Tag Archives: Education Northwest

Week 36 – A Pop Essay to Make You Foam at the Mouth


As the year is winding down, I’ve been wanting to assess my students on the writing process when left totally up to them.  I also wanted to know what they took from the movie “A Knight’s Tale” that we watched in class as part of our unit on the middle ages.  (We watched a safer, denuded, and cleaned up “airplane” version.)   So when they came back from recess, I said, “Okay, Pop Essay!  Get out binder paper and your notes.”


Using your notes and the True/False list you made while viewing the A Knight’s Tale, outline and write a first draft of an expository essay.  You have one class period only.

 Here is your prompt:  How historically accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”?  Describe the most important moments that are accurate and explain why, and then describe the most interesting  moments that are inaccurate and explain why.  What conclusions can you draw about our popular notion of the middle ages based on the film?

Do your outline here.


The students never batted an eye.  They all got out paper and their notes, and we looked at the prompt.

We took a minute to “deconstruct” the prompt.  First I asked them where we would find our thesis statement.  We underlined the first question.  I explained that they would need to turn it into a statement, but clearly I need to go over it again because one student used the question as it was written.

Then we numbered the jobs that the prompt was asking to be answered.   We put a 1 at “describe” and drew an arrow to what we were to describe and circled it: the important moments.  Then we put a 1a at the word “why” to remind us to give examples and reasons.  Then we put a 2 at the second “describe” drew a circle around the words “interesting moments” and drew a squiggly line under the word “interesting” to make it clear that “important” and “interesting” are two different concepts.  Then we put a 2a at the word, “why”.

Then we looked at the last sentence, and students were relieved to see the word “conclusions”. They accurately connected the word to a conclusion paragraph.  You don’t need to do it that way, but it does make a nice way to wrap up your thoughts.

Then I introduced the idea of the magic number 3.  They need two sets of moments.  Emphasis on the plural.  I told them that it is always useful to pick three ideas to support their thesis.  This meant that with a topic sentence they would be looking at about seven sentences for their body paragraphs.  Each moment must be supported.  The three moments plus three examples plus one topic sentence equals about seven sentences.  That gave them an idea of the length of the paper.

I wanted them to give me strong outlines, and so I told them that they needed to make the outline specific enough that if they didn’t finish the paper, I could still give them credit based on what they were planning to say as shown in their outline.  One the other hand, I warned them that they didn’t want to make the outline so specific that they didn’t have time to write it.  Only one didn’t get to write.  But his outline is amazing.  (We’ll work on it.)  Some finished early.  I told them that in this case, they need to check that they were on topic, then do as much revision as possible before the essays are picked up.  They needed to think about legibility, grammar and mechanics, idea and content, organization, word choice, and voice.

It takes time to master timed writing. They should not beat themselves up because they didn’t finish, but to consider why they hadn’t.

Instead of posting several essays, I thought I could get more student’s work up if I cherry picked some paragraphs and moments that I found to be most interesting.

Here are some openings:

The movie “A Knight’s Tale” focuses on medieval times.  But is the movie accurate to history?  In this paper:  What is accurate?  What is inaccurate? and why?

How accurate is the movie “A Knight’s Tale”? This movie is about a squire, the helper of a knight, named William, and how he changed his stars.  Which means that he went from squire to knight.

Is “A Knight’s Tale” historically inaccurate? Or is it both?  Let us find out.

And some 1st body paragraphs:

This will be the accurate section of my paper.  Training daily is a huge part of a knight’s  life.  That is how they have lots of power to hold these huge swords (not always big swords, but heavy).  Courtly love is love in the nobility.  One of the rules is when you speak to your lover, you will foam at the mouth.  The Black Prince is a real character.  His real name is Prince Edward.  He is famous for his victories.  He does help other kings and, yes, he does tournaments.  There is still many more. 

First of all, this movie had a lot of accuracies, some unexpected.  There was, in fact, daily training for all knights.  William wasn’t doing a lot of extra training. All the rules of jousting and the stuff that happened (including getting hurt) did happen.  This is important because it was actually unwarped despite how silly it sometimes seemed.  William also followed the rules of courtly love.  That is very important because to some people could see that it would be crazy how one would follow and constantly think about another.

