Making Curriculum Pop

Brothers know you and I
are detrimental with the pencil
Essential to the art
displaying verbal potential
When our words escape
it invades the residential
new heights and angles
focuses to local
trained in many forms of
verbal reverie
The blind got to see
to curb my appetite
When I write for a reason
It's another form of breathing

Chicago rapper Iomos Marad in his track "Appetite to Write"

How do you inspire your students' "appetite to write" about the texts they experience? Today's playlist offers one answer to that question. This "playlist track" can be seen as a cousin to the TEXT REFLECTION FUN LEO© I shared in early November.

In most of the classroom's I've visited, at every level, educators often ask students to do journals in response to a learning experience. Here are some common permutations of the "I didn't have enough time to plan" prompts given to students:

• Reflect on what you learned about math after you worked through last night's math homework.
• Journal as if you were an eyewitness to historical tragedy x.
• Write a reflection about what you learned from science lab y.
• And the classic: keep a reading log as you read novel/story/film z.

These prompts are fine - I've certainly used these type of prompts more times than I'd like to admit. They usually yield interesting responses from at least half your students because students are both unique and interesting. On the flipside these generic writing prompts inevitability yield a high volume of "bottom feeder" reflections (NOTE: the noun used here is not "students"). What is the "bottom" these reflections feed off of? The bottom rungs of of Bloom's Taxonomy. Bottom feeder reflections usually regurgitate surface level knowledge.

Visualize with me some exaggerated "bottom feeding" prompts and responses:

Now that you've read Cather in the Rye, what are your thoughts on the novel?

"I think Holden is sad and that is why he's roaming New York City looking for things to make him happy."

Or the physics lab reflection (probably one I wrote - see Comic Science):

"I learned that every action has an equal and opposite reaction when the two objects hit each other in a vacuum."

These basics are essential for students to understand but they don't show evidence of the students' unique ideas, insights and questions. We have to remember that all students are capable of unique and interesting thoughts. Our job as educators to design instruction in a way that makes "climbing up Bloom's ladder" a manageable and interesting task for as many students as possible.

Of course, there are times when rubrics create too much rigidity and not enough room for play and choice but the one I'm going to share with you today is open ended. It gives students a road map but does not dictate a single route toward an interesting reflection

This is another LEO that my mother (Super Pam) designed for her graduate classes in education. She shared it with me and I remixed it for some undergraduate history and film classes I was teaching at the time. I like working with my mom because she has crazy superpowers when it comes to conceptualizing ways to improve instruction. He's a JPEG of the rubric - it is also attached below as a two per sheet PDF at the bottom of this blog.

This LEO© (Learning Experience Organizer) is built on two central premises that make is usable in any discipline.

The first is the famous post-modern idea that "all the world is a text." That is to say you can read a person's facial expression, interior design choices, a science lab, the weather or a math problem. This concept is perhaps best captured by the title of Paulo Freire's famous book "Literacy: Reading the Word and the World." In my opinion, the limitations of this definition of text are far outweighed by the power it gives people to interpret the universe of texts that surround them.

The second premise is that making connections between knowledge/experience is essential to learning. It does not take a neuroscientist to know that learning and memory are a function of making connections between disparate experiences. That being said, if you want to consult a neuroscientist on this issue consider reading nobel laureate and holocaust survivor Dr. Erich Kandel's memoir In Search of Memory. He's the dude that laid down / observed the biological foundations for the connectivity that is the foundation of learning.

As it turns out journals and reflections are one easy way to help build connections and personalize interactions between knowledge and experience. In the humanities Louise Rosenblatt blew the world of reading wide open in her seminal work Literature as Exploration. In that text she famously proclaimed, “there is no one correct interpretation of a [text], but multiple interpretations, each of them profoundly dependent on the prior experience brought to the text by each reader.” Of course there are better readings, but not one monolithic reading.

Out of Rosenblatt's work came the paradigm that is the mark of our most effective English teachers to this day. You'll often hear English teachers talking about students making "text to text, text to self and text to world connections." This elegant framework is a product of Rosenblatt's work.

Again, like other tools in the MC POP Playlist this LEO©:

1. Clarifies objectives and expectations for your crew.
When you tell students to journal about their text/experience the really creative students will flow but others will need clearer directions. Hence the value of rubrics. Duh - not rocket science, however this rubric ...

2. Is differentiated.
Remember, differentiation can be done by offering choices around content, processes and product. Most of this LEO© allows students to choose what content they are going to respond to and how they are going to process that content. This rubric actually lets students choose the dimensions they would like to explore. This helps each student to create unique products (a.k.a. learning footprints).

3. Creates footprints of student learning.
When my undergrads asked practicing teachers how they know students are learning at least three teachers said, “I just know from the look in their eyes.”

If we want folks - especially policy makers - to take our profession seriously we need to be able to show evidence of student learning. If you’re an administrator you might like to call these LEOs© “data.” These rubrics help capture convincing information about students’ successes, struggles and ideas that can be used to adjust instruction.

4. Shifts students from passive to active learning.
Instead of passive reading students now have a focus for responding to / interacting with a text.

5. Holds students and teachers accountable for learning outcomes.
Oh, snap! I used the "A" word again!

Using the broad definition of "text" this rubric is designed to be an almost "universal" rubric that can be used in every discipline. Yes, there is one category specific to English teachers but that is the one dimension we'd like to alter for each discipline with your feedback.

In our experience this tool is such that it appears to work best in the 8th Grade (my mom rocks 7th and 8th grade in her day job) - college range. Of course, we could see folks adapting it for younger students.

As usual, I hope you find this PLAYLIST addition useful to your practice and welcome MAD feedback below! We imagine tweaking the rubric so it would feel more usable outside the humanities based on your suggestions.


Ryan (and, by association on this project, Pam)

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Debra - yeah, this is a playlist entry that needs to be more "universal" - can you send me a reminder e-mail mid-sept, I'd be happy to make the tweak then! Great idea.

This is a great tool, thanks.

My pleaesure - lots more of those at the playlist link that you might enjoy. Also the book I wrote with my mom is loaded with things like this you can download / xerox as well



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