As regular readers know, I’m in the process of completely revising how I teach the International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge course – for the first time in four years! It’s pretty easy to get into the rut of teaching the same thing year after year…
One of the tasks I’ve had students do is to read a chapter in our text book each week corresponding to the unit we’re studying (Knowledge, Language, History, etc.). Then, they’ve had to write what they think were the three most important concepts and why, and then choose a question at the end of the chapter to write an “ABC” paragraph responding to it (Answer the question; Back it up with evidence from the chapter; make a Connection or Comment elaborating on the point). Then, once a week, students in small groups would meet, share, and prepare short presentations to the class.
Though the presentations were always a high point of the class, I’ve never felt satisfied that the homework was that beneficial (nor of high quality), and the level of higher-order thinking exhibited in the presentations was generally a bit uneven.
I definitely want students to read the chapters, but I’ve modified the homework assignment. As important, I’ve prepared exemplars for the quality of thinking I’d like students to demonstrate. I’m punching myself for not doing that earlier. Students would still meet, share and use them as the basis for their class presentations — picking answers from different people in the group.
You can download the homework sheet with the questions and exemplar responses here. Please review it and let me know how you think I can make it better. I think it might be useful for others subjects, too.
Here are the questions minus the exemplar answers (I don’t have an exemplar for the last question):
- What do you think are the three most important concepts in the chapter and why you think they are important? Include examples that DO NOT come out of the textbook.
- Pick an important sentence that had an impact on you and explain why it stood out. Connect it to an example that DOES NOT come out of the textbook.
- Choose something new you learned from the textbook that you can apply in another class or out-of-school. Give an example of how you would use it. This can be a concept you already shared in the two previous questions as long as your example of how you would apply it in other class or out-of-school is new.
- Draw something that represents something you think is an important concept from the chapter (it can be something you already mentioned in answers to previous questions). Describe your drawing, what it represents and how it represents the concept.
I like your revision of the assignment. You increased higher level and critical thinking skills and added some good pedagogy of connection making, as well asking students to find implications beyond the text. Here are a few of my reflections for the sake of dialogue, if nothing else. I used this activity to reflect on my own practice, so thanks.
•I wouldn’t refer to the reading as “the textbook” or the “chapter”, even if I taught a course in which I only used a textbook. I would refer to it as the “text” or the “reading.”
• I ended up turning the assignment into 7 questions, so your assignment would touch on each of the habits of mind, since it’s almost comprehensive anyway, and so you really could use this assignment for just about anything:
1. I would ask them to state the main idea of the text (as opposed to the 3), and then I’d insist on evidence to support that overriding idea within the text.
New Question inserted- I would ask them to work at finding biases within the text.
2. I like this a lot, but I would stop at “Pick an important sentence that had an impact on you and explain why it stood out.” I moved the rest for a new question.
Insert New Question- I would create a new question about connection-making (“Connect it to an example that DOES NOT come out of the textbook” and apart from the importance and impact question)., I’d say: Make a meaningful connection from an idea in the text to your own life experience, to another text, other kinds of knowledge, or to others.
3. Choose an idea from the text, and reflect on its implications for the reader, in general, or to you, personally. What is the call to action? How are we to think, engage, or behave differently as a result of this new insight from the text?
(I tried to modify and hopefully elevate this question from an application to a class toward searching for implications for my life, our lives.)
New Question- What is your opinion about one of the ideas in the text? Feel free to disagree, dislike, have a problem with, offer another approach to this idea. You can also feel free to agree with, appreciate, illuminate, resonate with the idea.
(This has got to happen to allow for voice, deviation, creativity, alternative perspectives, and empowerment.)
4. Draw a symbol on a separate sheet of paper that represents an important idea from the text. Write a short caption that describes what it represents and how it relates to an idea from the text. (You could even have the symbol represent an idea that changed for them as a result of reading the text if you want to push them all the way into transformational thought from each text. It would make this assignment less redundant and culminating although I think leaving it works here, really well, too).
•My last suggestion is a little controversial, but I would strongly urge you not to give the exemplars, especially a teacher exemplar. I have found, time and time again, that students will create groundbreaking stuff, far beyond where my mind would have gone, which is really the point, isn’t it? Whenever I give models, I get too much parroting, and the work never exceeds the model, and their brains turn down a notch. If you feel strongly about it, I’d use a rubric or I’d go model-less for the first year then hold up the best ones from years past, starting next year, not allowing them to hold onto to them like an attachment to the directions. That would just create more parroting. Just let them take a look, read one or two memorable parts of various creations- just enough to see what’s possible. They can do this without a model, and they will amaze themselves and you.
Wow! Great advice. Thanks for taking the time to give it!
I love what you have done, Larry, and I also love depth that Kathy went into with her suggestions. I teach college, which is completely different, I know–but I would love to chime in anyway if you will have me.
What I was struck by is how similar this assignment is to assignments in my own high school experience in the late 1970s and early 1980s: still reading a textbook, still writing about it.
I would like to suggest that you move into a digital space, and update these assignments to integrate technology (especially mobile technology) into the redesign of your course.
I see that you give choices as to how students would like to respond to the reading, and you can include digital/non-digital choice as well as I know there are a lot of students who don’t have free access to WIFI networks, etc. Here are some possible digital plays on your homework assignment:
1) Create an infographic for the chapter. Using Pikochart.com or a similar free service, create an infographic focusing on three concepts in the chapter. Show how those concepts are interrelated, why they are significant, and how they relate to issues beyond the text and our class.
2) Create a one-page website using populr.me that looks deeply into the meaning and significance of one sentence in your reading. Feature hyperlinks, videos, Gifs, and images that explain and enhance the meaning. Tie them together with an explanatory narrative.
3) Choose something new you learned and produce a 3-5 minute video or podcast around that concept. Discuss how it relates to popular culture, the news, or other issues of interest.
4) Using Pixton.com, create a comic that represents one of the concepts in the chapter. Write a short explanation explaining how your comic represents the concept.
Thanks, Michelle. I’d definitely do it if we had more access to tech at our school. One of the purposes of the homework is to have students share it with classmates. Since we have so few devices, that sharing wouldn’t be possible. Once we do get more tech, though, I’m with you!