English Class: Students Demonstrate Their Learning

Alzar School | 18.12.13

In this last unit in Alzar School’s English class “Journeys in Place,” we bring the adventure full circle as students exercise metacognitive thinking to reflect on their growth throughout the semester. As English is a skills-based course, we have focused on writing, speaking, reading, and organization skills in effort to build more effective communicators and more critical thinkers. Students have written speeches and argumentative essays, analyzed works from Jon Krakauer to Thoreau, Jorge Luis Borges to Ernest Hemingway, and learned to participate in a discussion as a community member, rather than an individual vying for the spotlight.┬áIn our last few weeks, students have demonstrated their learning in a number of forums.

Our first week, students read a final work – Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” – demonstrating their best annotation work. Annotating makes students engage physically with the text to ask complicating questions, track major themes, define unknown vocabulary, and analyze authorial use of literary devices such as tone, diction, or anaphora. We use the following rubric throughout the semester to track student progress in target learning objectives.

Sample Annotation Rubric

See below for a sample of student’s final annotations – how do you think they did?

Sample annotated Hemingway1


Sample Hemingway Annotations2

It is unsurprising that students who put thoughtful effort into annotating a piece of literature commonly succeed in the subsequent class Harkness discussions. Here is the rubric for Harkness discussions that we use throughout the semester to track growth in each reasoning, speaking, and listening skillset:

Harkness Discussion Rubric

Wondering what a Harkness discussion looks like? How it differs from a Socratic Seminar? Check out our students’ final discussion on Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” and watch them wrestle with ideas, challenge each other to support their claims with evidence, and support each other through building off their peers’ ideas and posing follow up clarifying questions:

**Disclaimer, it was “Funky Friday” so students are sporting some atypical dress.

Finally, I believe it isn’t enough for a student to simply receive peer or teacher feedback; to continue the learning process, students must be able to self-assess their own strengths and weaknesses, and celebrate their growth through a course. As one of their final projects, students picked a “growth” and “showcase” artifact in each skill category (organization, Harkness discussions, annotations, and writing). They then input these documents into an App called “Educreations” which allows you to vocally annotate a presentation. To showcase their speaking skills as well as provide a summative assessment of their learning, students recorded themselves explaining their specific progress in English class at Alzar School. Watch a presentation here!




In this last week, students have compiled Portfolios which will include a cover letter (the written side of their Educreations reflections), a syllabus and master content list from me (everything we read, wrote, and annotated), and their growth/showcase pieces for each skill area. As their final in English class, students will be synthesizing all of these skills to deliver a final “Demonstration of Learning” presentation. In this dynamic presentation, students must use engaging visuals and activities to tell the story of their change according to one Habit of Mind. They are currently working hard and giving each other effective feedback to prepare for Friday. Stay tuned for the posted videos of these projects after the semester’s end!