Tag Archives: Knowledge

Pairing Theory and Practice: Course and Internship Reflection for EDU 6136 Content Methods

In EDU6136 Content Methods this quarter, I have had the great privilege of learning about the pedagogical theories in the educational field that address Program Standard 4, Content Knowledge. The Content Knowledge standard requires that teachers use their understanding of not only their content area and its learning objectives or standards, but also know how best to teach the content to achieve those standards. This requires that teachers learn about and practice the pedagogical processes and resources available to truly impact student learning. This course has exposed me to a wide range of pedagogical approaches, but my internship placement has allowed me to actually apply several of these theories – from assessing prior knowledge, scaffolding, and deepening understanding – to practice.

While I had read Dochy et al. (1999), and believed I fully understood the importance of assessing students’ prior knowledge, I learned quickly in my internship that I wasn’t doing enough to apply this in practice. I was teaching my AP U.S. History students about Eugene V. Debs and the American Socialist Party, and had wrongly assumed we could dig right into a speech of his entitled “Winning the World” about how socialism would ultimately overtake capitalism. Luckily, I did begin the lesson with a KWL chart and quickly picked up on my students’ misguided impressions of the political theory of socialism – I saw my students had conflated the definition of socialism with that of communism. I ditched the planned lesson in order to work with students on coming up with a working definition of socialism. Had I assessed prior learning about the subject earlier, I would certainly have planned a Concept Instruction lesson to help students grapple with the theory on their own with prepared resources. I certainly learned my lesson, and learned that the next time I read about something related to pedagogical practice, I better take note and apply it in my internship!

I was reminded of this again when I read about scaffolding in this course. De Pol et al (2010), for instance, summarize decades’ worth of research on scaffolding in saying, “In general, scaffolding is construed as support given by a teacher to a student when performing a task that the student might otherwise not be able to accomplish” (p. 274). As I thought about scaffolding, I wondered how often I actually gave students too much support, and failed to really challenge them within Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (De Pol, 272). I thought, for instance, how in my AP U.S. History class we give the students time to grapple with review questions before taking a weekly quiz on the contents of the textbook chapter they have just read, and how I often answer several questions without challenging my students to think critically on their own first. De Pol (2012) and others works reminded me that teachers are really just there to facilitate learning, not to give the answers away. With time, and trying to more intentionally apply theory to my practice in my internship placement, I have begun to challenge my students to look in the text themselves or ask each other before coming to me. What a difference that has already made!

Later, as I read the works of Caram and Davis (2005), Goldsmith (2013), and Roberts and Billings (2009) about the importance of asking high quality questions to deepen student understanding, and welcoming questions, conversation, and debate to encourage student engagement, I already knew a little better. My mentor teacher had stressed to me the importance of question asking from day one. She had modeled for me the turn-and-talk in pairs technique, which allows students to bounce thoughts about a given question off of each other before offering them up to the class. I saw how this technique facilitated more open and thoughtful conversation. When I read of this very technique called “Think, Pair, Share” in Goldsmith’s (2013, p.50) research, I recognized it immediately. Additionally when I read Roberts and Billings (2009) work on Socratic seminars and stimulating “conversations that teach” (p.83), I found again that I knew this practice well. In my AP U.S. History course we have hosted seminar discussions on topics from the Declaration of Independence to what it is that Jacob Riis’s work and The Gangs of New York can reveal about the Gilded Age. Currently, I am planning a Socratic Seminar for my students (see below for directions) in which they need to come in as Civil Rights Movement activists and stay in character for the whole of the open discussion – presenting and defending their position on the proper course of the movement.

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It is amazing how theory informs practice (and vice versa)! As I moved forward in the course, I recognized more and more of the strategies we studied, and more intentionally applied them in my internship classrooms. My Content Knowledge skills improved signficiantly as I learned and then practiced how best to teach the information in my classroom. By the time we got to talk about feedback at the end of the semester, for instance, I had already given my students in my AP Language and Composition class substantive comments on creative performance pieces they had presented for the entire class. I typed 1/3-page responses to each and every one of the students about their piece, encouraging them and challenging them with additional questions to grapple with. It took a very, very long time, but I was thrilled I had done it, and had again lined educational theory about skillful feedback to practice.

In going forward, I know I will more intentionally recognize and apply these content method techniques in my internship classrooms in order to further impact student learning. As they say, we learn as we go. In this program I have realized that I learn through both theory and practice, and this course has given me the opportunity to think critically about how best to pair the two.



Billings, L. & Roberts, T. (2009). Speak up and listen. Kappan Magazine, October 2009 ed., pp. 81-85.

