M-STEP Spring 2015 Student Supports and Accommodations Webinar

News Uncategorized

From MDE’s Spotlight on Student Assessment & Accountability Newsletter:

These webinars will focus on what you need to know to be up to date with the latest information regarding the students supports and accommodations guidelines for the M-STEP summative assessments.

Topics will include Universal Tools, Designated Supports, and Accommodations, as well as which students qualify for these accommodations and supports during this spring’s testing cycle.

Dates of the webinars:

  • February 10 and 11: 8:00–9:00 A.M. and 2:00–3:00 P.M.
  • March 3 and 4: 8:00–9:00 A.M. and 2:00–3:00 P.M.

Participants need to only attend one of the sessions. To register for these webinars, please send an e-mail to baa@ michigan.gov with the subject line Student Supports and Accommodations Webinar and include the date and time you wish to attend.

Interested participants may also call 517-373-7559.

Podcast Power: Listening Skills & Curriculum, part 2

Common Core Consultants' Corner Literacy & Technology

In my first post on the power of podcasts, I talked about their place in the ELA classroom.  Not only do they meet important standards, but they develop crucial listening skills.  And I talked at some length about Serial, a must listen to podcast.  So if you’re sold on bringing this medium into your classroom, what podcast do you choose and how do you effectively integrate it effectively from a curricular and skill standpoint?  Below are some ideas for how to think about choosing a podcast to work with what you’re already teaching.

Combine Nonfiction Podcasts with Narrative Reading to Study Theme

this-american-lifeThis American Life episodes are ideal to couple with fiction, especially if you’re focused on theme. The show is structured around a single theme each week.  So it’s quite easy to scroll through the archives and find a theme you might be looking for, especially because of the nice thumbnail descriptions TAL provides. For example:

Most of us go from day to day just coasting on the status quo. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? But when routines just get too mundane or systems stop making sense, sometimes you just have to hold your breath…and jump. This week, stories of people who leap from their lives, their comfort zones…even through time.  

from Episode 539: The Leap, This American Life

This episode pairs well with texts about risk-taking, the consequences of risk-taking, a desire to leave reality, and escape. I can imagine having students listen to it in conjunction with Into the Wild, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and even Romeo & Juliet.

Or perhaps you’re doing a character study on the morality of characters in a text like Hamlet, Atonement by Ian McEwan, or To Kill a Mockingbird.  Students could list to segments of TAL‘s episode called “Good Guys” and compare these real life stories to the choices made by characters in the fiction text they’re reading.

Lots of men think of themselves as “good guys.” But what does it actually take to be one? To be a truly good guy. Stories of valiant men attempting to do good in challenging circumstances: in war zones, department stores, public buses, and at the bottom of a cave 900 feet underground.

from Episode 515: Good Guys, This American Life

The other beautiful thing is that each episode of This American Life is divided into smaller acts. So you can select one act to have students listen to or several acts.  Regardless of how many acts they listen to, when pairing narrative texts and podcasts, you’re having students read across texts, a key Common Core Standard:

Reading Anchor Standard 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Use Podcasts as Texts for Argument Analysis

themothWhen you use podcasts in this way in your classroom, students identify and analyze the implicit and explicit arguments being made in each “act” of a TAL podcast or other podcast, comparing the arguments within an episode.  They can then respond with their own written or recorded narrative argument about the topic. This American Life episodes provide listeners with a series of narrative arguments around a single theme.

What do I mean by narrative argument?  Each act delivers a compelling story, and that story and the producer’s reflection on the events in the story, create an argument.  The creation of an implicit argument via narrative and reflection is incredibly difficult to do, as students discover when they try to write a personal essay.  But that difficulty is all the more reason to listen to TAL episodes and to even have your students create mini-podcasts, which I’ll talk about in my next post.

