Writing to reflect

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introduction to inferences

Writing has not always been an easy journey for me. It is something that I still struggle with at times, whether it’s knowing where to expertly place a semicolon or how to maintain an academic tone worthy of publishing. If you ask me to explain how to write creatively, I sometimes struggle to teach a person to  mold a fleeting thought into something beautiful and concise. I can write long sentences that paint a picture so vivid to readers that one swears that they can see it play out in real time. However, it is not appropriate for all writing to be creative and languid. I initially thought that writing is best when it is used to splay out ideas that reverberate with audiences until I realized that writing in all of its forms still has value and impact no matter the genre. It is only when we teach the confinements and structures of English that we can also show the infinite possibilities of written communication. 
 

Last year during my time at High Tech Middle Chula Vista, I found great joy in teaching writing to my 8th grade students. I truly believe that they left my class at the end of the year with a deeper understanding of the power of writing and how it can be used as a tool to combat ignorance, raise awareness, and truly educate. Common issues that I found were that students would feel overwhelmed by writing, they did not know how to present their ideas in a clear manner, or did not know how to incorporate evidence into their writing. As I prepared for this lesson study cycle and spoke to my cohort members, I realized that this was a widespread issue that most students struggled with. Writing is incredibly hard. However, it is feasible with guidance, scaffolding, and plenty of self-compassion and patience. It is also necessary to stress to students that writing is an ongoing process that can always be improved no matter how exceptional of a writer they are. That is not meant to confine but to free students to the thought of growing in their abilities to be a gift and not a curse. We wanted to work with students to see how we can meet them where they are and prepare them to grow in their abilities. 

Research Theme:

We will create opportunities for students to develop their close reading ability in order to interpret sources for use in evidence based writing.

Focus students

C.

This focal student has trouble participating in class. He is often task avoidant and disrespects teachers when being reprimanded. C. has a turbulent home life with very limited contact with siblings and mother. He does not believe that school is appropriate for him but he does feel pressure from family to push towards college.

C. seems to be very comfortable in the classroom and needs guidance to complete any writing. 

Z.

This focal student is highly motivated by the social aspects of school. She is repeating 10th grade this year and seems to be adapting well despite the difference. The student's anxiety can curb her ability to advocate for herself or complete tasks while in class but volunteers to assist the teacher in collecting supplies. She did not complete very much writing as she needs support.

P.

This focal student began the school year wanting to improve his writing skills. He approached the hosting teacher asking to be given assistance to work on himself academically. The student also desires to excel in school and works to the best of his abilities. P. is sometimes distracted by peers but is well-behaved and motivated. He is social but was very focused on completing writing 

Lesson 
Play
-by-
play

Leading up to the day of the observation, students were working on a unit as part of “A Touch of History” where they analyzed propaganda and read historical texts. The ultimate goal was for students to think in a historical context about national values during WWII while making inferences through text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. The day of the final lesson, class began with a routine activity called “What’s Going On?” where students analyze a historical photo without information to try and find context clues and form inferences. Students were shown a picture of a Nazi rally in Manhattan, New York and asked to call out what they noticed. Several students were able to figure out what the image contained and was about. There was plenty of classroom participation as students were eager to share their inferences. 

 

Students were then asked to use whiteboards to volunteer their definitions of what propaganda and bias is. There was a variety of answers ranging from humorous speculation to serious answers. The hosting teacher read every single board that was held up (all but two students) and then moved on without giving a straightforward key definition. After reviewing on the slides what they saw they were directed to write down their definitions on the graphic organizer provided. 

Then students reviewed the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) format and were then asked to use the prior evidence they were given surrounding their propaganda topic to write several paragraphs. There were mixed amounts of students actually writing and those who were overwhelmed by the entire process despite it being broken down into chunks. They were then told by the hosting teacher that they would be using their drafted CER paragraphs to eventually make an “Explodation” document (i.e. students will write an essay with visual aids on the margins to explain their topic and inferences in more detail. 

Focal student artifacts

Insight &
analysis

During the debrief my group mates and I realized that despite the research, we did not model writing a CER paragraph which had led some students to be confused. Originally we had toyed around with the idea of modeling for students but were ultimately worried about not having enough time to let students write out their first drafts. However, there ended up being a large amount of teacher-led instruction that should have involved more student-led discussion and thinking. We also realized that because there were not two separate historical texts in addition to the visual propaganda, students were working at a disadvantage to increase their evidence writing skills with so few sources. While asking for definitions for the terms propaganda and bias there was never a confirmation of what the actual definition of the words were. Ultimately, while well-intentioned, I believe that the structuring of the lesson without the additional opportunities for support missed the mark. Focal student Z. needed more support in her writing because of her anxiety overwhelming her. There were opportunities to make a point of contact and guidance, however, they were missed. I think that as someone who does not currently have my own class, it was important to see the process of planning a unit, a lesson, and in-person instruction and seeing what I would do differently and what I would carry with me moving forward. 

Reflection

The lesson study was stressful. Working in teams was (not surprisingly) very tough. I found it slightly funny considering I attend a program that is project-based that I would struggle with it myself. The process of planning the cycle made me realize how far ahead I should plan for my projects so I can give the absolute best instruction to future students without shortcuts. I found that the lead up to the actual observation was fraught because our initial research theme was vague and encapsulated too much to focus on. However, those were not the only obstacles. There was also interpersonal tension that only made the process more difficult. Considering I have now finished the first lesson study cycle I am slightly relieved to know the process will be familiar to me as I move forward through the next cycles.