Listening In

Today’s Senior English class was pretty extraordinary for me. I need to figure out a way to translate the evidence of learning and understanding that I heard today as I listened to my seniors talk.

First came the book share. It was Alex’s turn, and even though I gave him the option of waiting until next week (it is after all the first class back after vacation), he was willing to jump in. He is reading a book that his classmates basically dared him to read. It’s a YA Hollywood romance. He’s reading the book, one that is completely opposite of the type he would normally choose. He gave a basic plot summary up to what he’s read so far, he talked about the writing, the story line, the believability of the characters and the situations. He spoke as some one who is reading critically. He did so many of the things that we try to orchestrate from students and often fail to get. It was really cool to listen to him.

Once the book share was over, we moved into a set up of the group project they are going to complete as part of our wrap up of Hamlet. We reoriented our selves to what work we had already completed with the play. I explained to them about the 30 Minute Shakespeare series and how abridgments work, gave them a few guidelines and resources, then set them to work.

I was in and out for a while, dealing with some administrative issues that had come up, but once I was able to sit down and listen to them work, it was wonderful! They reviewed the plot, then went to work discussing what characters they should cut and why, and what scenes they should cut or abbreviate and why. We had some good discussion about the actions and motives of some characters, and we talked about why Shakespeare included the Fortinbras storyline. But mostly I listened to them compare the script with the movie, analyze the characters and scenes, and evaluate and defend their decisions.

Valuable skills were being plied and demonstrated. Their discussion reveled their thinking in clear ways. As I listened to them, I felt so excited to hear evidence of their thinking skills, their understanding of the play, and of Shakespeare’s craft. I thought, “how do I translate that to a number in the online grade book? How do I help them to see the valuable learning and demonstration of learning they are doing right now?

I’m not sure how to answer my own questions. I know that I can do better at giving students more opportunities like this one for them to demonstrate their learning and skills. I know that I can do better at identifying desired outcomes ahead of time and backward plan to design my lessons. I know that I can do a better job of assessing physical work that students produce. But some how I feel as if what I heard today can’t really be assessed, at least not by a number in a spreadsheet column.

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