Today would be the day that we would reflect on the whole experience of planting daffodil bulbs in the autumn, the reasons why we did it, and how science has helped us understand the specialized parts of the daffodil plant so that we understand how it grew and will continue to exist in our nearby woods and naturalized areas in the community. Last autumn, we planted the bulbs during the Daffodil Project, then we wrote our first writing sample in conjunction with the experience.
All year, each student keeps an active writing portfolio of their essays and tests. I use this portfolio all year to help them grow in understanding of English Language Arts. This sample was the first sample and is now the last of the year. I am hoping it will show both growth in understanding of the NGSS standard about plant structures and function, and of their writing. I asked them to share their knowledge about what we had learned in the fall. We took a few minutes to look at the data and talk about structures of bulbs, planting and the understanding of the dormancy period of the bulb.
Next, I passed the portfolios back and had them silently read their first writing sample. They used notes and the experiences of all the past lessons about daffodils. The data they had collected from these lessons are now going to be used for this final assessment.
To prepare their minds after they had read their first sample, I asked:
What do you notice? Do you think you have grown in your ability to write and communicate your ideas and knowledge?
These questions were driving questions that would help them to focus in the next sample. The next step was to reflect on the whole learning process. I asked them to look at their notes, photographs, experiences, the forced bulb tray in the classroom and think carefully about it all. I also wanted them to reflect about their role in the community as they gave a gift of beauty to their town.
I took a few minutes to let them reflect and then we shared their thoughts about their first sample of the writing. Most students were amazed that their handwriting had improved even though we use technology most of the time to write. Some students said they knew they had better sentences now, understood what a good opening and closing were and that they were totally missing in the first sample. Other students who were on the more advanced end in the beginning said they just noticed that it is just easier to write well now. They didn't have many problems with spelling or punctuation, but sentences had better words. I told them to use this understanding to produce their best work.
This reflection would be extended later into a language arts piece reflecting on the whole portfolio.
I told students to begin by turning their paper over. We read the questions aloud so that I was sure they understood what I expected. I told them that it was smart to create some type of plan to write after one student asked if she could make a web or a mind map. This strategy is starting to become part of their adopted routine of writing now and I am pleased to see this practiced. I encouraged them by saying that they never had to "ask" to plan. I also passed out this thin strip of the General Science Rubric so they could understand I was looking for them to communicate their understanding completely. Having this simple rubric helped them focus on the standard knowing it would be mastered.
I roved the classroom as they began and left them be. I didn't say too much because I wanted this sample to be uninterrupted by my comments and to be more like a test. So, if students asked questions that I thought they should search notes or their prior knowledge, I supported them by directing them to their resources. They could use the videos from their walk, their data they had collected and the notes taken in the classroom.
Students settled in comfortably and worked the full 35 minutes.