Now I will describe a few accurate parts.  Most of the dances were accurate, but not all of them were.  This was important because William got closer to the girl he liked.  Only widows having men’s job (blacksmithing) was accurate.  William needed a good blacksmith.  People were hanged.  Roland uses this to show William what could happen to him.

First, I will discuss the accuracies of this movie. First on accuracies is Knights.  Knights had to have people pay them taxes so they can go to a tournament.  Also, in Europe, if you are not of noble birth, you cannot be a knight.  Next is Ulric von Lichtenstein.  Ulric was an actual character from history who was a knight.  Next is apprentices.  Most children were apprenticed around the age of 7.

And some 2nd body paragraphs (I didn’t give the whole paragraphs for some of these because there was a lot of repetition.)

This next paragraph is about how inaccurate it is.  They filled the lances with pasta.  The makers did that so they could have an effect.  The blacksmith put a Nike symbol on the armor.  First, they didn’t have Nike, and second the blacksmiths did not put a symbol on armor (as far as we know).  They did not know what people looked like back then.  For example, the Black Prince, we don’t know what he looks like.

Now I will explain three false moments.  One of them is that David Bowie did not exist then.  He was born very recently.  The outfits for women were very inaccurate. They looked like “Star Wars” clothes!  The lances broke.  They wouldn’t have been able to afford so many.

Next,  the inaccurate moments.  They had no trial for criminals.  When William got arrested, he went straight to public humiliation.  They also filled the lances with linguini.  I would not expect to see that in the middle ages, but it did add pop to the jousting.  Finally, the women used hair dye.  We know that women would dress their hair elaborately, but did not color their hair. 

Finally, roses were pink and white, not deep red.

They did not eat turkey legs.

First, in the middle ages, there was no hair dye and women would have worn their hair up and covered.  I know this because we have watched many middle ages documentaries and they said exactly that.

And for some conclusions:

Not thinking historically, this movie was funny and exciting.  If we had not learned about the middle ages, everyone in the class would think that the middle ages wasn’t all that bad.  They also would think most knights were mostly too snobby and proud to congratulate anyone else.  If everyone had thought these things, they would be totally wrong.

I learned that some movies are accurate and some aren’t.  Example, this one was more accurate.  I learned and saw some of the rules of courtly love. Like when the two lovers, William and Jocelyn, are talking and William is tripping over his words and you can hear him.

I am very pleased with the results.  The students’ voices come out loud and clear while strongly reflecting what we learned in class.  They also had little problem transferring the writing process to a quick essay test.  So, yay, yay, and yay.

So, here’s to Heath Ledger (god rest his soul), people having fun with History, and whoever created the essay.  Add them all up, and you get statements like “when you speak to your lover, you foam at the mouth.”



Week 33 – Student C’s Offering


Here is another student’s response to the compare and contrast prompt.

This student worked extremely hard on this paper. His willingness to do revision after revision, to listen to those who could help him, and the choices he ultimately made to improve his paper make me so very proud of him. Notice the green underlining on the outline. He never lost patience when I asked him to go back and answer reader questions. Notice the back of the third draft. He was still working on hooks and introductory thoughts. This child knows how to work. And he did so diligently, coming up with a product he can be proud of. I know I’m proud of him.

The contrast brainstorm:
maniac artemis contrast

The contrast brainstorm:
maniac artemis contrast:

The outline:
maniac artemis outline 1
maniac artemis outline 2
maniac artemis outline 3
maniac artemis outline 4

The first draft:
maniac artemis 1st 1

The second draft:
maniac artemis 2nd 1
maniac artemis 2nd 2

The third draft:
maniac artemis 3rd 1
maniac artemis 3rd 2
maniac artemis 3rd 3

PSR: For some reason we can’t find it.