Suggested Podcasts: 

  • Is This Thing Working?, This American Life – Stories of schools struggling with what to do with misbehaving kids. There’s no general agreement about what teachers should do to discipline kids. And there’s evidence that some of the most popular punishments actually may harm kids. (tags: school, discipline, inequality, education system)
  • “Partners in Struggle” by Grace Lee Boggs, The Moth – This Detroit native and nationally known activist is inspired to begin activist work in the 1940s and meets her future husband. (tags: Detroit, activism, love, diversity)
  • “Who Put the ‘Pistol’ in ‘Epistolary’?” from “My Pen Pal,” This American Life – The story of a ten-year-old girl from small town Michigan named Sarah York, and how she became pen pals with a man who was considered an enemy of the United States, a dictator, a drug trafficker, and a murderer: Manuel Noriega. (tags: unlikely friends, propaganda, international relations, Michigan)
  • “Prom,” by Hasan Minhaj The Moth – A high schooler encounters racism when he tries to go to prom. (tags: teenage experience, racism, cultural diversity, big events)
  • “Scene from a Mall” – This American Life spends several days in a mall in suburban Tennessee, to document life in the mall during the run-up to Christmas. Also, a rift in a national association of professional Santas—the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas (yes, there is such a group). (tags: holidays, working teenagers, suburbia, place/environment, subcultures, competition)
  • “Allure of the Mean Friend, “ This American Life – What is it about them, our mean friends? They treat us badly, they don’t call us back, they cancel plans at the last minute, and yet we come back for more. Popular bullies exist in business, politics, everywhere. How do they stay so popular? (tags: friendship, teenage life, contradictions, bullying)

Developing Close Listening Skills

So you’ve decided what podcast to use and how it works with your curriculum. But how do you scaffold and support good listening skills?

186957826Multi-draft Listening

Just as we ask students to read a text more than once, they’ll need to listen to a podcast more than once.  I suggest taking an approach similar to the one you’d use with close reading:

First Listen – Listen to the podcast all the way through to make sense of the story and get the gist.  Pause occasionally to have students jot down names of people, questions that come up and big ideas that are explicitly or implicitly stated.

Second Listen – With your students, develop a listening agenda.  What questions do you/they want answered?  What’s the main idea of the episode? What aspects of the episodes structure contribute to their understanding?   Chunk the listening by stopping every 5-10 minutes to allow students to jot notes and add to their graphic organizers (see the next section).

Third Listen – This very focused listen allows the class, small groups, or individuals to return to specific points in the podcast to re-listen for deeper analysis in order to confirm or test initial theories they developed based on their early listening.

Student-created Graphic Organizers

Because students can’t annotate this audio text in the same way they can annotate a hard copy or even digital text, graphic organizers become really important.  Podcasts require a bit more work on the part of the student when it comes to annotation.  Below are some ideas for types of graphic organizers to help students structure their thinking:

  • Timeline of Key Moments/Events – A chronological list of key moments in the story that will help them later develop ideas about the episode’s structure.
  • Structure Picture – Students draw a picture of how they perceive the structure of an episode.  This might follow the more traditional text structure graphics we’re accustomed to or might be more of a mind mind.
  • People Map – As they listen, have students develop a map of characters and how they’re related — like this one on the Serial website.
  • Evidence Chart – Have students create a T chart.  For Serial, the two columns would be titled “innocent” and “guilty.”  As they (re)listen, they will record which evidence makes Adnan seem guilty and which evidence makes him appear innocent.  For another podcast, students might be gathering evidence regarding another question.  The columns might be labeled “pro” and “con” or “agree” and “disagree.”
  • Question Web – What questions remain unanswered? Students create a web of both factual and analytical questions, connecting those that relate to and generate other questions.

Have ideas to share about good podcasts for student listening and how to use them in the classroom?  Please share in the comment section.  In my final blog post on podcasting, I’ll provide some ways of thinking about having students produce their own podcasts, and possible pitfalls in the process.

Delia DeCourcyDelia DeCourcy joined Oakland Schools in 2013 after a stint as an independent education consultant in North Carolina where her focus was on ed tech integration and literacy instruction.  During that time, she was also a lead writer for the Common Core-aligned ELA writing units. Prior to that, she was a writing instructor at the University of Michigan where she taught first-year, new media, and creative writing and was awarded the Moscow Prize for Excellence in Teaching Composition. In her role as secondary literacy consultant, Delia brings all her writing, curriculum design, administration, and teaching skills to bear, supporting districts in their implementation of the Common Core via onsite workshops and consultations, as well as workshops at Oakland Schools.  She is currently spearheading the development of literacy-focused online professional learning modules as well as the building of a virtual portal where Michigan educators can learn and collaborate.

