Explicit Teaching About Learning

On Friday, February 28th, I had my 8th Grade US History students work on a current events research and writing activity. This is the fourth such activity the students have worked on this year. Since August, we’ve explored topics such as the pros and cons of social media, and countries moving their capital cities. The topic of this particular assignment was modern slavery. For some reason, a number of students really struggled to create a response to the prompt that was shared with them. So, during my class this morning, while most students were given another task to work on, I pulled aside the students who struggled with the current events activity and held a small, mini lesson with them. 

First, I went over the current events rubric with the students. I showed them how the rubric was organized and where to find the information they needed to meet the project expectations. The students and I discussed a variety of ways to simplify and clarify the rubric as a number of students had some difficulty navigating it. 

Then, using a technique called silent modeling, I demonstrated how I would have tackled this particular writing assignment. Here’s how it worked: I put on the projector and, using Google Docs, I literally wrote a sample response paragraph up on the board for students to watch. After I silently wrote the paragraph, I had students summarize the steps that they saw me go through. By not speaking during the demonstration, students were forced to pay close attention because they already knew, in advance, that I would be asking them about what they saw. 

One of the areas I wanted to spotlight was the nature of these current events paragraphs and how they are essentially the same product each time – students read articles online about a particular topic and then they produce a paragraph that includes effective opening/closing statements and then list three ideas supported by evidence/examples from an outside source. 

My explicit message to the students was that if they can master this genre of writing, then they would not struggle with the remaining such activities we will engage in for the remainder of the year. 

A number of the students had “a-ha” moments during this experience, saying things such as “Oh, that’s it? That’s all I had to do?” when the nature of the assignment was explicitly explained and demonstrated to them. This indicates that as teachers, we are sometimes operating on assumptions about what skills and experiences students are bringing to our classrooms. If a student doesn’t know how a particular genre works, then it is up to us to show them. Simply assigning work and then assessing it is not really a useful practice. We can’t assume students recognize what is expected of them and that, if they don’t know it, then they will pick it up somewhere else. 

Ed X!

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