Instructional strategies and their effectiveness have been at the forefront of my mind again this week, as I strive to increase my own reflection on the learning activities we have been doing in class. This was the second full week of our spring novel unit for the eighth graders, and as such, we completed our second assessment of the unit. Each week, students have been working in their smaller novel groups to complete a brainstorming/prewriting activity on our focus learning target. Fridays, all groups complete an assessment drawing on the work they did earlier in the week. This week’s goal was a learning target asking students to examine the specific events in the novel, describe how the main character reacted, and then interpret the effect that the event had on the character’s life or the plot. Students first worked in pairs to analyze a key event in their novel. Below is an example from a student reading The Giver.
We then discussed the events and why they were significant. Most students struggled with finding a lesson that the character had learned, and we talked about how that might be because when we are in the middle of a story or book, often it is not yet apparent what lesson they are learning. At the end of the week, students were asked to describe their key event by writing a summary of the event, explaining how the character reacted, and then interpreting (going beyond what was just found in the text) the effect that the event had on the character. Here is the same student’s writing piece:
While I like the pattern of having students do an ungraded activity during the week to prep them for the graded assessment, I am not quite happy with this assessment itself. It was too easy for students to stay surface-level and not really dig deep into the significance of the event. This student’s writing piece shows she describes a little of the effect that receiving his Assignment would have on Jonas—he would have to experience physical pain he was not ready for, he would have more responsibilities, his friendships would suffer—but she isn’t able to see the ultimate impact this has on his beliefs and morals. Next time, I think I would focus on this learning target once students have finished the novel. That way they can see more of the long-term effects and lessons that a character learns as a result of the event. Those things are not always easy to see in the character’s immediate reaction to the event.
I want to structure the coming week’s lessons so that they include deeper questions and issues raised in the novels. I need to work to bring my lessons to a deeper level, and these novels are rich with big, complex questions to answer. While we have an essential question for our unit, we have not done a good job returning to it. This coming week, I need to include an opportunity for students to reflect on that essential question.
My sixth graders have had lots of practice working in small groups recently, and as a result, I have gained lots of practice in what to do and NOT to do in small groups. The most successful group project was a picture book students did on an ancient civilization of the Americas. Each group worked on a different civilization, and each student had a different aspect of that civilization to research. Students practiced researching, working together to create a final product, and helping each other when they were stuck. Most groups worked very well together, and all groups finished on time. I think this project worked better because each student had a very clearly defined job to do. At the end, all their individual work came together in a final group product. Here are some examples of book pages:
I’m continuing to work on how to help these students work well in groups. Clearly defining individual responsibilities was an important step to take in setting them up for success.