Tag Archives: Quarter 2 2014-2015

State of the Humanities (Quarter 2, 2014)

Hello Team Humanities!

As many of you know, at the end of every quarter Team Humanities takes a step-back to see how we have progressed in relation to our goals, and what we will need to do next in order to move further, faster, and with a greater orientation towards our teachers and students. Ultimately, all of this is in service of seeing how far we have gotten towards our Humanities vision: 

We believe that the Humanities are critical contents in the actualization of Social Justice and Equity in students’ lives. We thus move students towards Humanities Achievement, Leadership, Critical Consciousness, and Cultural Competence.

As such, we act with the knowledge that every Humanities classroom must aggressively pursue the dismantling of systems of oppression through the provision of rigorous Humanities content and Culturally Responsive Teaching.

As we wrap up our first semester, I thought it would be important for me to share with you all the data we have collected, and the NEW priorities we are forming for Quarter 3 as a result of our feedback and interpretations. For the sake of brevity and focus on what matters most, I have narrowed this data down to the information that is most directly relevant to students in our classrooms.

As you read over this, I would love for you to consider:

  1. Where do my classroom and my students stand in relation to this data?
  2. How can I act within the Humanities Team to improve our collective data?
  3. What experiences, thoughts, support, resources, or feedback can you share to help us interpret or take action in relation to the data we are seeing?
  4. What changes can we make, as a collective, to impact this data for the betterment of our students?

As always, feel free to comment below, or email/text/call Jacob with any questions, ideas, or feedback!

Wait, first, where does this data come from?

We end up collecting A LOT of information in order to make informed decisions with regards to what our next quarter should look like. That information comes from all of the following sources:

  • Student achievement data from your classrooms, which you share with us.
  • Your First Eight Weeks Survey responses
  • Data collected through classroom observations (Engagement with Rigorous Content, and Culture of Achievement) both from me and your TLD Coach
  • Your responses on Professional Development Exit Forms
  • Your responses to other surveys (such as the ones I send out at the end of every quarter)
  • Humanities Leader and TLD Coach feedback on other surveys
  • Anecdotal and qualitative evidence (student work that has been shared, other stories and celebrations emerging from classrooms)
  • Much more!

Data Point #1: Progress Known

  • What is Progress Known (PK) ? PK is basically a “Yes” or “No” answer to the question: “do we have reliable and complete data on where students stand in this classroom?”
  • How do you collect reliable and complete data? The reliable and complete data comes from you teachers sharing it with your TLD Coach and/or Content Specialist. As long as you have data for student progress on ALL your Metrics (and are not, for instance, missing DBQ Data even if you have Mastery Data), and you have shared a reliable assessment with us, then your students are PK!
Progress Known? Social Studies The Arts World Languages All Humanities
YES 67% 60% 71% 66%
NO 33% 40% 29% 34%
Progress Known by Humanities Content as of November 20th, 2014

Progress Known by Humanities Content as of November 20th, 2014

Data Point #2: Culture of Achievement

  • What is Culture of Achievement (CoA)? CoA is the quality of the classroom culture that your students enjoy as they are learning. Some people think immediately about “management” but this goes well beyond that: it’s the way in which your students actively maintain and foster a positive environment because of the way they care about their learning.
  • How do you collect data around CoA? CoA is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Culture of Achievement Pathways rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.
Culture of Achievement Social Studies The Arts World Languages All Humanities
Destructive 0% 14% 7% 8%
Apathetic or unruly 33% 29% 21% 28%
Compliant and on-task 58% 21% 57% 45%
Interested/ hard-working 8% 36% 14% 20%

Culture of Achievement by Humanities Content as of November 20th, 2014

Data Point #3: Engagement with Rigorous Content

  • What is Engagement with Rigorous Content (ERC)? ERC is the level of rigor at which students are engaging with the content. Some people think immediately about “difficulty” of the questions being asked by the teacher, but this goes well beyond that: it’s the depth and sophistication with which students are thinking about and working within the content.
  • How do you collect data around ERC? ERC is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Engagement with Rigorous Content rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.
Engagement with Rigorous Content Social Studies The Arts World Languages All Humanities
Not challenged; no learning 0% 14% 14% 10%
Passive or confused re: new content 25% 21% 7% 18%
Factual recall/procedural 42% 36% 71% 50%
Analysis/application/explaining 25% 29% 7% 20%
Evaluation/synthesis/creation 8% 0% 0% 3%

Engagement with Rigorous Content by Humanities Content as of November 20th, 2014

Okay, so what next?

