MASTERY OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS CLAIM three
engaging our students in critical thinking leads to improved learning outcomes.
Evidence Block One: Writing Growth over Time in English Language Arts
In 2015, Meadow Glen Middle School’s English department made the decision to incorporate the EL Education modules as the primary curriculum guide across all grade levels. Prior to implementation, teachers were noticing that student work was often one dimensional, as well as lacking in complexity, craftsmanship, and authenticity. In searching for curriculum that would engage students in critical thinking as outlined in Core Practice 11, the teachers and administration landed on the EL Education modules. As a result, our teachers were provided a framework to create and facilitate lessons that promote the Core Practice definition of critical thinking.
The writing samples included here show the shift in complexity and critical thinking. Highlighted are three pieces of student writing, grades 6-8, of a student who entered 6th grade prior to implementation of the modules; this student was supported in resource all three years at Meadow Glen. The 6th grade sample shows a narrative writing response to a prompt asking the student to write about her own life story. The learning outcome shows a writing that only considers the student’s perspective and does not speak to interdisciplinary connections, patterns, or understanding of the big ideas of the narrative unit.
However, when looking at the writing sample for 7th grade, a product of an EL Education ELA module, it is clear that the student was able to consider a perspective outside of herself, as she wrote in the voice of Frederick Douglass, and make interdisciplinary connections while seeing patterns and relationships among texts. Lastly, the 8th grade English I Honors sample, a product of an Engage NY module, the student continues her learning in looking for connection, patterns, and relationships among texts, as well as understanding the larger concepts and ideas of the unit.
Grade 7 Grade 8
Evidence Block Two: Take A Stand Debates
Each year, in social studies classes, our eighth grade students research amendments, craft arguments, and conduct debates as a part of the “Take A Stand” expedition. In reflection over student work produced during preparation for the debates, teachers noted that students demonstrated weaknesses in developing “quick-fire” arguments and rebuttals using evidence-based research. It was clear that there was need to engage students in more critical thinking so that they were identifying connections, patterns and relationships, as well as considering multiple perspectives. Through an intentional focus on critical thinking during the research process, students were better prepared to respond to one another in debate, as well as craft authentic rebuttals that anticipated argument and answered opposing points using evidence-based research.
In addition to benefiting from the scaffolding process, the students were also able to participate in the Constitutional Convention simulation before preparing for the final debate. This simulation allowed students to think critically to problem-solve the issues the young nation faced in writing the constitution. The Constitutional Convention Simulation showed students the importance of having a strong rebuttal to win their argument or build consensus. Students argued from their assigned state delegate perspective, and as a result, strengthened their ability to incorporate rebuttals into their arguments.
The documents below are examples of student work done in preparation for the Take a Stand Debate. The first is before implementation of scaffolding and intentional focus on critical thinking, the second one is after. (Click on the file to view the full document.)
In this debate clip above, students present their support or opposition of the 2nd Amendment.
Evidence Block Three: Socratic Seminars in 6th Grade Social Studies
Prior to implementation of Socratic Seminars in 6th grade social studies, teachers reflected that student work was lacking in complexity. As a result, our 6th grade social studies teachers began to incorporate the practice of engaging students in Socratic Seminars in order to improve the learning outcomes through strategic critical thinking. In preparation for each Socratic Seminar, students analyzed multiple texts, looking for connection, patterns, and relationships, as well as considered varying perspectives. Students also concentrated on how to use textual evidence to support and prepare arguments and counterclaims. In the evidence below, pre-Socratic Seminar work is highlighted, as well a post seminar reflection in which it can be seen how the student was able to consider multiple perspectives and make connections in order to strengthen her understanding of the larger concepts, thus improving her learning from the initial pre-seminar work.
Agriculture Socratic Seminar Pre-Seminar Work
In this piece of student work, there is evidence of the student's analysis of the sources in preparation for the seminar. However, there is no consideration of a true counterclaim or how to defend the claim that is made.
Post Seminar Writing
In this piece of student work, there is evidence of the development of a counterclaim after consideration of multiple perspectives. The student is able to clearly make connections and see patterns among the sources and the perspectives that are heard in the seminar. The highlighted section in the text shows the beginning developments of the counterclaim.
Post Seminar Reflection
In this piece of student work, there is evidence of all parts of critical thinking as the student reflects on the connections made, the perspectives considered, and how all of the elements came together to deepen the understandings of the concepts with in the unit, as well as the greater impact of agriculture.