!
Do you have ideas to share about reviewing and reflecting upon student work as you seek to improve your teaching practice?