Saturday, April 21, 2018

It Doesn't Always Have to Be a Test or Essay

A Midsummer Night's Dream, act 1 scene 1, by 3 people in 1 minute

Best ever “do you remember what we read yesterday” review: Give groups 5 minutes to plan and produce a 1-minute, fast-forward, no-sound version. So much more fun that a verbal or paper quiz, students jump to the task with excitement, and they ask and answer questions, checking the text to clarify understanding. 

This is just one of many ways that students can develop and demonstrate understanding in English class without writing an essay. I was confronted with that question last fall in a book discussion about differentiation. At first I felt a bit defensive: If one of the major goals of my class is to teach writing, then how can I differentiate? The answer, of course, is several fold. First: There are several other skills in English, as well as their component parts, as well as important enduring understandings about those skills as well as about themes and content. Second: There are formative assessments as well as summative. Third: There is differentiation of process and content as well as product. Then this spring I participated in a book discussion of Making Thinking Visible, which helped even more in identifying the component skills and processes that help form them.

So, in addition to 1-minute, fast-forward, no-sound reviews, here are some other non-test, non-essay ways I've found for students in high school English class to learn and to demonstrate their learning about reading, listening, thinking, speaking, as well as about content understanding: 

  • Reading response journals including drawings, diagrams, lists (see right) 
  • Group mini-posters including images, quotes, and questions 
  • Close reading annotations by individuals  
  • Close reading annotations in groups 
  • SOAP posters in groups (Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose) 
  • Posting independent reading titles
  • Groups map connections among sources
    read to prepare for synthesis essay 
  • Groups map relationship among information researched to organize for presentation 
  • Groups do gallery walk posters to record analysis of a work's theme in different ways 
  • Preparation notes for a synthesis discussion
  • Discussion notes
  • Goal setting for discussions
  • Students collecting argument stems (Oct. 18, 2017)
  • Students ordering paragraphs (Oct. 24, 2016) (Oct. 31, 2017)
  • Reflection on writing (Oct. 16, 2016)
Yes, students will still have to write some essays because that is one of the skills they need to learn, practice, and demonstrate. And there are so many additional skills and understands we value, and so many ways to break them down and help students learn and demonstrate their learning. 

In addition to essays, what ways do you use to help students learn and demonstrate their learning?

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