The fourth draft:
maniac artemis 4th 1
maniac artemis 4th 2

And the Graded Rubric:
maniac artemis final rubric

Week 32 – Student B’s Offering


I’ve uploaded more student papers.  This student wrote his compare and contrast paper on Sherlock Holmes and Scrooge.  It has the same rubric as before.

Let’s see what he’s done.

sherscrooge compare

And the contrast brainstorm:
sherscrooge contrast

Then the plot development chart. For some reason we are missing one of the plots.
sherscrooge plot chart

Then the outline. Notice that he has chosen to outline conclusion directly after introduction.
sherscrooge outline 1
sherscrooge outline 2
sherscrooge outline 3

Then the first draft:
sherscrooge 1st 1
sherscrooge 1st 2
sherscrooge 1st 3

Then the second draft:
sherscrooge 2nd 1
sherscrooge 2nd 2
And for some reason we are missing the final page…

Then the third draft:
sherscrooge 3rd 1
sherscrooge 3rd 2
sherscrooge 3rd 3

Then the Personal Skills Record:
sherscrooge PSR 1
sherscrooge PSR 2

Then the final draft:
sherscrooge 4th 1
sherscrooge 4th 2
sherscrooge 4th 3

And finally, the Rubric with the final grade:
sherscrooge final rubric

And there it is! A job well done. A paper I think most high school students would be proud of.

Week 31 – Student A’s Response: Final Draft!


You heard it, the culmination of over a month’s worth of work on the Humanities Paper: the hallowed Final Draft.  Let angels sing.

And here is it: You will see all the work shown in previous posts add up in this paper. Now, I want to say that this is a 5th/6th classroom. This student is a sixth grader, aged 11 or 12 for non-Americans.  As she grows and changes, and as she re-reads these books over time, she will gain more insight and understanding because that’s how life works. Do I agree with everything she said? No. Do I need to? No. What I want is for her to present her ideas and justify them, and that she does. Am I completely and totally proud of her and her work? You betcha!

A note. Any corrections students make when they proof their paper before they turn it in do not come off of their grade. You will see that Student A made a few slight changes right before handing it in.

Final 1 tree
Final 2 tree
Final 3 tree

And the final graded rubric is below. Notice that I do not write on a final draft. There is no need. Every document that she turned in is a working document, and should show signs of revision.  All information is conveyed on the rubric below.  Students are invited to take the graded rubrics home for “braggin’ rights,” but the stack of pages making up the final paper, goes into the student’s portfolio.  And on to next months paper…

Rubric tree

Week 31 – Student A’s Response: 2nd Draft


Second Draft – Having made the changes to her draft, she gave her paper to another student to have it scored for her.  You can see the remarks he made on her paper.  Because they were specifically looking at the trait of Organization, you will notice that he marked transitions as he saw them.  He also used the language of the rubric to give her feedback.  He first gave her a three out of five based on the rubric, but upon reflection, upgraded it to a 4, a fair score.  Notice that he does not comment on grammar and mechanics, that will be the focus of the next draft.  She will take his recommendations into account and put them in play when revising for her third draft.

2nd draft tree 1

2nd draft tree 2
2nd draft tree 3

Week 28 – Anchoring Helps Me Float


Jain, our math teacher, just told me that while she was working with our students on peer evaluations for a math project, the students suggested that they evaluate each other in a similar way to how they do in Writing class.  She asked me how I had ingrained in them such a fair way of working with each other.  (Inside I’m jumping up and down with joy!  It’s not often that we get a win like that.  We always wonder whether or not the work we do goes in one ear and out the other.  So it is really awesome to get feedback that tells you that what you are doing works and is transferring to other areas of their lives.  Score!! <– Seriously, notice the two exclamation marks.)

What she is talking about is called “Anchoring”.  I learned it at a conference when I worked for the Gilroy Unified School District.  GUSD called in Education Northwest to show us about the 6+1 Writing Traits.  Now, I know I’ve sung their praises before so I won’t go there again.  However, over the years, I have continued to use their anchoring process with very little changes.

