Quick Write Summary
Truly understanding science requires my students to think in ways they might not have experienced before. Conceptualizing something that our eyes can't always see is difficult, and so it's valuable to provide graphic organizers, visual models, and other support tools as resources that my students can access while diving into content. One of the richest ways to get students to build their own methods and approaches to solving problems is to allow them to think on paper. Lessons involving direct instruction are always broken into small segments with short, casual writing periods built into the end of each one. These Quick Write Summaries are meant to focus on content construction and are free of structural analysis. I don't grade them, but I'll always help students put together their thoughts and present them with questions that guide them to the answer. Writing-to-learn strategies like the Quick Write Summary help visual learners with long-term comprehension of scientific terminology and sets the stage for students demonstrating their knowledge through writing in future assessments.
By allowing my students to assess other students' work and then providing them with a Student Lab Development Rubric to evaluate their own work, they learn to design and refine high-quality experimental procedures. The Student Lab Development Rubric is one of the tools I use to help students build the experiments they've created and then display results and lab analyses. When students are the ones dictating how they will conduct their experiments, they invest more fully in the activity and come to realize that science involves constant critical analysis and reiteration. I like to move conversations away from "right" and "wrong" and more towards how we can improve each component of our lab activities. Initially, some students feel uncomfortable identifying that their work isn't up to the high standards of the rubric, but over time most come to realize that this process helps them improve their final products and understand the underlying purpose behind labs.
The class pace is always posted at the front of the room, including the lesson that should be completed by the end of class as well as the following class. The class pace serves as a benchmark for students, letting them know how many lessons they should have completed by a certain date. The grading system I use is primarily based on student progress, so for students to get a good grade on their progress reports, its essential that they keep with the pace of the class. This is essentially a guide for students to use as they go through standards at their own pace.
The Candy Land Path is a Candy Land-style trail that runs across several walls in my classroom. Each tile on the trail represents a lesson my students have to master in order to advance in the course. This strategy allows my students' progress to be seen and followed on a day-to-day basis, ultimately giving transparency to the learning process. This is a powerful visual tool for every student - especially for over- and under-achievers - and allows me to reframe school as a learning journey and progression as opposed to just working for a grade. The Path also brings an element of fun to the classroom while preserving its motivational purpose.