Monthly Archives: November, 2014

Resource Dump #1

Don’t become a nugget. Equip yourself with some awesome resources from your fellow teachers!

Our recent discussions as a team during the Humanities leader summit have spurred an awesome flurry of sharing and caring! Is there a better time than THANKSGIVING to share that awesome teamwork that we have started to establish, and say THANK YOU for it?!?!

Indeed, for this blog post, I have compiled some of those resources (as well as some extras!) in a manner that may be useful to you and your fellow teachers.

Find a resource you really love in this blog-post? Shout out the teacher who made it!

Updated Resource Sharing Drives!!!!

  • Art Google Drive
    • Featuring NEW Unit Plans, Unit Assessments, and Project Plans!
      • Main Contributors: Amanda Welch, Mary King, Cat Johnston, Salma Akhtar!
  • Music Google Drive
    • Featuring NEW Unit Plans and Unit Assessments
      • Main Contributors: Alice Hasen, Camille Loomis, Gabriella Sharpe
  • Social Studies Google Drive
    • Featuring NEW Unit Plans, Unit Assessments, and MUCH MORE!!!
      • Main Contributors: Ali Hager, Stephen Fritz, Brandon Rauch, Julia Braunreiter, Dan Clason, Tim Abram, and Laura Butler
  • World Languages DropBox
    • Featuring NEW Culture Plans, Unit Assessments, and more!
      • Main Contributors: Nels Akerson.

Resources from photos Jacob took in classrooms!

Other Fun Resources!

Some content on this page was disabled on November 7, 2016 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from The DBQ Project. You can learn more about the DMCA here:


Tasks and Questions Worth Collaborating On

Last week, I posted some ideas and guidelines about setting up some collaborative learning routines for students, and mentioned that there are two parts to ensuring that student-student collaboration is effective:

There are two parts to setting up strong collaborative learning: (1) Students need to have clear structures and ways of engaging with each other and with the content, and (2) Students need to be engaging with strong, meaningful content (more on this in a post to follow).

Well, here is that “post to follow”… What makes “strong, meaningful content” for our students to engage with in collaborative routines? How do we know when we are generating that content for them?

Again, this aligns precisely to Priority 2 for this quarter, which is:

Students are “On the hook” for their learning because they are hungry to discuss and engage with rigorous, compelling, and student-focused content.  This is because Teachers are ensuring students continue to collaborate daily, while also providing the rigorous content for students to collaborate around.

Step 1: First of all, we need to define what “strong, meaningful content” really is.

According to Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (authors of the ever-important Understanding by Design) have this to say:

The best questions are not merely emblematic of their fields, but really alive. People ask and argue about them outside of school! The most vital discipline-bound questions open up thinking and possibilities for everyone – novices and experts alike. They signal that inquiry and open-mindedness are central to expertise, that we must always be learners. In the more practical sense, a question is alive in a subject if students really engage with it, if it seems genuine and relevant to them, and if it helps them gain a more systematic and deep understanding of what they are learning.

– Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design, page 108

However, one thing we need to clarify right off the bat is this: big, broad, open-response questions are NOT, on their own, rigorous. Take this for example:

Why do we still experience segregation in our society today?

On its own, this question could either spur a student to write a single sentence, or an entire dissertation. We need to be careful in assuming that stand-alone questions are the most rigorous form of posing an academic challenge to our students. Let’s take a look at this same question, but in a way that demands rigorous engagement:Why do we still experience segregation in our society today?

Why do we still experience segregation in our society today?

Write a 3-paragraph answer that includes (1) a strong claim to this question, (2) an example from the  Reconstruction to support your claim, and (3) an example from current events that supports your claim.

Your short essay will be evaluated using the Mississippi DBQ Rubric.

With these expectations set, a student knows what is being expected, and can rise to the occasion of this challenge.

Let’s return to the writing of Wiggins for a little more support on this:

Huh? How can the verb, itself, determine the rigor? Couldn’t the rigor of so-called high-level verbs be compromised by a simplistic task and scoring system? Vice versa: can’t we imagine some of the low-level verbs occurring in highly-challenging and rigorous assessments? (e.g. Who, what, when, and why in a complex journalism case would be rigorous work.)

Take “predict” for example. It is viewed as relatively low-level – Level 2. But what if I ask you to predict the effects on plants of using special soil, food, and artificial lights, and I score you against industry-level standards? Vice versa: suppose I ask you to critique a drawing against the criterion “pretty”. Pretty low level stuff.

– Wiggins, “Assessment, Grading, and Rigor”

With this definition in mind, we can start to distinguish between the different kinds of questions with which we ask our students to engage in a collaborative setting.