Well, A LOT IS COMING UP NEXT! Given a realistic look at the above data (and much more, including your suggestions), we have come up with the following priorities for us to look forward to. Again, take the time to consider: how are you and your students doing in relation to these priorities? What do you need to accomplish in order to push more towards them?

For more detail on the data presented here, our priorities, and what is coming next in the Humanities, check out our Quarter 3 Priorities at this link.

Priority 1:
  • Students are engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues.
  • …Because teachers are planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.
Priority 2:
  • Students are “on the hook” for their learning because they are collectively, collaboratively, and fully owning the outcomes of the lesson.
  • … Because teachers are ensuring students are being given ownership of their own learning by facilitating strong collaborative structures around rigorous content.
Priority 3:
  • Students are Invested in their Humanities-content goals because they see their success as critical to their future leadership, and because they are aware of their progress.
  • …Because teachers are invested in their end-of-year goals and what they represent for students, and thus measuring and sharing progress towards goals with students and stakeholders.

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!

Collecting, Analyzing, and Sharing Student Data

Hey friends! It’s time for our second ever Humanities Blog Post! Woop!

One of the biggest challenges we are facing in the Humanities at the moment is the fact that we don’t know where students stand in their Picture1progress towards goals. This is a natural challenge for us since we are the teachers that often see 500+ students a week, often have time with students taken away from us in favor of tested classrooms, AND often have subjective measures (“is this performance any good”) that make collecting data funny business. But this is precisely also why it is DOUBLY important that we do so: we want our students and stakeholders to understand that this is a valuable part of their education as well, and advocate for its expansion!

To help you address all that, in the following post, you will find:

1. Why collecting and sharing data matters.

2. Where we stand in the Humanities data-wise. 

3. Your metrics, rubrics, and trackers (and videos to help you set it all up!)

4. Resources for analyzing, collecting, and sharing data. 

1. Why collecting and sharing data matters.

Before we dig in further, I want to be clear about the BASIC importance of ensuring we have, collect, and share accurate data for our students: ultimately, this is an issue of justice and equity.

If we are withholding data from students and they don’t intimately know where they stand compared to national standards , is that not an injustice? Are we not deceiving them as to their progress if we are not holistically measuring their progress against a high bar of rigor (if an “A” in our class would be an “F” in New York, for example)? Are we not taking away their ability to take action for themselves to change their progress, and instead labeling them as a “B” student at every report card?

Consider the potential: Instead, we can demonstrate that we are on a path to equity by showing that our students ARE progressing against a national bar for rigor!

Plus, I want to be clear that having data can have a BIG positive effect. In fact, based on research, I have articulated that one of our key priorities this quarter is the following:

Priority 3: Students are invested in their Humanities-content goals because they see their success as critical to their future leadership, and are aware of their progress. This is because their teachers are invested in their end-of-year goals and what they represent for students, and thus measuring and sharing progress towards goals with students and stakeholders.”

Alas, not having accurate and complete data basically could mean any/all of the following:

1. Students, parents, and administrators may not have an accurate understanding of where students actually stand.

2. You as a teacher aren’t making data-aligned analysis and taking action accordingly in your classrooms.

3. Your TLD Coach, your Specialist, and your TFA team can’t support you and coach you from an accurate understanding of the outcomes of your classroom.

