Set clear instructional expectations that help elicit students' most quality thinking.
There are many excellent reasons for looking closely at student work. We can look at the work to engage in inquiry around particular students and understand their strengths and struggles across classes and content areas, or we can look at the work of a particular class section in order to create strategic student grouping and inform differentiation for upcoming lessons. Sometimes, looking at student work can be a really meaningful way to reflect on our own instructional and curricular design — especially when we’ve recently created a new learning activity or assessment that we’ve never used before.
Recently, I supported teachers at one of our wonderful partner schools in student work analysis for this purpose. Like many schools across the city, rigor is a focus for professional learning this year. For this particular learning cycle, teachers worked on designing rigorous tasks using the Rigormeter, a resource designed by Dr. Roberta Lenger Kang, which re-envisions Bloom's Taxonomy.
For this particular session, teachers were invited to bring two different pieces of student work: one that “met or exceeded expectations” for the task, and one that “is not yet meeting expectations.” Here is a snapshot of what they did with those pieces of student work, and how this reflection will inform next steps.
What does success look like?
For the first round of reflecting and sharing, teachers spent some time with the piece of work that met or exceeded expectations. Teachers were invited to engage in individual reflection using an iteration of our What / So What / Now What resource, which offers a process for making low-inference observations, analyzing findings, and identifying a course of action.
In this round of reflection, teachers had the opportunity to consider and articulate the success criteria for their rigorous task, and identify the skills and knowledge required for students to produce work that meets or exceeds expectations. Ideally, we’d like to have a clear vision of the success criteria before we ask students to engage in a task, but when we are trying something for the first time, this type of reflection might be necessary to gain further clarity.
Let’s say a Social Studies and ENL co-teaching team is trying out a new assignment in which students are asked to plan an educational tour of Greece for the class. They are asked to choose at least three stops on the map and explain why a particular place or geographical feature is important for understanding the ancient culture of the civilization. A What / So What / Now What-style reflection on a successful student’s work might look like:
What are revisions and next steps?
For the second round of reflecting and sharing, teachers moved their attention to the piece of student work that was not yet meeting expectations. Once again, they engaged with a What/So What/Now What protocol, this time with slightly different prompts:
A sample reflection for that same scenario might be:
Insights and next steps
During our whole staff debrief, one common high-level insight that emerged across departments was that we cannot make assumptions about students’ knowledge and skills before assigning rigorous tasks. Thus, a next step in the group’s professional learning will be to explore the concept of formative assessments and their connections to engaging students in work that is appropriately challenging.
The whirlwind pace of teachers’ work does not always allow a beat to critically reflect on planning; often after trying something new, we must take stock as quickly as possible and then shift our attention to the next lesson, activity, or assessment. However, when we can carve out space for intentional reflection (and school leaders and PD coaches support us in doing so), there are undeniable benefits — perhaps the most obvious being that we have much better insight into students’ immediate needs. But also, if we understand student work to be a mirror of our own practice — reflecting back ways to improve our own instructional design — looking at what students produce in live time informs how we will design our next learning activity, or how we revise our design for next time so that it elicits students’ most quality thinking.