Two days ago, I had the opportunity to reteach the concepts introduced in this lesson in Barbette DeMarco’s sixth grade class. I made use of the suggestions that readers gave me in order to improve my instruction and the assessment that drove it. Providing students even more time to talk and giving them the chance to discuss how THEY identified main idea seemed to enhance engagement and student understanding. It also helped me better identify their confusions and misunderstandings better, so that I could attend to them specifically during direct instruction.
Prior to instruction, some students thought that the main idea was simply the title, others framed it as a question, and still others created a statement that summarized it succinctly. Allowing students to compare the construct and quality of their own ideas led to a richer discussion than the one that emerged from last week’s session. I still used the graphic organizer though, concerned that if I allowed students to use any form they wanted to reflect understanding, they would somehow be confused. The graphic organizer seemed to provide a level of helpful organization.
This wasn’t the case.
Yesterday, I spent a good chunk of time talking with these students about my lesson. I asked them to assess my instruction, and they talked at length with me about what was most helpful and least helpful to them as learners. There was overwhelming agreement that having the chance to talk with each other about the process of identifying main idea as well what they found when they attempted to do so helped refine their thinking. They appreciated chunking text as a strategy, and they found my direct instruction piece helpful.
The graphic organizer confused some of them though, and when I asked them if it would have been easier to use a method of their own choice to demonstrate understanding, they all agreed that it would have been. Barbette and I began batting around ideas regarding the use of the organizer, the scaffolding required when asking kids to use one that they aren’t familiar with, and what the real purpose of the lesson was: to identify main idea. Asking students to use the graphic organizer tripped some of them up, and this complicated our ability to analyze whether or not these students REALLY knew how to identify main idea.
I haven’t read through the written evaluations that I asked them to complete yet, but I know that when I do, I’ll have an even clearer understanding of who these kids are as learners and how I might be able to reach them better in the future. I’m grateful to Barbette and to her students for inviting me in and providing such fabulous constructive criticism. I learned a great deal!