Classroom Connection: Deep Discussion

Oct 8, 2012 by     2 Comments    Posted under: Classroom

“The last activity for this unit will be to complete an essay. This will be the major assessment for the unit.” This seems to be a memory I have from my schooling experience. The final essay was the thing that rounded out a unit and made up most of your grade. At the time I really didn’t give much thought to if this was the best way of doing things. It was just the way it was done.

Since moving to the other side of the fence, becoming a teaching, I have thought often about what is the most effective way (or combination of ways) to assess student understanding. A lesson I recently saw has made me once again rethink the traditional model of assessment with the essay falling at the end of a unit.

This class of senior IB Diploma students has been studying Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and were at the stage of turning in one of the major essays for the unit. Instead of simply handing their essays in and starting up on a new theme, the students were given five minutes at the start of the lesson to summarize their essay into four to five bullet points. They then had to share their bullet points with the class.

Arts Education Schools London

At first the students weren’t sure about the activity (as it was something new to them) but they quickly got into it. The five minute preparation time limit forced them to quickly identify their main points – basically they had to get to their heart of their essay, “What were they trying to say?”. Their brief presentations were interesting for a number of reasons – there was such a variety of interpretations, their were interpretations that supported and contradicted another person’s view and all students had a thought grasp of the main themes of the play. The biggest highlight of their brief activity was the type of questions that students found themselves asking each other. The students were listening intently to one another and were asking questions of the presenter in order to clarify their own understanding but also to help further the presenter’s understanding.

This idea of explanation, clarification and justification was then furthered as students were asked to play chess. You heard right, “chess“. Students paired up and then began a game of chess. They had to speak about their understanding of “Measure for Measure” non-stop while it was their turn. Then their opponent would have to speak non-stop (or interrogate their opponent) about their impression and so on.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by angeloangelo

As I was joining in on the discussions that were going on I was thinking about how rich an assessment of student learning this was. The essays was only one element of a student’s understanding that the teacher was collating. As the students were sharing their summaries and exploring their understanding during the chess game the teacher was questioning, probing and clarifying the student’s understanding. The teacher was able to truly get an idea of where his students were at. What a great lesson – a fantastic play, engaged students, thoughtful teaching and rich learning experiences.

2 Comments + Add Comment

  • The chess game is a great idea. I like the idea of the presentation as well. But maybe I would do it as part of the writing process? Have them do that with a draft and then they can see the strength and weaknesses of their positions as well.

    • I can see this activity working as part of the writing process. I think it would really help students clarify their viewpoint and hopefully this would help them to further refine their essay. It even could be done early on in the process so students are exposed to other viewpoints of the text. This expose might help challenge their own opinions and lead to a more in depth text analysis.

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