Podcast Power: Boosting Listening Skills, part 1

Common Core Consultants' Corner Literacy & Technology

podcastDuring the twelve hour drive from Michigan to North Carolina and back over the holidays, I listened to a lot of podcasts. I admit it: I’m a podcast addict. Any time I have to drive for an hour or longer, I listen to a podcast–This American Life, The Moth, Ted Talks Radio Hour, Radio LabSnap Judgment… All that listening and driving got me thinking about using podcasts in the classroom and why it’s a relevant medium.

Connection to Standards

The Common Core Standards prioritize speaking and listening skills in a fairly rigorous way.  ELA teachers have always valued speaking and listening skills and given students the opportunity to develop them in their classrooms.  But with the adoption of the Standards, these skills are now clearly defined and progress in complexity from year to year, meaning teachers and departments have to think about how they’ll address speaking and listening in a comprehensive way. Often when we think of the speaking and listening standards, our minds immediately go to discussion–how to get students to engage in rich and complex discourse.  But in this post I want to focus on the podcast medium as a fairly exciting way for teachers and students to explore close listening together.  Listening to podcasts as nonfiction texts (a great way to infuse your curriculum with more nonfiction!) directly addresses these two standards:

Speaking & Listening Standard 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Speaking & Listening Standard 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Why Is Podcasting an Important Medium?

484812177I remember talking to a colleague a few years ago who proclaimed that podcasting was not new media.  She said it was just recorded radio and that podcasting was over.  But podcasting is so not over and it’s a lot more than recorded radio.  Sometimes podcasts never appear first on the radio at all.  So why is this an important and popular media form?

  • Podcasts are available on demand via our mobile devices, thanks to iTunes and the websites of popular podcasts. So we can listen anytime, anywhere.
  • There is a growing library of free, high-quality podcasts on a wide range of subjects.
  • They run the gamut of nonfiction genres: storytelling, informational, and argument-focused podcasts ranging in purposes from entertainment to news to self-help (exercise, nutrition, spirituality, emotional health).
  • We can multi-task while we listen–drive, make dinner, walk the dog, exercise at the gym.
  • As with other digital texts, the general public (students!) can create and publish podcasts–and they are in fairly high numbers.

Start with Serial

serial-social-logoIn October, I was over the moon when Serial, a This American Life spin off that follows a single story for twelve episodes came out.  From episode one, I was hooked.  So rather than talk about strategies for integrating this medium in your classroom (that will be my next post), I’m going to make a pitch for using this new podcast.  I would suggest that for high school classes, especially juniors and seniors, Serial is a great place to start.  (I’m not alone.  A California high school teacher has replaced the study of Hamlet with Serial.)  Why?  Well, here’s the context for the start of this story…

It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. 

Serial website

Adnan, a popular student with strong ties to the Muslim community, is later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.  He was 18.  And as the very first episode of Serial unravels for its listeners, the evidence was contradictory and, in some instances, spotty.

Other compelling reasons to use Serial in the classroom:

  • serialcollageIt’s great storytelling and relevant to your students.  The cast of characters is almost entirely high school students (or they were at the time of the murder) living through the things your students experience–juggling school and extracurriculars, navigating cultural differences between home life and school life, experiencing young love, making their way through the simmering stew of high school social life. This will seriously engage your students.
  • Serial has changed the face of podcasting.  It’s like the True Detective of radio (with a lot less violence).  People could not wait for each new episode of Serial to be released on Thursdays and there was no telling which direction the story would turn and if the producers would decide to declare Adnan innocent or guilty.  It has been downloaded more than any other podcast–more than 5 million times.  And unlike many mainstream podcasts, it was not orignially broadcast on the radio.  To read more about Serial’s popularity and possible reasons for it, check out this Salon article.
  • It has caused a stir on the internet.  People are blogging about it, arguing about it, and commenting non-stop.  There have been many articles published as the story has unfolded week to week.  The number of Serial-related threads on Reddit alone are a clear indicator of how this podcast has captured people’s imaginations.  And there’s a new two-part interview with the star witness whose testimony led to Adnan’s conviction and life sentence.
  • The Serial website contains all kinds of really cool visual artifacts related to each episode.  Using these in conjunction with the episodes means students can analyze across media–a Common Core dream!
  • Serial provides endless ways to study central idea/claim, argument and evidence, theme, bias, character development and text structure.