Finally, according to TONS of research, giving students consistent feedback (including student conferences – wait for next week’s blog post for that one!) has awesome results. Check out just this small tid-bit below:

Black and Wiliam’s (1998a) cited 250 studies in their review of the effects of sharing assessment feedback  on learning.  They found that effective use of feedback yielded high levels of student achievement (effect sizes ranged from between 0.4 to 0.7 of a standard deviation). Nyquist (2003) found effect sizes for feedback ranging from 0.3 to 0.5 of a standard deviation.

According to Black and Wiliam (2004a), the effectiveness of  on student learning comes from the feedback provided by the teacher, not from the kind of assessment used. The teacher must have evidence of learning that can be used to provide students with  feedback.

2. Where we stand in the Humanities data-wise.

To give you a sense of where we stand, I’ll share this little report that was just shared with me – “yes” indicates classrooms in which we know where students stand (in part, because it was communicated with TLD coaches), and “no” indicates that we don’t yet have that crucial information. Unfortunately, we, as a region, are in kind of a rough spot (only 37% “yes” total), so let’s make an initiative to switch things up in the Humanities! The more information we have, the more we can collectively and collaboratively problem-solve about how to push our students forward!

As you look at the following data, consider:

How can we learn from each other and the way that we are collecting and sharing data in our classrooms? Who are the others in our team who can support us in this? What is your role in the successes we see? What can we collectively celebrate in the Humanities? Where do you know that the areas in which we need to grow are reflective of your own areas for growth?

Group YES – we know where students stand in relation to their goals. NO – incomplete or missing student achievement information.
Art 43% 57%
Music/Dance 25% 75%
Social Studies 38% 62%
World Language 29% 71%
Grand Total 33% 67%

Pic 1

Before we move on, I want to give some shout outs here to some individuals that are doing an AWESOME job with this (there are many more, but these are some highlights that come to mind):

  • Richard Pettey – For having simple, clear, and exciting bar graphs displayed in his classroom to show student mastery by period, and get students invested in some friendly competition!
  • Gabriella Sharpe – For working to create a small network between me, Camille Loomis, and her TLD Coach so we can all norm on the performance rubrics while looking at videos of her classroom!
  • Amanda Welch – For making a personal commitment this year to share data in her classroom more consistently, and in MANY different ways! She is sharing behavior AND mastery data with students!
  • Catherine Serenac – For implementing regular and consistent data reflection after each test… I got to see its effects on students’ thinking when I observed her a couple months ago!
  • Salma Akhtar – For pro-actively seeking support to help problem-solve about how to make the creation rubric work within her school context!

3. Your metrics, rubrics, and trackers (and videos to help you set it all up!)Picture2

  • Want to know WHAT you are measuring and collecting data around? Check out your metrics here.
  • Have questions about those or want to know WHY they matter? Email Jacob, or call him!
  • Where do I find these Rubrics and Trackers? In this easy folder, or on your content-specific page!
  • How do I set these trackers up? Check out this video (for World Languages and Social Studies) and/or this video (for the Visual and Performing Arts)

4. Resources for analyzing, collecting, and sharing data.

  • Some tips for analyzing data:
    • Organize your assessments! (by skill, objective, or topic!)
    • When analyzing data, do it “test-in-hand” (it will help you notice trends by question!)
    • Search for separators. (What questions were particularly tough for some students, but easy for others?)
    • Scan by student and by period. (Who surprised you?)
    • Some good questions to ask yourself:
      • How did the class do as a whole?
      • What are the strengths and weaknesses by standard?
      • How were the results different in different question types?
      • Did any results in one standard influence results in others (i.e. if students got one question wrong, they also got the next one wrong)?
  • Check out these awesome, quick videos on “Sharing Assessment Data with Students” and “Working With Students to Develop Their Next Steps” and “Developing Students’ Ownership of their Learning
  • Examples of easily track-able assessments:
  • Sharing data with students and parents:
  • A gallery of classroom applications (more to come!)!

Supporting Your Students in Reading

Hey all!


An example of effective chunking of a text in Nels Akerson’s Spanish class!