Here’s how it works:

1) I give all students a rubric which states various levels proficiency on a trait.  We read it through, and although they will tell me they understand it, their understanding is tenuous at best.  They need to see it in action.

2) I provide students with a model paper.  These papers are unadulterated (as in, no adult has done anything to the actual work) student created papers.  They are all middle and high school writers.   It means a lot to my students to see work from people their own age.  I’ve been doing this long enough now that I have amassed a fair number of student papers, but I also still use papers provided to me at that conference years ago.  It is important that only the work can be seen.  Students will make inferences based on name, gender, length, even type-face, and date.  I also never improve a paper or mangle one.  Students can always tell when a paper has been mucked about with, and they won’t take it seriously.  I learned the hard way to be honest with my yahoots if I’ve edited a paper.

3) This is the point where I give the lecture on treating each scholar with respect.  And I give it every single time.  Every.  Single.  Time.  A student with a low score is often working just as hard as a student with a high score.  We’re not in the business of assigning personal worth.  We are in the business of evaluating a paper for the quality of the writing so that the writer can make it a better paper.  Even a paper with a high score can be improved.

4) Students read the paper and decide what the quality is.  They are not allowed to confer with neighbors at this point.

5) Once all students have offered a preliminary score, they go to small groups where they must come to consensus on a score.  They argue back and forth about why they are giving it the score and point to where on the paper they see those traits.

6)  Once all groups have come to consensus, the I light up the overhead projector, and we argue our points.  I mark the paper as we discuss.  Again, students argue back and forth defending and proposing until the whole group is pretty well convinced.  I allow myself to be persuaded in one direction or another, and I tell them so.  Sometimes, it makes sense for us to start at the top and work our way down the rubric looking for evidence as we go.

7)  In the end, I am the ultimate arbiter in the fate of the paper, and the students know this, but grades are not tied to the score they receive.  They do not receive an A for a 5, a B for a 4, a C for a 3, a D for a 2, or an F for a 1.  This would be damaging in the extreme.  I know how hard my students work because they write their papers mostly in class.  Often times the student who received a 3 is working harder than the student who received a 5.  I reward students’ willingness to change and improve the paper and give them the feedback they need to do this.

8) (Gosh, this is a lot.)  When we all agree to within a point or half-point, I hand out another paper, and we do it all again.  We anchor paper after paper until I am confident that students are seeing the traits within the paper and are offering feedback which is consistent within the rubric.

9)  Finally- the golden land – handing students each others’ papers for scoring.  They do the same process except they do not confer with others.  They read the paper twice.  They mark it to show evidence.  They write the evidence where they see it on the paper.  They give it a score for the whole, and they conference with the writer upon handing it back.  Students work with me if they are struggling to score the paper.  Also, students come to me to arbitrate if they feel they have been unjustly scored.  (I find it interesting that they are more likely to come to me if they feel the reader has not said enough to them about their paper.)  Then the homework is to move the paper up the rubric.  Students are told not to expect a great leap in scoring.  It is a process that takes time and effort.  Going from a 3 to a 3.5 or a 4 is an appropriate expectation.

Idea and Content took two days.  Organization took almost a week.  Word Choice and Voice will vary by the needs of the class, but I’m fairly certain that they will go quickly because of the prior knowledge that students have amassed. 

For a different subject, it may be worth the time for the teacher to ask his or her students to make the rubric.  (Honestly, I would create the rubric (or a couple of rubrics) and bring it in for students to develop.)  Also, finding models and non-models can be very difficult, in which I might break my rule about creating them for this purpose.  But I would still be honest with students about it, but then I would make copies of student work for the next time I taught this lesson.

Week 13- That’s Me, Local Screw-Up


Well, I screwed up.  Got too big for my britches.  Caused myself a whole mess of work.  As it says on the tag line, this is a journal of reflection which means looking at where we make mistakes as well as reveling in our successes.

I often regale people with stories of how wonderful peer revision is.  Except when you don’t teach it correctly.  Then, it’s hell on wheels.  And it’s a little hot down here.