If you don’t want to commit to all twelve episodes of Serial, consider using only the first episode.  That 60 minute audio text alone will make for some very interesting and creative teaching and learning. In my next post, I’ll talk about developing close listening and annotation skills and other ways of using podcasts in the classroom.  I’ll also suggest specific episodes from other podcasts you might use.

Do you have any podcasts you love? Please share in the comments section.  And if you’re already using podcasts in your classroom, please share your ideas!

Reading Podcast Power: Listening Skills & Curriculum, part 2

Delia DeCourcyDelia DeCourcy joined Oakland Schools in 2013 after a stint as an independent education consultant in North Carolina where her focus was on ed tech integration and literacy instruction.  During that time, she was also a lead writer for the Common Core-aligned ELA writing units. Prior to that, she was a writing instructor at the University of Michigan where she taught first-year, new media, and creative writing and was awarded the Moscow Prize for Excellence in Teaching Composition. In her role as secondary literacy consultant, Delia brings all her writing, curriculum design, administration, and teaching skills to bear, supporting districts in their implementation of the Common Core via onsite workshops and consultations, as well as workshops at Oakland Schools.  She is currently spearheading the development of literacy-focused online professional learning modules as well as the building of a virtual portal where Michigan educators can learn and collaborate.

Moving from the ACT to the SAT in 2016

News

The Michigan Department of Education announced this shift yesterday.  For more information, see the press release below.

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MDE News Release

Contact:    Martin Ackley, Director of Public and Governmental Affairs, (517) 241-4395

                  Caleb Buhs, Michigan DTMB, (517) 241-7422

State Awards Future College Assessment to College Board’s SAT for Michigan Students

January 7, 2015

LANSING –- All Michigan high school juniors will begin taking the SAT as the state-administered college assessment exam beginning in 2016 after the College Board won the three-year competitively-bid contract, the Michigan Department of Education and Department of Technology, Management and Budget jointly announced today.

The College Board administers the SAT, a globally-recognized college admission test that lets students show colleges what they know and how well they can apply that knowledge. It tests students’ knowledge of reading, writing and math — subjects that are taught every day in high school classrooms in Michigan.

ACT, Inc. will continue to provide its WorkKeys assessment for all high school students. Both the college entrance assessment and work skills tests are required in state law to be provided free to all high school students, and each is periodically competitively bid through the state’s structured procurement process, as directed by the Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB).

 “The College Board’s SAT test is respected and used around the country,” said State Superintendent Mike Flanagan, “and Michigan high schools work with them now through their Advanced Placement program that helps students earn college credits while in high school.

“Their bid was rated the highest; provides valuable assistance to Michigan educators, students, and parents; is more aligned to Michigan’s content standards; and saves the state millions of dollars over the course of the three-year contract,” Flanagan said.

The College Board’s bid was $15.4 million less over the three-year contract than the next bidder and scored 10 percentage points higher by the Joint Evaluation Committee (JEC). In addition to staff from MDE and DTMB, the evaluation committee also included members representing the education community, including a high school principal; local school superintendent; a testing and assessment consultant from an intermediate school district; and a vice president from a Michigan community college.

Bill Barnes, principal at Charlotte High School and member of the JEC said: “The attention to detail with which the College Board created its proposal and the extensive resources that it will provide to schools and students to help them prepare for the test, make its college readiness assessment the best choice for Michigan.”

Another member of the Joint Evaluation Committee, Jim Gullen, a data and evaluation consultant for the Macomb Intermediate School District, said: “After two days of review and discussion, there was no question that College Board put forth the best proposal. Considering the quality of College Board’s proposal, the value presented in the pricing, and our current legislation, it is a good time to transition to the SAT to assess Michigan’s high school students’ mastery of the Michigan curriculum.”

Each year, the College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT and the Advanced Placement program. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools.

The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) is forming a team that will include the local, regional, and community college members of the Joint Evaluation Committee to assist in the transition to the SAT. In addition, the department will hold an onsite meeting with the College Board to discuss how it intends to positively affect the transition for Michigan schools, educators, parents, and students.