Welcome to the first of many (hopefully weekly!) blog posts on the Humanities website! My hope is that these will be a venue for us to share some initial resources and ideas, and get a conversation going around some of the key topics with which we are concerned as a Humanities Team. Feel free to comment below, and add to the discussion!

Today, I wanted to bring to light some resources on a recurring concern that will be addressed, in part, during our “Analyzing Artifacts, Texts, and Images” session, but which you may miss if you aren’t signed up for it yet.

This post contains:

  • Staying Committed to Students Who Struggle
  • Guidelines to Supporting Reading
  • Resources and Strategies for Supporting Reading

So, to the point – the first of our three priorities this quarter is:


Students are engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues, because Teachers are planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts. 

As we have been engaging in PD thus far, however, a recurring question has come up: “even if I DO get those planning pieces in place, and start to bring EQs and meaningful texts into the classroom, what do I do to support my students who just can’t read at that level?”

Since this question is CRITICAL to all our classrooms – which Humanities classroom is NOT concerned with literacy? – and also to the transition to Common Core, I thought it would make for a significant first post.

Staying Committed

First of all, I want to commend you for thinking of those students. In moments like these, I am reminded of one of my favorite studies by Jeff Duncan-Andrade (check it out here), in which he finds the following:

The first question I usually ask teachers that I am working with is: ‘Why do you teach?’ Most teachers respond in one of two ways: (1) I teach because I love kids, or (2) I teach because I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. In separate interviews, these four teachers all responded to this question differently than most teachers, yet their answers were remarkably similar to each other. They said that they teach because they believe their students, specifically low-income children of color, are the group most likely to change the world. They explained this belief by saying that the children most disenfranchised from society are the ones with the least to lose, and thus are the most likely to be willing to take the risks necessary to change a society. This belief that they are teaching young people destined to change the world is vital to the level of seriousness with which they approach their jobs.

I hope that this thinking sticks with you as you act with resourcefulness and tireless energy to catch your students up to the reading and critical thinking levels at which they should be!

Some Guidelines To Keep In Mind
  • Support in any way you can: what we care more about are that students become INVESTED in reading, and that they can do the critical THINKING that comes with it, rather than insisting that they read it ALL and they do it TODAY. If we can get students confident and hooked on reading, the rest of the skills will come. The critical piece is motivation.
    1. Pair low reading level students up with a confident reader, and have them be in charge of collecting evidence from the text.
    2. Always provide guiding questions to focus student reading on the aspect(s) of the text that matters most.
    3. “Chunk” the text (see more below)
    4. Provide a glossary of terms attached to the text so that definitions can be found on-hand.
    5. Create reading routines in which students learn to “code” the text in different ways – questions they have, unknown words, etc.
    6. Remember, support and help practice! This won’t happen overnight!
  • Allow students to “read” different media: in the same spirit as the point above, allow your students to become invested in the kind of critical thinking that reading requires, and show them that they CAN do that, even if reading is a struggle. Images are awesome for this, but graphs, music, and more are great ways to help students observe, analyze, and draw conclusions.
    1. Pair partners up and ask them to “read” to different texts, an image and a reading, both accompanied by the same guiding questions.
    2. Provide supporting structures for analysis (see some of the resources below)
  • Build confidence with your questioning: make sure your questions aren’t just comprehension questions, but opinion questions too! Again, this will show students that this is not about right or wrong, but rather about the excitement of building opinions that can be supported from the text. Praise all your students for their awesome ideas, and get them invested in the THINKING they get to do in your classroom.
    1. Model analyzing a text with the whole classroom, and make sure to ask targeted questions to individual students, but also to ask the whole class “What else?” so it’s clear there are multiple possible answers.
    2. Make sure you are helping students see the purpose of reading by explaining how the text will relate to the unit’s essential questions, and finding some answers to them.
Some resources that can help:

Strategies for helping with reading

BONUS: Great Places to find Meaningful Texts:

What solutions, guidelines, and routines have YOU found to be effective in your classroom when it comes to supporting students in reading texts? Please share below!