BUT WAIT JACOB: Does this really mean we don’t ask students to answer basic comprehension, fact-based questions? Absolutely not! But it means we need to locate and contextualize those “convergent” questions (which point to just one answer) within larger, “divergent” questions (which point to many possible answers and approaches).

Step 2: Let’s start planning the kinds of questions, problems, and tasks that benefit from collaborative learning… What does that “strong, meaningful content” really look like?


Rigorous questions are ALIVE and can torment us and be a cause for discussion even outside of class!

Convergent (Closed) Questions…

  • have very narrowly defined correct answers
  • have answers that usually require little reflection
  • Have answers that usually require the student recalls from memory factual information and applies it.
  • require little/ no original thought.

Divergent (Open) Questions…

  • can have multiple correct answers
  • have answers where the student must be able to recall some information from memory, but then must apply that knowledge to explain or further analyze a topic or problem.
  • always require original thought
  • lead to debates/ disagreement/ discourse among students

Step 3: Let’s dig into some strategies for making sure our questions are “divergent” instead of “convergent.”

  1. Consider what basic knowledge students will need so they can have a conversation about a more divergent question, and vise versa!  Why would a student even need to know that basic information?  What divergent question might it help them consider?  What divergent question might help make definitions/ factual knowledge more meaningful?
  2. Flip or reverse a closed question:  “Here’s the output, how do you think it happened?  How could we have gotten there?”
  3. Take out some of the givens:  In a lesson where you want Ss to be able to answer, “What are the causes of the civil war?”  ask first, “What are the causes of war?”.
  4. Ask for personal opinion/ judgment:  When you want to build the skill of students determining the probability of a gene/ genetic mutation being passed on to offspring, also ask, “Should these two people even have a child?  Is it worth the risk?”
  5. After the fact, re-engage: Open up convergent questions on the back end by asking students to give each other feedback or figure out why they got some answers wrong.

Step 4: Let’s make sure students are invested in the reason why they are engaging with the content in this particular way. Let’s get clear on the purpose of collaborative learning FOR STUDENTS… why should they want to partner up?

We should only be asking students to work together if the purpose is to be…

  • …discussing something worth hearing someone else’s opinion about so they can have multiple perspectives on one issue.
  • …ensuring that we are gaining depth of answers, and that everyone has a chance to share their thinking.
  • …combining knowledge from various sources (partner reads one document, I read another)
  • …providing feedback for one another so they can improve their work
  • …collaborating on completing a project that requires different skills, teamwork, and lots of time!

Step 5: Check out some resources that may inspire you to think more broadly or simply give you some examples of what rigorous questions can look like!

Supporting Student-Student Dialog in the Humanities

Ah yes, that fatal moment when you tell your students “turn to your partner and…”, and then the whole class blows up in your face. It may be a good time to catch up on student gossip (you can overhear A LOT during those turn and talks!), but ultimately it’s not getting done what you want it to. BUT, this is still a key priority for us this quarter. Ultimately, by the end of this quarter we really want to see what is articulated in Priority 2, and it will be impossible to get there without genuine collaboration in the classroom. Students are “On the hook” for their learning because they are hungry to discuss and engage with rigorous, compelling, and student-focused content.  This is because Teachers are ensuring students continue to collaborate daily, while also providing the rigorous content for students to collaborate around.

Collaborative learning helps your students feel that learning matters, and that it’s not an option (without you being domineering).

Well, here are a few things for ya to get going in this direction. This blog post contains: 1. Reasons why you should keep working on collaborative learning. 2. Some guidelines and principles for collaborative learning. 3. A bucket-load of resources for collaborative learning. Got questions, concerns, or ideas to share related to this blogpost? Email Jacob or comment below! For more on all of this, check out the fantastic Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen… a lot of what is featured here was drawn from that book!

 Why does Collaborative Learning matter in the Humanities?

  • The Humanities are about dialog: all too often, our students assume that history happened in the past, that culture is static and easily stereotyped, or that art, music, and dance are only something that famous artists and performers can do. Having students collaborate while tackling our content models for them the way these subject-areas actually work in reality – they are spaces for debate, disagreement, and mutual learning.
  • It will establish a more democratic classroom: it matters for Social Justice and Equity in our classrooms that we do not limit our students’ experiences to those controlled and dictated by a “classroom authority.” We need to be partners in learning.
  • Your students’ thinking will improve: if students feel safe and part of a team, they will be more willing and able to take risks. Better relationships in the classroom allow for more authentic and higher-level rigor, as well as a physically and psychologically safe environment. Plus, students will be owning more of the thinking!
  • Your students will be more confident: if students get a chance to practice with their partner first (and maybe even get your affirmation as you walk around the room), they’ll be more confident in participating.
  • Over time, side-chatter will decrease: while it may take practice, students cannot see talking with one another as ONLY a disruptive act. Students need to see each other as partners in learning.
  • Over time, it will make YOUR life easier: Lisa Ann DeGarcia wrote, in “How to Get Students Talking!” (2009) that “researchers have found that teaching is a ‘complex cognitive activity'” but that this becomes easier for experienced teachers because “they develop specific ‘routines’ for each of these activities, so more cognitive space can be freed up.” Collaborative learning is one of those key routines you can establish!