In its successful bid, the College Board included the following value-added components that will benefit Michigan schools and families:

  • Beginning in Spring 2015, the College Board will provide all schools and students with free test prep materials and online practice tests to help students prepare for the redesigned SAT in 2016.
  • Professional Development
    • In-person and technology-based training for local test administrators, proctors, and technology coordinators
    • Professional development for teachers, students, and parents in understanding the new SAT and analyzing test results
    • Professional development for post-secondary enrollment professionals in using the data/resources for admissions and financial aid decisions
  • An updated and relevant assessment
    • Redesigned SAT beginning in 2016
    • Aligned to Michigan content standards, evidence-based design
    • Additional item types beyond multiple choice
    • New forms developed each year
    • Reports available online
  • Simplification and reduction of school staff effort to request testing accommodations
    • No need to reapply for testing accommodations if already approved for the Advanced Placement Program, or the PSAT testing for National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test

The college entrance exam and work skills assessment are given free to approximately 115,000 Michigan high school students each year.

ACT WorkKeys is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce.  This series of tests measures foundational and soft skills and offers specialized assessments to target institutional needs.

As part of ACT’s Work Readiness System, ACT WorkKeys has helped millions of people in high schools, colleges, professional associations, businesses, and government agencies build their skills to increase global competitiveness and develop successful career pathways.

Successful completion of ACT WorkKeys assessments in Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Reading for Information can lead to earning ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate (ACT NCRC), a portable credential earned by more than 2.3 million people across the United States.

Michigan high school students have taken the WorkKeys assessment since 2007.  Over 413,000 Michigan students have received an NCRC credential.

Although the contracts await final completion and approval of the State Administrative Board, the three-year contract for the college entrance assessment will cost approximately $17.1 million, and the three-year work skills assessment will cost approximately $12.2 million.

More Details on Spring 2015 M-STEP Testing

News

M-Step-Logo_473059_7We have a few more details about the tests that will be given in the spring, including types of tests at each grade level. A batch of sample items is in production now. This sample will be available “shortly” to all schools and will demonstrate the online functions and tools of the M-STEP.

The ELA Spring 2015 M-STEP is a comprehensive ELA model:

·         Grades 3-8: Smarter Balanced content plus Michigan-developed field-test items. This will include a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT), a Classroom Activity, and a Performance Task.

·         Grade 11: Smarter Balanced content plus Michigan-developed field-test items. This will include a Computer Adaptive Test (CAT), a Classroom Activity, and a Performance Task. This is in addition to the ACT plus Writing and Work-Keys.

·         The M-STEP (grades 3-8, 11) will include items from the following Michigan Standards: reading, writing, language, listening.

The most current assessment transition document outlines the details for the M-STEP.  For additional information, click here.

To get up to date news on the state assessments, subscribe to MDE’s Spotlight on Assessment and Accountability Newsletter.

Standardized Testing Update

Legislative Updates News

MDE just put out this news release with details about the standardized assessment for spring 2015.

MICHIGAN STUDENT TEST SYSTEM DEVELOPED FOR SPRING 2015

November 13, 2014

LANSING – Michigan’s public schools can begin moving forward in their planning for the online statewide student assessment in the Spring of 2015. The Michigan Department of Education announced today its updated assessment system, called the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP).

“This is great news for our local school districts,” said State Superintendent Mike Flanagan. “They’ve been very anxious to hear what the new assessment will be, as we developed a new test to comply with legislatively-mandated changes.”

The new assessment was required by the state legislature for the Spring 2015 testing period. The legislature also required the Department of Education to re-bid its long-term assessment system that will begin in the Spring of 2016.

The new assessment meets all of the requirements put into law by the legislature; that it be: an online assessment, with a paper-and-pencil option; aligned to the state standards; expanding writing assessments to additional grades; providing an increased number of constructed response test questions so that pupils can demonstrate higher-order skills, such as problem solving and communicating reasoning; and pilot tested before statewide implementation.

M-STEP replaces the 44-year-old MEAP test, which was not online and measured the previous state standards. The Spring 2015 assessment will include Michigan-created content, as well as content developed by the multi-state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Educators from Michigan public schools helped develop and write test content that will appear on M-STEP.

