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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers Should Analyze Student Work Together

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

In my last post, "How to Make Writing Research Papers Relevant for Students," I described an expository writing task that all our students at Envision Schools must complete. In this post, I will highlight the task of analyzing literature.

Do college instructors and high school teachers agree on what constitutes college-ready work? We tested that question earlier this month at an institute for California Early College High Schools, in sunny San Diego. Our chief academic officer, a teacher, myself, and our partner from the Stanford Redesign Network designed a workshop for college faculty and high school educators to score an example of our English/Language Arts student performance task, Literary/Textual Analysis. Here is a brief description of the task from our guidebook:

"Through the study of language and literature, we expect students to develop the appropriate skills and tools necessary to be confident critical readers and thinkers, as well as effective and persuasive communicators. We expect students not only to show an understanding of the concerns and implications of literature in its varied forms and styles (fiction, nonfiction, genre, and author, etc.) but also to use literature as a tool to investigate and discuss topics and concerns that are relevant to students' lives today.

"To demonstrate their mastery of the discipline, students must select a writing sample that demonstrates the ability to read and think critically, communicate effectively and persuasively."

After discussing the rubric, we presented a paper that had been created as part of an integrated American history and American literature project unit. Students selected an American author to research and were required to read at least five lengthy pieces from this writer. Students were asked to write a 7- to 10-page paper comparing the various pieces of literature in the context of the historical and cultural times in America. The student writing we read analyzed the writings of Flannery O'Connor.

Based on the student work, we had a rich discussion about whether it was college ready. Even though we chose a piece that had been quite contentious with our teachers back at the school site, all the teachers -- college and high school -- agreed that based on this piece of work, the student was ready for a freshman-level English course at a university. We encouraged participants to think about how they can create similar dialogue at their schools using student work.

Have you collectively discussed, analyzed, and assessed student work with your colleagues to drive change at your school? If so, how did it work? Please share the results, as well as your thoughts and ideas about looking at student work.

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