Classroom life should, to the greatest extent possible, prefigure the kind of democratic and just society we envision and thus contribute to building that society. Together students and teachers can create a “community of conscience.” – “Introduction: Building Classrooms for Equity and Social Justice”, Rethinking Our Classrooms, Vol. 1.

What are some guidelines and principals for collaborative learning?

  1. There are two parts to setting up strong collaborative learning.
    • Students need to have clear structures and ways of engaging with each other and with the content.
    • Students need to be engaging with strong, meaningful content (more on this in a post to follow).
  2. When working in small groups, everyone should…
    • …have a clear responsibility (and not just time-keeping!).
    • …have an opportunity (and accountability) to express their ideas.
    • …know WHY working collaboratively matters for this particular piece of learning.
  3. When working in large or whole-group settings, everyone should…
    • …be exposed to multiple perspectives from their peers.
    • …have a concrete way of following along with the conversation and react to the speaker’s thinking.
    • …be held accountable for expressing ideas about the discussion at the end.

Don’t let your collaborative time go poorly! Make sure everyone is on the same page about why partner work matters.

Do you have any resources for us?

Of course I do! Check them out below:

  • Collaborative Routines Galore! – An awesome list of routines and resources compiled by all your content specialists!
  • Ashley Lamica’s Socratic Seminar Worksheet – A great resource for holding students accountable during whole-group discussions AND guide their analysis of the texts they are discussing.
  • Collaborative Venn Diagrams – An easy-to-use Venn Diagram exercise in which students record their own thinking, their partner’s thinking, and their shared thinking on ANY topic!
  • World Language “Unknowns” – A few examples of what this could look like to pair students up in a World Language classroom, and have them interview each other to get the complete responses they need!

What does a classroom that drives towards expanded student outcomes SOUND and LOOK like?

One of the more challenging and exciting tasks we have (newly!) taken on this year is to drive towards an expanded understanding of what student success will look like. In fact, this year our number one regional priority is:

Cultivating Academically-Accomplished, Culturally Competent, and Critically Conscious Student Leaders : “Mississippi students are mastering rigorous content, building critical consciousness and cultural competence and developing their leaderships skills in and out of their culturally responsive classrooms.”

(Side Note: For more on what these terms mean and their importance to students and ourselves as teachers, check out this CRT Conceptual Map)

In order to drive towards these outcomes, we have explored Culturally Responsive Teaching as a set of dispositions and actions that we as teachers can take to lead our students. CRT is an increasingly popular educational philosophy that challenges all of us to re-consider our own assumptions as we enter a culturally diverse classroom, and to adjust our approach to curriculum, pedagogy, and relationships accordingly.

But as the year goes on, you may be wondering… how the heck do I measure something like “Cultural Competence”? What does it look like when my students are developing “Critical Consciousness”?

Well, as it will always be with genuinely qualitative (but powerful) outcomes like these, it’s not always that easy to find ONE reliable measure. Fortunately, we have a couple of resources for you.

The CRT Field Document (Prototype!!!)

A large collaboration of TFA Mississippi staff who have been committed to learning about and researching CRT, have come together to modify a field doc that was being used in the Philadelphia region. It’s basically a rubric for looking at CRT classrooms, and, specifically, at student outcomes.

Check out the CRT Field Document, and start asking your Content Specialist and TLD Coach to observe your classroom through this lens!

(Note: This is VERY much in draft form still… Let us know what you think so we can make it stronger!)

Want to Get More Specific?

“Easy to Remember” by Lorna Simpson

Again, this is still in draft form, but we found an awesome resource for you!

This Student Questions Grounded in CRT document allows you to interview your students, and find out where they are on a spectrum between a technical and humanitizing education.

The cool part about it? It creates direct connection between the questions being asked and the teacher disposition (or “competency”) linked to the student answer… Need to make a shift in student answers? Start working on that competency! Again, enlist your Content Specialist and TLD Coach to help you collect these responses, and reflect on them.


Check out the awesome Anti-Bias Frameworks that Teaching Tolerance have put together… This should give you a really good sense of what your goal should be for your students this year!


Feel free to reach out to me, your TLD Coach, or comment below!