 

“The changes in law diverted what the department and local school districts had been developing and preparing for over the past three years,” Flanagan said. “It put schools in some unwelcomed limbo while our experts scrambled to find testing content that met the legislative requirements.”

The assessment for Spring 2015 is a one-year stopgap until the long-term assessment is awarded through the re-bidding process.

M-STEP includes the following assessments:

  •   A Spring summative assessment for grades 3-8
  •   A Michigan Merit Exam (MME) for grade 11, which includes a college entrance exam; a work skills component; and a summative component aligned to Michigan content standards

This will be the first time all statewide assessments will be administered online. To help prepare, nearly 1,900 Michigan schools have performed pilot online testing over the past three and a half years. The state Legislature has invested more than $100 million over the past two years to help get local districts technology-ready for the new assessments. To date, over 80 percent of schools meet the minimum technology requirement for the new assessment.

There still will be a paper-and-pencil option for schools if they believe they are not ready with the minimal technology requirements. Districts have until November 21 to request a waiver to administer the paper/pencil test. Due to the cost concerns of preparing the separate online and paper/pencil formats, and wanting to be the best stewards of public funds, MDE will not entertain change requests beyond that November 21 deadline date.

The entire Michigan Merit Exam for the Spring of 2015 will take longer for local schools to administer due to requirements in state law.

 

The high school test requires additional time because the college entrance and work skills tests that Michigan currently is contracted to use, do not measure the state’s standards for English language arts and mathematics. The move to more rigorous standards requires additional types of test questions not present on those assessments. As a result, the state is required to provide additional testing to ensure state and federal laws that require measurement of the state’s standards are met.

The U.S. Department of Education (USED) has allowed a few states to get a federal flexibility waiver with a future plan to use only a college-entrance exam like ACT. However, USED cannot waive the Michigan law that requires the state assessments be aligned to the state standards.

The majority of schools that are testing online will have greater flexibility and can configure testing, as desired, within the eight-week window the department has provided them. This provides ample opportunity for schools to plan their testing times. There will be eight partial days of testing for the paper/pencil option of the high school test in the spring. This option, which should be used only by those continuing to prepare their buildings for online testing, must continue to be spread in this fashion to assure adequate testing security.

School Accountability

MDE will be working with the USED to update Michigan’s school accountability model used in its flexibility waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. These updates would recognize the changes in statewide assessments and improvements in identifying student academic growth and learning.

In these discussions with USED, it will be the Michigan Department of Education’s intent to use the test data from this transitional year for a trial run of a revised accountability system. It is the intent of the Department that the results of the trial run of accountability would be shared with schools and districts for local decision making, but that no consequences would be applied.

The Department encourages local districts to use the data to inform classroom instruction; student and school improvement planning; and local programming decisions.

Educator and Administrator Evaluations

Schools will be provided student-level growth data for use in teacher and administrator evaluations. Because these educator evaluations are still determined by local school districts, how local districts choose to use the data in the evaluations is up to each district.

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For more information on M-STEP, log on to: http://www.michigan.gov/mstep 

Teaching Argument Using Courtroom Simulation

Consultants' Corner

177839470In July, I was selected to serve on a jury for an armed robbery trial at the Oakland County Courthouse. I’d never watched a real trial, only seen clips on CNN from particularly salacious, high-profile cases–Jodi Arias and Casey Anthony most recently. The armed robbery case wasn’t salacious, just kind of strange and full of inconsistencies. But just like on t.v., the stakes in the courtroom were high. And even more compelling were the elements of argument present throughout the trial–the defense and the prosecution battling it out over their claims, the witnesses presenting their versions of the story, which the lawyers shaped into evidence with their lines of questioning and opening and closing statements. Over those two and a half days, argument came to life for me in a way that it never had when I taught academic argument in middle school and college classrooms.

When the trial was over, I considered ways to simulate legal argument to help students understand the elements we want them to use in their analytical writing. Simulation provides the best in experiential learning; it’s an active, engaging teaching strategy that allows for both student content application and discovery. Using a trial-based simulation involving the elements of argument could help concepts stick and be a great interdisciplinary activity for ELA and social studies classrooms.

