Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Standards-Based Lesson: From Start to Finish

As many of you know, our class is completely standards-based this year. We thought it would be interesting to show how a standards-based lesson looks from start to finish.We are currently in the middle of a unit on Leadership, specifically looking at moral decision-making in the play Macbeth through the eyes of political adviser Machiavelli. In addition, we began the unit exploring multiple philosophies of moral decision making, including categorical and consequential models of morality. We will culminate with an essay that asks students to evaluate Macbeth's decisions through a variety of lenses.

With this summative in mind and the list of targets for the unit, we looked at our grade book and saw that in order to be prepared to write the essay, students needed more practice with one of our critical thinking targets and needed some instruction around one of our writing targets. So here are the targets we knew we wanted our upcoming lesson (note that the targets are written as a skill continuum, with the bold being the goal for the unit):

SS Critical Thinking:
(ESL 5.2)

I can identify and explain a variety of ideas, and can make some connections between and among them.
I can show relationships between and among ideas, including cause and effect, contradiction, and support.
I can show and analyze relationships between and among ideas, including cause and effect, contradiction, and support, and show how these relationships inform Big Ideas.

(ESL 2.1)

I have a clear thesis which can be proven with limited evidence and analysis; my leads introduce new topics.
I have a clear, arguable thesis requiring multiple levels of proof; my leads support my thesis and organizer, and introduce subtopics.
I have a clear, complex, and multifaceted arguable thesis; my leads further the understanding of my thesis.

Once we knew our targets, we thought about the content we would need to use to work on the targets. We had just begun reading the play Macbeth, so students were ready to work with Acts I and II by the time of this class. So we needed to design a lesson or activity that used the first two acts (content) to further develop the targets (skills). Based on a variety of factors, we chose to make this a two-part (two day) lesson.

Part 1:  Here you will see the task sheet (given to students to explain the why and what of the task); a critical thinking template; a completed mind map from one of our students; and some students working. The activity allowed students to practice with our critical thinking target, as well as circle back to an analysis target we have been practicing for a while, and to set up for the next day's thesis task (Part 2). In addition, the task helps students set up for some evidence work we will do as we get closer to the essay (the post-it notes are specific quotes from the play that support their connections).

Task Sheet
Critical Thinking Template       
Student Critical Thinking Map

We collected the mind maps and scored them (gathering evidence of achievement which helps us determine whether students are prepared for the summative--we may determine that some students need more practice or more instruction before beginning the essay, while other students are ready to move on to more complexity or different targets).

Part 2: Now it was time to move on to the the thesis instruction. Based on some pre-assessments, we had determined that all students needed instruction prior to practicing. We began with a full class example, modeling on the board how we develop a complex thesis from a provided topic. We then provided 4 thesis statements about the same topic, ranging from 1-4 on the target, explaining how each progressively improved. Here are the examples we used (the bold level is the goal for this unit):

  • Level 1: Macbeth kills King Duncan and becomes king. (Can be proved with 2 pieces of evidence and no analysis)
  • Level 2: Macbeth is originally loyal to King Duncan, but betrays him to become king. (Can be proved with 2 pieces of evidence, but needs some analysis to show loyalty and purpose of betrayal)
  • Level 3: Macbeth's ambition leads him to betray his loyalties to King Duncan. (Needs at least 3 pieces of evidence to prove, and will require more analysis)
  • Level 4: Blinded by ambition, Macbeth betrays his king and his country, remaining loyal only to his imagined destiny. (Will require many pieces of evidence and sophisticated analysis)
Working in pairs, we gave students a new topic and asked them to come up with all 4 levels of thesis. This allows students to understand the difference in complexity--without well-defined and precise targets, students often spend more time "guessing" what the teacher wants than actually learning the skill. Working together allows them to share ideas and learn together; conversation improves learning, so it's often helpful to allow students to talk through their thinking. During this time, we were able to check understanding, re-teach as necessary, and monitor the learning.

We ended the task with individual work. In order to help our students as individuals, we need to know where they are individually--not what they can do with a group or a partner. So we ended with a series of practice thesis statements which we collected. Based on what we see with these statements, we will be able to determine whether we are ready to move on as a class, or whether we need to differentiate more as we prepare for our essay.

There is a lot that goes into a standards based lesson, but more importantly, there's a lot that comes out--greater precision of learning, greater efficiency of learning, and greater ability to differentiate based on individual student need. Thanks for sticking with such a long post--and please let us know if you have any questions!

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