Starting The Year Off With Models

21 Aug

I introduced my IB class, English Literature in their first year of the IB program (11th grade), to Dialectical Journals, something a colleague at a former school taught me about. They are similar to double-entry journals, where the page is split in two down the middle and students choose a quote, put it in the left-hand column, and then put the analysis on the right opposite it.

But they are so much more.

First of all, they have a very specific set of criteria for assessing them, which makes it much easier to ask students to come up with truly insightful entries. The criteria call for entries that not only choose key quotes from the text, but also quotes that are less obvious while being equally insightful. They call for deep, careful analysis of literary features and author style — something oh-so-IB but highly overlooked and underrated in most high-school English courses. And the criteria call for connections from within the text, from text to life, and text to other text. The whole point is that the journal itself is a “dialogue” between the student and the book. They are having an ongoing conversation with the text that evolves, expands, and deepens as the student reads, re-reads, and notes her thoughts.

But here’s where it gets really interesting: the Dialectical Journal from the start is meant to have an audience of more than just 1. Weekly, or even daily, the students read each other’s entries and talk about who has the best one and why. If students have access to online spaces, like Wikis, where they can post entries and others can comment on their entries, then it’s truly public. I find that when the students realize that I mean to make them share entries regularly — with the whole class, by putting the notebooks in a semi-circle and just having us all walk around, reading a few pages each — they immediately produce better quality work.

This week, I introduced the students to the rubric, the standards of the journals, and the pace (minimum of five entries per nightly reading). But I also showed them models of journals from years past. There were three really spectacular samples – two done on computer and one by hand — one average one, and one below average.

I asked students to write down which category each fell into, and the vast majority of students were able to sort the models into the correct categories in a matter of minutes.

One of the best example of using models for learning that I’ve seen is at my old school, Qatar Academy in Doha, Qatar: they kept sample Extended Essays (a required research paper for the IB) on file in the school library for students to view while writing their own. They not only had good models, but models of every level: starting from the top, 7, all the way down the scale to the bottom.

I decided to do something similar, and posted the sample Dialectical Journals on my classroom bulletin board in a big folder with Dialectical Journal Models written on the front and told my students to make use of it any time, during or outside of class. I plan to ask for their feedback on how helpful this was, or wasn’t, next month.

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