Jury Selection – Bias

I’ve always found bias in texts to be a difficult and complex concept to teach. The jury selection process, which took as long as the trial, proved to be a true illustration of bias. During a process called voir dire, the prosecution and defense attorneys questioned jurors to unearth their potential biases about the case. We were asked about our employment, family, and lifestyle. The answers were fascinating and sometimes awkward. What seemed most important though were questions about any experiences or connections to law enforcement and experience as a victim or perpetrator of a crime.

The prosecutor released the college kid with a mohawk; questioning revealed the guy had an anti-authority attitude, which his hair had told me the moment he walked into the courtroom. The numerous potential jurors who’d been victims of armed robbery (or had friends or loved ones who had been) were released by the defense attorney. A former parole officer was also let go by the defense. Another key element of bias the lawyers tried to determine was whether we would assume innocence until proof of guilt.  A young mother of three freely admitted that she could not, stating that we were clearly “here for a reason.”  The defense attorney released her immediately.

Lesson Idea: Provide your students with a courtroom scenario related to the theme or topic they’re currently studying.  Assign students to the role of potential juror, defense team, or prosecution team.  Have students simulate the voir dire process, with the lawyers deciding which jurors remain on or leave the jury.  Following the selection of twelve jurors, have the class reflect on the bias evident in particular jurors and the nature of the questions the lawyers asked to expose that bias. Finally, have students consider the kinds of questions they can ask of texts to determine bias.

Opening Statements – Claims & Persuasion

78724287The trial began with opening statements–the lawyers submitting claims of guilt and innocence to us with an overview of the evidence, angled differently by the prosecution and the defense. Our attention was grabbed; we were enticed first by one side, then the other.  It felt a lot like the opening paragraphs of a good essay.

Throughout the trial, I was struck by how the personalities of both the lawyers and the witnesses influenced my willingness to believe claims and evidence. I felt one lawyer was sharper than the other. And the prosecutor cast himself as understanding and unintimidating, which seemed somewhat false. Many of the witnesses seemed shady or to have poor memories. None of these impressions were based on pure fact, and so, the element of persuasion came swiftly into my jury experience.

Lesson Idea: To practice crafting complex claims and evidence, provide students with a controversial scenario at school or in their community that they’re all familiar with.  Assign small groups to either the pro or con side of the issue.  Ask them to craft “opening statements” that make a claim and lay out the evidence, angled to persuade a given audience. Ask them to consider how they would change their opening statement for a different audience.  To practice public speaking skills, have students deliver their statements to the class or video tape themselves delivering their “opening statements.”

Witness Testimony – Data vs. Evidence

87349294A few cops testified, then a friend of the supposed victim, and then the victim himself. No one had the same story. Few elements of the witnesses’ narratives even overlapped–there was a knife involved, and it was a bitter cold day.  That was it.  But the prosecutor and the defense attorneys’ lines of questioning were both artful — they constructed arguments with their questions.

We had been instructed by the judge to listen only to the witnesses’ answers, not the lawyers’ questions.  The lawyers wanted our understanding of the answers to be biased by the questions that elicited them.  So we had to treat testimony as data.  It only became evidence once each of us passed judgment on the credibility of the testimony and how it compared to the other data we had collected during testimony.

Lesson Idea: When students research, they collect data. Just like a jury, they must decide how credible sources are and compare all the data collected to determine inconsistencies and facts. This process allows them to then select the evidence with which they will craft an argument.  To simulate the process of how data becomes evidence, provide students with the story of a crime. (A common argument exercise like Slip or Trip is one example.) Assign students to play the roles of key characters in the story, as well as police officers or detectives. Have the rest of the class cross examine the characters, then have a full class discussion about the credibility of each witness and their testimony. Who seemed credible? How come? Have the class make a determination of guilt or innocence based on their decisions about the data they received during testimony.

Deliberation – Arguing with Other Jurors

Being in the jury room became an exercise in argument as well. Two of the twelve jurors felt the defendant was guilty and asked the rest of us to explain our reasonable doubts–to make our case. Some people were general: “It just doesn’t add up.” Others were more specific: “A thief who doesn’t run or makes threats when the victim calls 911 might not be a thief.” I pointed out that the supposed victim started laughing at one point in the 911 recording, so he couldn’t have felt too traumatized. Could we say for sure that a crime had occurred? These specifics were what made the difference in our argument and turned the two “guilty” jurors to “not guilty.” They weren’t 100% convinced of the defendant’s innocence, but they didn’t have to be. They now shared our reasonable doubts. We gave our verdict and were released from our civic duty.

