What is the Models by Design blog?

2 Aug

Models by Design is a method of using models of student work that I devised based on my work as a middle and high school English teacher.

It all started from a conversation I had with my dad, an old hand in education. I was describing to him a perennial problem I had: I provided my students with detailed rubrics, explained the task as clearly as possible, and showed them models of work to help them understand what I wanted them to do, and still there was a core group of students who just didn’t seem to get it. “What am I doing wrong?” I asked my dad.

“I’m willing to bet that you’re only showing them models of excellence.”

Bingo.

And that was when a lightbulb when off. I began a quest then and there to begin archiving varied models of student work so that I might use them more effectively in my classes.

The basic premise is this: I save three different categories of student work samples (or models, as I call them) for all major assessments: above average, average, and below average. That means if my grade 8 students are writing paragraphs, I’ll save a copy of one stellar paragraph, one perfectly OK one, and one weak one. I’ll do the same for my grade 11 persuasion essays, and for my grade 9 visual metaphors. I will even do it for my grade 12 presentations — filming them and keeping a digital archive of one excellent, one average, and one not-so-good presentation. I do it for all major assessments in a given year.

Why am I archiving these models of work? Three reasons:

1. For use in teaching. Per my dad’s suggestion, I started using models of varied achievement levels when introducing an assessment (such as a cultural identity project) or reinforcing a skill (such as paragraph writing). I’ve been amazed at how much understanding and transfer have increased simply by showing students the variety of models — they seem to grasp immediately what separates the wheat from the chaff when showed varied examples.

2. For use in professional growth. Shared grading exercises, in which a group of English teachers and I spend a half hour group-grading the same essays to see how well we align in our assessment criteria, has been a fantastic (and free!) PD experience. In addition, new faculty can benefit from this archived work to see for themselves what their new colleagues consider “excellent” and “average.”

3. For use in the parent community. I think teachers can often be a little cavalier about parents’ lack of understanding about what their children are being asked to do in our courses and how they are evaluated on that work. By having varied models of student work to show them in parent conferences, they can see for themselves just how clearly their children’s work compares to above average, average, and blow average work for the same assignment, which helps them have a better understanding of why a certain grade gets assigned.

This blog is where I will report, question, ponder, and even debate with any willing commenters the results of implementing my Models by Design method in teaching my grade 9 classes during the 2011 – 2012 school year. I hope you gain something here and can even contribute something, too.

A.S.W.

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