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The Course of True Mastery Never Did Run Smooth: What Measuring It Looks Like in Humanities Classrooms

Session 1
Tom Jones — NYC iSchool (H.S. 376)

I have been in long pursuit of a pragmatic and effective method of giving students feedback about their writing that actually means something. Written comments at the end of an extended assignment, despite the conventional wisdom, does not seem to actually push students forward. Instead, we need to tell students precisely what is missing from their writing, why it needs to be there, and what they can do to put it there. We first need to unpack the standards into measurable skills that students can work on in their writing (example: How can you use connecting words and phrases to show relationships between ideas?). Next, we need to prioritize having as many authentic conferences with individual students as possible in one given class. These conferences, in which the teacher makes comments like, “You haven’t told me why you think what you think in your claim,” will be the vehicle through which specific suggestions are given to each student. In order to make this happen, we also need to start thinking about how we can expand the opportunities for independent work on a daily basis, for extended periods of time, so that we’re able to devote our attention to these one-on-one sessions. Keeping specific skills in mind and giving feedback on those skills during brief, one-on-one conferences will ensure that students more effectively respond to teacher feedback. They will rise to our expectations and come to see themselves as capable of growing in their writing.

Conversational Practice

Teachers will discuss how they handle feedback on the written work of students, and whether or not they’ve made any conscious adjustments to their instruction with the goal of promoting a growth mindset, as well as mastery learning over assignment completion. We will also explore how to reconcile the tension inherent in attempting to measure mastery while, at the same time, being obliged to assign a numeric grade to a student’s work at the end of each quarter. We’ll discuss the challenges that come with trying to find the right things to say to students in conferences, given the realities of time constraints. Through a sharing of best practices and conversational protocols, participants will walk away with some new ideas for how to approach the establishment, promotion, and assessment of mastery learning in their English and social studies classrooms.

Conversation Links

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Presenter Profiles

Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones
NYC iSchool


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