Testing Theories & Relevance

My jury experience reinforced how important it is for students to practice argument by experimenting with different theories through talk before they write. The discussion I had with my fellow jurors during deliberation was all about testing our theories with the evidence we had been supplied. And together we came to a decision that would significantly affect one man’s life, which made the importance of being able to understand and craft an argument take on a whole new kind of importance.

Resources

If you’re interested in trying out a court-based simulation to teach argument in your classroom, consider using some of the resources below.

United States Federal Courts website – activities concerning impartiality, collegiality, and civil discourse

Mini Simulation of a Supreme Court Oral Argument

iCivics website

Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center – Teen Court Simulation

Delia DeCourcyDelia DeCourcy joined Oakland Schools in 2013 after a stint as an independent education consultant in North Carolina where her focus was on ed tech integration and literacy instruction.  During that time, she was also a lead writer for the Common Core-aligned ELA writing units. Prior to that, she was a writing instructor at the University of Michigan where she taught first-year, new media, and creative writing and was awarded the Moscow Prize for Excellence in Teaching Composition. In her role as secondary literacy consultant, Delia brings all her writing, curriculum design, administration, and teaching skills to bear, supporting districts in their implementation of the Common Core via onsite workshops and consultations, as well as workshops at Oakland Schools.  She is currently spearheading the development of literacy-focused online professional learning modules as well as the building of a virtual portal where Michigan educators can learn and collaborate.

 

 

Detroit Pistons Make ELA Videos for Oakland County Teachers & Students

Literacy & Technology News Video

The Detroit Pistons have produced two videos, starring basketball legend and sports commentator Greg Kelser, for Oakland Schools.  As part of their outreach efforts in public education, The Pistons filmed the two videos focused on important literacy concepts.  The videos are embedded below.  The first concerns how to defend a claim with evidence and the second one is about point of view.  Please feel free to use these short clips in the classroom to introduce these ideas to your students.

Michigan Merit Curriculum Bill Update

Legislative Updates News

173260217Last week, three bills (SB 66) related to the Michigan Merit Curriculum were discharged from Senate Committee to the Senate Floor. Senate Bill 66, which Oakland Schools supports, was unanimously approved with no changes by the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

SB 66 would amend the Revised School Code regarding the fulfillment of Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements for a high school diploma through a career and technical education (CTE) program. If a district requested information from the Department of Education about CTE programs that meet the requirements of the merit curriculum, that information would have to be furnished within a reasonable time. CTE best practices would also have to be posted on the Department website.  The bill would also require a school board to ensure that students were fully informed about how their graduation requirements could be fulfilled with CTE or another Department-approved program. School Districts would be “strongly encouraged” to establish programs whose completion, after high school graduation, would be credited toward achievement of a professional certificate, training, apprenticeship, or college credit in a specific career and technical field.

The bill is awaiting action on the House Floor.

Teacher Evaluation Bills Have Hearings, Delay of Current Law Moves

Legislative Updates News

488895599As discussed in a previous blog post, Senate Bill 817 (Pappageorge, R-Troy) would amend the Revised School Code to delay the implementation of teacher and school administrator performance evaluation requirements, including conditions for the use of student growth and assessment data in conducting the evaluations.

House Education Committee reported the bill unanimously (with two members abstaining from the vote, Reps. Hooker and McMillin), and the bill is awaiting action on the House Floor.  This bill will likely move as the House now recognizes that the Senate will not be finalizing the full evaluation bills before the deadline passes for implementing the current law.

Senate Education held its first hearing on those larger bills, House Bills 5223 and 5224, this week.  During the hearing, the bill sponsors acknowledged further work is needed and the Committee Chairman noted his intention to hold more hearings and work on the bill into the fall.

Oakland Schools supports passage of SB 817 immediately, given that all schools would be out of compliance with law as of June 30, 2014, through no fault of their own.