Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Reflecting on DQ 4

Thank you to StaceyBetsyDanaTaraBeth, Anna, Kathleen & Deb for 
creating community and valuing teachers' writings. This is post 15 of 31 for 
the March Slice of Life Story Challenge. Join us at Two Writing Teachers

This post may get a little messy. I want to spend some writing time reflecting on the first day of our Macbeth on Trial activity. Writing helps me work out my thinking--but it's in progress stuff, so bear with me.

This year my principal pushed the entire faculty to do a Design Question 4 activity with our students. The principal earmarked extended class periods on days at the end of our first semester for us to try an activity that engaged kids in cognitively complex tasks. We did that with a heart transplant decision making activity. My kids loved it and asked to do something like it again, so I planned a collaborative decision making activity to wrap up our study of complex characters. Students have been studying the characters in Shakespeare's Macbeth and as you may know from my post last week, we are putting Macbeth on trial.

Last week I wrote about grouping students and their levels of engagement. Today was day one of the trial and I want to reflect on several things:

  • Based on what I observed during their preparation and the first half of the trail, where are my students in terms of meeting the goal(s) I set for the work?
  • Are the tasks students must complete in order to put  Macbeth on trial cognitively complex (is it really a DQ4 activity)?

I am going to focus on the later in this post.

There are all sorts of mock trial activities educators and curriculum writers have posted online. I adapted one I found on Ms Beattie's Study Mcbeth Wiki here to suit elements in  Design Question 4. I wanted students to apply their knowledge of argument and analysis to their new and growing knowledge about complex characters.

Engaging students in a mock trial requires that make decisions as a group as to how to create and support and argument about Macbeth's character: his guilt or innocence. It does deepen their knowledge of character (a Design Question 3 practice), but it also also allows them to question and making meaning of their learning about character, Shakespeare, and argument.
Lucy taking an aggressive stance to question a witness. 

 This learning extension over concepts, the study of characters in the play and the focus on decision making via the mock trial experience fall in Design Question 4. Students are "taking their new knowledge" about character and argument and "applying it in a different way to generate new understandings" both of the the characters in Macbeth and of how to structure effective arguments and support claims with evidence (Edwards).

Students' roles in the trial vary. Obviously we have a Macbeth and a Lady Macbeth, other students are witnesses, some serve the prosecution or defense, others serve as jurors and judges. Some jurors and judges researched the time period the play was written in order to craft their trial personas. Others researched the time period the play was set to do that. Each student who served as a judge or jury member crafted a persona; they also discussed how they would note the evidence presented and make their decisions.
Such enthusiastic speaking today. Javier reviewing evidence collected by law enforcement.

Students who served on prosecution or defense teams had to create the case for or against Macbeth. They reviewed evidence with "law enforcement" and then crafted an opening statement and planned to question witnesses. Here is one defense group's work in progress.

 I reviewed the sequence and tasks and rubric with all of the students before sending them off to research, plan and create.

Macbeth on Trial: Roles and Sequence

Macbeth on Trial Group Writing Tasks

Ms Corlies Macbeth on Trial Rubric

Students who played law enforcement officers investigated how to write up evidence and a narrative report of a crime using resources I posted for them on Edmodo as a spring board. Many of these groups did their own research and found better ways of writing up the homicide.

Crime Scene Search Study Guide - informational jumping off point for the law enforcement group's inquiry

Example Police Report form- to guide creation of crime scene narrative for law enforcement group

I realized this morning that students needed more support with formal diction (court language) so I created a language bank for them: Formal Language Cheat Sheet for Court. I used it  to redirect kids on the spot during first period to refocus their language so that it was appropriate to the decision making task of the mock trial. Then for the rest of the day I used it to as a mini-lesson to review the sequence for the trial and frame the expectations about character and argument.

It was an interesting day. Beyond how engaged kids were, I was interested in seeing which kids started to evaluate the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense. There were clear errors in reasoning when it came to some of the questions each side asked their witnesses. A few students realized the errors and those came out in reflective conversations at the end of each court session.

Tomorrow the defense will question their last witnesses and each side will deliver closing arguments. Then while the jury deliberates I will ask everyone to explain what decision should be made about Macbeth and why. We'll hear the verdict and the sentencing (which many judges pulled from history during the preparation phase). Then we'll wrap up by reflecting on the process. I'm looking forward to hearing what students think about how they did and where there is room to improve the process, should I try it again.

An instructional coach and I were talking about DQ 4 activities after school to clarify our thinking around and about them and she asked me a great question: what would an administrator have to see in order to automatically think DQ4? An assistant principal stopped by room after school too and he echoed that question as we discussed the trial (kids had eagerly told him about it during lunch and asked him to come see them speak). I think the reflective pieces (which will come tomorrow) would be important as would review all the supporting documents. If administrators walked into a classroom having review the teacher's lesson plans and supporting documents--if they had not, then surely, a conversation after the fact or walk and read over kids' shoulders should make the learning of a cognitively complex task visible to the observer(s). I'm still thinking about this though--especially as it applies across content areas.

I think it's important for teachers to consider how to reveal the depth of their practice to administrators, peers, instructional coaches and/or other stakeholders who may visit their rooms in order to observe learning in action. Writing about our practice is one way to do that as is having reflective conversations. Knowledge, after all, is powerful.


Beattie. "Process of Trial." Study Macbeth Wikispaces.

Corlies, "trial_details2.doc (trial rubric)." Ms. Corlies 11th Grade Wikispace.

Edwards, John. (2013). "Design Question 4." Learning Sciences: Marzano Center.

1 comment:

  1. I must admit I don't know the expectations of DQ4s, but I do know that at my school, from the youngest to the oldest, we didn't let the students settle for regurgitating information. It feels to me that first the students must be considered in what this means. Whether it was one child presenting a lesson to the rest of the class, or many participating in a simulation, they needed to show they had added to material through asking their own personal questions. It's hard for me to explain, but I see that you have asked such things of your students, Lee Ann. You're expecting "what if?" questions all the time, in the work, their preparation, etc. "What if I dressed this way, what if I posed a question this way, what if I looked at another POV? I enjoyed reading all this shared so much. I can see why the students have loved the doing!