Caram, C & Davis, P. (2005). Inviting student engagement with questioning. Kappa Delti Pi Record, Fall 2005 ed., 19-23.

De Pol, J., Volman, M., and Beishusen, J. (2010). Scaffolding in teacher-student interaction: A decade of research. Educational Psychology Review. 22, pp. 271-296. DOI 10.1007/x10648-101-9127-6.

Dochy, Filip, et al. (1999). The relation between assessment practices and outcomes of studies: The case of research on prior knowledge. Review of Educational Research, Summer 1999, Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 145-186.

Goldsmith, W. (2013). Enhancing classroom conversation for all students. Kappan Magazine, April 2013 ed., pp. 48-52.


KWL and Student Voice

The Know, Want to Know, Learned (KWL) chart is an incredibly important instrument for the Constructivist educator. In the classroom in which I student teach we have used this method a few times, particularly with topics to which students have before been exposed. The KWL chart worked particularly effectively during a lesson on slavery in colonial America in my AP US History class. With an issue as important and charged as slavery, my mentor teacher and I wanted to make sure we weren’t just covering what students already knew about the oppressive institution. We wanted to get them to start questioning deeper into the institution itself — question slavery in ways they had never thought to before.

We began that particular lesson on slavery, then, with students writing down what it was they felt they knew. We then had students write down remaining questions they had about it — what they still wanted to learn, gaps in their own knowledge and understanding. We then asked students to share these questions with the class, and wrote several of them on the board. As students began sharing, more thought up new and thought-provoking questions like how did this all begin? Why African slaves in particular? What about guilt? Morality? Does morality itself change with time? How do we reconcile anachronistic notions of “right and wrong” when studying slavery? Are we willing to forego morality for profit always? Do we do this now? How directly in front of us need oppression be to see it as wrong?

These types of questions got the whole class reeling. They were stimulated by their classmates’ questions, and kept coming up with more of their own. They were so genuinely curious, astonished, confused, and angered by the whole institution in a way I am certain many had not been before. The energy in the classroom was intense — I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.

When my mentor teacher began showing images to the students of the Middle Passage ships, shackles, whips, the students shifted uncomfortably in their seats. They didn’t keep quiet though. Once the questions had begun, there was no stopping them. The students now knew what they wanted to know, and they wanted their questions answered right then and there. They realized some of their bigger questions would never be satisfactorily answered that day, and that was an important lesson to learn.

At the end of the lesson we asked that students write a third column after “What I know” and “What I want to know,” titled “What I learned.” The students took up the last five minutes of class writing fiercely away. We plan to collect these notes during our next notebook check to see what questions they felt we answered, and what new questions the lesson spurred in them. What we were most interested in, of course, is getting these students to think in a different way — a more investigative, anthropological, intense, critical way — about slavery than they ever had. I think we achieved what we had set out to do. Those KWL charts will certainly tell us more.

Formative and Summative Assessment in AP U.S. History Unit #1

Tomorrow is the first summative assessment in the AP U.S. History course for which I am student teaching. Throughout the unit we have assessed progress through a variety of formative assessments, primarily through what are called “Key Terms” and their concomitant quizzes.

Key Terms are a list of about twenty terms – whether they be events, people, concepts, etc… – addressed in the week’s textbook chapter, and are due at the beginning of the school day each and every Friday. Students are expected to identify the given terms and describe their significance to U.S. History. As students are expected to read an entire textbook chapter every week, these terms allow them to focus their reading and more closely read for the concepts my mentor teacher deems most important to the course.

Every Friday morning I stamp these Key Terms as handed in on time. I pass them back once students are in class so that the students can use these and their textbook to answer a series of review questions with their table partners. Students are expected to write paragraph responses to at least one of the review questions in the first thirty minutes of class. We allot about ten minutes for group discussion, where the teacher helps address any outstanding questions. Students pass back their Key Terms and in the last twenty minutes of class they take a twenty-question quiz. Each quiz question relates to a different Key Term, and is a mode to assess whether or not students are reading the textbook chapters in their own time as closely as needed. We are laying the groundwork, after all, and it is important that students know the skeleton of history before we can dive deeper.

Key Terms are then graded over the weekend, and the quizzes some time the next week (I’ll admit, however, we have not been great about getting the students their Key Terms or scores quickly, as I have been learning the ropes as I grade this unit). These formal formative assessments are of course coupled with several other informal assessments. My mentor teacher and I, for instance, always consider student participation in class discussion and seminars and stamp completed homework in order to keep track of student engagement.

