My brother-in-law bought me a grilling cookbook as a birthday present last summer. I learned there are two schools of thought when it comes to grilling: how you grill or how you marinade. I fall in the latter category. I have two young girls so cooking time is a commodity. My girls are true blue Seattlelites – they love salmon. The cookbook explained grilling salmon is much more complicated than placing the fish on the fire. The prep work is key. Mixing the marinade the night before. Soaking the cedar plank in ice-cold water. Turning the fire on a half-hour before grilling. Knowing when the salmon has turned that perfect shade of pink and is ready to serve. Timing is everything.
Humanities teacher Joshua Block discusses in a blog how teachers need to let students “marinate” their learning in a closing activity at the end of a lesson. Block explains that a closing reflection activity allows “opportunity for students to articulate their own learning and self-evaluate in order to improve learning and the quality of their work for the future.”
I wholeheartedly agree. We all need time to process what we just learned. However, I think it is much more complicated than Block suggests. Teachers need to put in the prep work at the beginning of the lesson, and throughout a unit, so the marinade of student reflection yields the best results.
This year I volunteered as a TPEP guinea pig at my school. According to the University of Washington CEL 5 D model my district has adopted, each lesson should start with the instructor stating the purpose of the lesson. Purpose is articulated in two ways: First, explaining the learning target that you want the students to achieve, and then stating the learning goal, or what students will understand by the end of the lesson and/or unit. The CEL 5 D model assesses teachers in being purposeful in all their instruction.
This year I have gotten in the habit of beginning each class by pointing on the white board to both my learning target and learning goal. At the end of the period, I ask my students to reflect if they have met that day’s goal. Take for example a unit on synthesis in my AP Language and Composition class.
The synthesis essay is tricky for students because they need to take a position on a controversial topic and then synthesize sources that are provided to them as evidence to support their claim. Because the exam is a timed test, I frequently begin the class having students respond to a mock essay prompt. During one recent lesson, I told my students today’s class would be focusing on writing introductions. Common Core ELA Writing standards 11-12.2A states students will effectively “Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole…” Then, I explained the lesson’s goal, “By the end of class you’ll be able to comprehend what makes a good intro paragraph from assessing your peers’ writing.”
During the previous lesson, I outlined how to compose an effective introduction paragraph in a PowerPoint, and then we looked at examples of anchor papers assessing introductory paragraphs with a rubric. In this lesson, students would write introductory paragraphs of their own and assess each other.
I posted on the SmartBoard a quote by John F. Kennedy, “If you make peaceful revolution impossible you make violent revolution inevitable.” The student task was support or refute Kennedy’s claim by texts and videos we had read and watched in class: Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” The Occupy Wall Street Manifesto, and scenes from Malcolm X, Gandhi, and The Dark Knight Rises.
After twenty minutes of writing, the students exchanged papers and scored each other using the AP rubric. At the end of the class, I asked them to assess themselves if they reached today’s goal. One student said he was still confused what makes a good intro. Another said we had a lot of work to do as a class. A girl who is normally quiet raised her hand and said, “This lesson taught me that I need to state all my sources in my intro or the reader will be clueless.” She added, “It’s not enough to just state your thesis.”
Two weeks ago my students took the AP exam and I asked them afterwards to reflect on what skills were effective and ineffective on the test. The same timid girl said she loved the mock synthesis essays because it really “kept her on her toes.” Then added, she knew synthesis had gotten in her head because when she was watching a debate on CNN with her dad she kept thinking, “Which speakers would I use as sources in an essay?” The class laughed in agreement. The class smart aleck piped in asked me if I liked to barbeque. I admitted I did. He then added, speaking on behalf of the class, “Because you’ve marinated synthesis permanently into our brains.”