This week in our video review meetings we cut a master clip of Courtney Huber, a fourth grade teacher at North Star Academy’s Vailsburg Elementary School in Newark. We call it a master clip because it is a case study in the use of all the parts of Checking for Understanding woven together. It starts as Courtney, whose students are reading Bonanza Girl by Patricia Beatty, asks her students to write a response to the question, “Why does Farr want to make trouble for the Scotts?”
As they work, Courtney gathers real-time data on student answers. She’s looking carefully for this specific aspect of answers: Can they both answer correctly and cite evidence to support their answer? She observes that they can do the first but not the second, so she goes a step further and gathers actual student answers to study. In TLaC 2.0 we call this Deep Excavation—using an extended wrong answer analysis as a teaching tool. Finally the clip ends with some Own and Track: the students record what they learned studying right and wrong answers.
It’s great teaching, but this description touches only on the bare bones. There’s a lot more to Courtney’s technique, so I asked a few members of my team to add their thoughts about why Courtney’s clip is so remarkable. So here it is, Courtney’s tremendous teaching and some of the bright spots as seen through the eyes of Team TLaC.
Natalie Huber.CFU.Deep Excavation.OwnandTrack from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.
Colleen Driggs noticed Courtney’s ‘charting’:
Courtney’s chart—the posted page on which she keeps track of the conversation—is impeccably written, clearly organized, and visually pleasing with its various colors. But aesthetics aside, the chart, is an important tool for error analysis.
We can clearly see her question for students, a summary of what most students wrote and below that, key arguments from three student answers. This allows students to have a very specific and grounded discussion. It’s sort of a low tech version of Show Call: teachers sometimes wonder how they can use this technique when they don’t have a document camera and by transcribing student answers, Courtney has efficiently found a way to allow for meaty and specific error analysis.
Later, students are discussing their responses to the question as a whole class, and Courtney returns to the chart to look at the evidence students had cited. After reviewing the evidence, she’s able to call on Salma to explain a crucial error. As Salma speaks, Courtney reviews the three student answers, once again noting what’s problematic with the responses and crossing out the two that were inaccurate, turning her chart into a map of the class’s error analysis—a useful tool for students to refer to as they begin digging for new textual evidence in order to revise their responses.
John Costello admired how Courtney develops a strong Culture of Error in the clip.
At 03:17 Courtney reports that as she circulated she “saw three different answers.” She expertly Manages the Tell—avoiding tipping off students to the best answer—and she doesn’t show any disdain for erroneous responses. She’s communicating to the class that all three answers deserve quality analysis, even if some of them end up being wrong.
At 04:00, Courtney acknowledges that several students have changed their answer of A (incorrect) to C (correct), and she gives them the opportunity to form an explanation for that shift. She follows up with one of these students at 04:55, “I heard that you changed your thinking, you initially went with A and you decided to go with C.” She is careful to use a neutral, judgement-free tone when discussing the student’s initial answer, and then gives the student an opportunity to explain how they came to the correct answer.
Later, at 07:20, Courtney Normalizes Error once again while analyzing the wrong answers. She commends her students for identifying why the wrong answers were wrong, “like you identified in your own error, they’re not supporting why.” We see Courtney consistently de-stigmatize incorrect answers, and celebrate the process of successful revision.
Joaquin Hernandez focused on Deep Excavation, a form of extended error analysis
When Courtney notices that several scholars’ answers aren’t hitting the mark, she turns their responses into teaching tools by displaying three of their most common claims and supporting evidence. This sets the stage for Deep Excavation, in which Courtney engages students in a sustained study of wrong answers.
Courtney first re-grounds students in the question they’re trying to answer so their discussion stays focused and on-topic. Next, Courtney and her students evaluate the three responses one at a time, unearthing and studying the errors embedded within each. This process helps students identify their errors and segues nicely into a discussion of how to fix them.
All the while, Courtney marks up the responses with notes that help clarify which aspects of the wrong answers fall short. This helps students keep track of the analysis they’ve been doing so that they don’t come away fuzzy about which was right or wrong. Courtney’s notes and annotations will especially come in handy when she asks students to assemble supporting evidence and then write an extended response.
Courtney’s Deep Excavation enriches her students’ learning in a number of ways. She increases students’ awareness of common pitfalls to avoid or self-correct. Courtney also helps scholars overcome a binary view of answers—the tendency to see them as strictly black-or-white, right or wrong. Instead, she teaches them to appreciate the power of studying the gray area in between. Last, and perhaps most importantly, Courtney teaches students that there’s real value in reflecting critically on their mistakes. That’s something that we can easily pay lip service to, but that Courtney’s students learn through firsthand experience.
Maggie Johnson appreciated the way Courtney’s students used Habits of Discussion:
The habits Courtney’s students are using to engage with each other make the discussion feel effortless—they share their thinking with an audible volume, respond to one another by name, look each other in the eye and nod in agreement, and jump into discussion without skipping a beat after their peers have concluded. But this seamlessness is only possible because Courtney has invested in teaching her students how to engage in such discourse. All of the student actions in the discussion are habits she’s taught directly and reinforced until students internalized them. There are some subtle indications of this—when two students begin speaking at the same time they look to her for direction and she gives a swift non-verbal to indicate who should start, all without interjecting herself into the thread of discussion.
Consider the actions Courtney might have taken while students were still learning this habit. She likely used follow-on prompting to support them in responding to one another’s thinking (e.g. “Develop that, Jessica.”) Because she rarely intervenes, when she does, students know it’s important. In this case, she deliberately interjects to steer discussion towards an efficient analysis of their specific error (“I heard that you changed your thinking. Can you talk to the group about why?,” “Let’s go back to the question. What was the trouble he was making?,” “What do you notice about these two pieces of evidence?”)
The student discussion in Courtney’s class is testament to how structure can build student autonomy.
Darryl Williams was especially struck by how intentionally Courtney ended the cycle to ensure mastery:
While her study of correct and incorrect responses was critical in helping scholars identify why their responses were either correct or incorrect, I found Courtney’s closing task quite powerful. After students scrutinized answers and the evidence they captured to support their responses, Courtney prompted them to go back in their text and write evidence that supported the correct answer. “Prove to me that he’s causing trouble because he wants to get revenge,” she said. “You’re going to find evidence right now…I want you to go to your text and on the post it…write evidence that supports this idea that Farr wants to get revenge because he was embarrassed by them.” Courtney amplified the significance of the error analysis by providing students with an opportunity to confirm their understanding through writing. This teaching move was a nice example of the technique we call Own and Track, where students are accountable for arriving at the correct answer through correction or revision of their work. By the end of the discussion, students were not only able to distinguish between right and wrong responses, they proved and confirmed the correct response with evidence, locked in their learning through writing, and in some cases recorded revisions to their initial thinking.