As said, the first summative assessment for the course takes place tomorrow. The Unit 1 test will include several multiple choice questions related to the key terms the students have already been working with. The second part of the test, however, is quite different. Students have been assigned essay groups (four students each), and together the class came up with four possible essay questions (all relating to how distinct factors affected the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies). Each student is assigned to lead one essay, which means they are expected to write the introduction and conclusion and organize their group members to write the body paragraphs. Each student, then, heads one question and is expected to write three distinct body paragraphs for the other three questions.

Students were given some time to organize who would head and write what for each potential essay question last week. Over the weekend they have presumably written out rough drafts for each question. On the day of the test, my mentor teacher will choose just one of these questions, and depending on the question, all group members should already know which part of the essay they are expected to write. Groups are not even allowed to discuss or strategize during the exam.

Once all is handed in, my mentor teacher will read each part as if it were one essay (understanding, of course, if a group member is absent or really drops the ball on the rest of the group). This takes a great deal of preparation work, and in their preparation time, students will inadvertently have studied for the multiple choice part of the unit exam.

I am very much looking forward to seeing how this summative assessment plays out! The formative assessments thus far this semester have been extraordinarily helpful in assessing student progress, and assessing just how much work these students are doing. The workload is heavy for this course, but the students have the opportunity to really explore the complexities of history. This is all thanks to the foundational knowledge they glean from their Key Term and quiz preparation, which allow us to push them much further during precious class time.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Formative Assessment

Currently I am student teaching for an AP U.S. History course (popularly referred to as “APUSH”) at Roosevelt High School in the Seattle School District. I had an important sit-down with my mentor teacher early in the year about how assessments worked in a class as rigorous and expansive as this. I learned that each and every Friday, students would turn in “Key Terms,” which consist of twenty terms taken from the chapter of the textbook. Students are to identify each term and determine their significance. In the last twenty minutes of class every Friday, students were to take a chapter quiz on these same key terms. Some questions would necessitate a closer reading than others, but the tests were designed to test not only chapter reading, but chapter comprehension.

At first I wasn’t all too stoked about the idea of weekly quizzes. “A quiz every precious week just to check in on pretty wry textbook readings?” I wondered. It wasn’t until I saw this in action that I understood why these quizzes were essential to genuine engagement in other aspects of the course. As my mentor teacher had explained, these quizzes tested students’ knowledge — their retention and understanding of the topics at hand. The Key Terms facilitated the jump from Bloom’s first taxonomy category: Remembering, to the second: Understanding. The quizzes added the necessary pressure to ensure students developed the knowledge of the perhaps somewhat dry information they would certainly need to engage more fully in the more colorful and complicated issues of History.

Class time allowed for students to apply this knowledge gained from studying up for weekly quizzes to more timeless concepts. We must know something of the Founding Fathers before we can analyze their prescription for freedom, after all. So it is in the classroom itself that students in this course have the freedom to explore Applying and Analyzing, the next two on the list of Bloom’s taxonomy. From there, my mentor explained, we can ask students to engage more fully with history, and ask them to think for themselves: to evaluate historical events and create their own judgements on the past. Students can more comfortably engage in big questions like “Did the Founding Fathers’ vision for the United States in fact materialize?” with the knowledge and comprehension the quizzes solidify under their belts. Students must depend on their understanding of the Founding Fathers and their vision of freedom to effectively evaluate its impact and presence in today’s world.

Unit tests, papers, and projects in the course test for things much bigger than just raw knowledge — that’s what those pesky Key Terms and quizzes are, after all! In these unit tests, papers, and projects, my mentor teacher explained, students have the freedom to explore and interpret historical happenings and concepts. Unit tests consist of short and long essay responses and document-based interpretations. Papers ask students to formulate arguments about times’ past, and substantiate such arguments with evidence. Projects allow for genuine creativity and extrapolation — students have the chance to dress up and act as historical figures, engage in debate about the very same complex topics that echoed in Congress halls, and even get to create historical scenarios of their own making in a presentation on the “what if’s?” of history. In this last project, students get to formulate and research questions such as: What would have happened had Hitler not invaded Russia? Or had Roosevelt lived to the age of 90? Or had the United States opted not to fight in the Vietnam War? These other types of assessments depend on the knowledge gleaned from the course’s infamous Key Terms and quizzes. How would students know which question to ask of History if they didn’t know what had already happened?

And so, while the formative assessments of knowledge are perhaps not the most exciting parts of teaching, they are absolutely essential to explore those more stimulating and creative aspects of the classroom. My mentor teacher can bring the class to a whole different intellectual and exciting level all because she uses formal, formative assessment to ensure students are keeping up with, remembering, and comprehending the textbook reading.

From the textbook we make our way into the historical inquiries and argumentation of Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History and Richard Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. We begin with a discussion of Zinn’s first chapter on Monday, and I can hardly wait to see what these students come up with!