For most of the class, this is their second paper.  For some, it’s their ninth.  So, when it came time for students to score each others’ papers using the 6+1 Writing Trait of Idea and Content, I assumed (catch that: ass, u, me) that the students would be confident enough to give each other helpful feedback.  (In my head, I hear Dr. Bob Kelso from Scrubs shouting: “WRONG-O!”  I loved that show.  I’d be really worried if the voice was Dr. Cox’s.  That’s when I know I’ve really put my foot in it.)  Because of my rush, returning students did not feel that they received enough feedback to make peer revision worthwhile, while some of the new students were not sure what to say.  One of my students gave such cock-eyed feedback to the writer of the paper she was revising that he was practically in tears.

So, as hard as it is to look at my screw-ups, learning is in the reflection, and here is what I think I did wrong.

1) I allowed myself to be rushed.  The rubric for the returning students was significantly harder than what they had before, and they needed more time.  Some of the new students also needed more time to put their thoughts in order.  I give myself a month to shepherd students through this process, and as I saw that they were working their tushies off but needing more time, I gave it to them.  However, I did not really take into account what that would mean in the end game.*

2) Because they did such a great job scoring each others’ papers the first time, I didn’t take the time to review properly.  I needed to have reminded myself that we have all slept since then, this is new material for many students, and I’m a dumb bunny.  Just remembering the dumb bunny part would have reminded me to take more time to practice giving feedback.  (This is commonly called anchoring.)

3) The pairings.  I had new students reading old students papers and vice versa.  I’m still not convinced I should change that part.  The cool thing about pairings like that is that the returning student’s paper helps the new student to see what is possible.  It is a model for them for future drafts.  The returning students also give very good feedback.  But this time, it wasn’t reciprocal.  The returnees didn’t feel they were getting enough back.  In the early days of class, the returning students felt honored to help their classmates, but that was when they were confident with the rubric.  Now, it feels to them like a drag because they aren’t getting the help they need.  Two of the students almost panicked when they got their paper back with a score (which were accurate) but very little information on where revisions were needed.  I almost paired them exclusively with each other, and I probably should have listened to myself.

4) This process usually takes about 50 minutes.  I knew I was in trouble when many of the pairings had not finished conferencing at the end of class.  The process wasn’t fluid.  I saw it, and I did not intervene.  Bad teacher.

So, how much damage have I done?  It’s hard to tell.  Ted, the founder of my last school, likes to say that our mistakes are transient, and our successes are enduring, meaning that it is not our mistakes that define us.  I really, really try to believe this.

But it does not mean I can write off this mistake and just “do it better” next time.  I need to fix the mistake.  To do this, I’ve been meeting with frustrated students to help them see what to do next.  I’m reading the returning students’ papers with an eye to seeing if their reader, at least, gave them a holistic score that was correct, and giving them particulars to revise.  And reminding them that their readers are new to this process.

I’m meeting with new students to help them pinpoint what is on the paper which can be seen in the rubric so that they can give better feedback next time.  I’m having that one student meet with me so I can re-teach her, and having her do an extra scoring of a paper so that I can be sure that she can participate next time.

We will not be writing a full paper for December.  It is a half-month of school, and I don’t expect that we will get to do a peer scoring for a Humanities paper.  So, we won’t get to do a process like this for expository writing until January.  However, students are currently working on some creative writing that could be used.  I will certainly grab the overhead and have students anchor a few papers before I let them go on that.

All of this is a lot of unnecessary extra work I created for myself.  This is what living and learning feels like.  Living and learning also means using the knowledge I gained from having to fix my mistakes.  God grant I put to use what I’ve learned this week and last.

*Note: I never blame students for not knowing something.  One of my biggest peeves as a teacher is hearing other teachers say, “Well, they should know this.”  Bullshit.  If they knew it, they would do it.  They want to get it right.  Only in cases of very damaged kids do you get that kind of oppositional behavior.  It isn’t something that happens in normal life.  If they don’t know it, it is because the student is in the wrong level of class or you, dear teacher, haven’t taught it.  I always want to say to these people, “Pull your thumb out and stop blaming your students.”