The View from the Classroom: City Arts & Prep Public Charter School

City Arts and Prep Public Charter School

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Our partnership with City Arts is a result of being selected by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) as a recipient of the OSSE SOAR grant. Through this grant, we are able to provide more in-depth professional development and classroom support to DC public charter schools who are using our program this year. For more information on OSSE SOAR, click here.

It’s 8:30am in Jovanda Warren’s first period class, and her eighth graders are busy completing their “Do Now,” a five-minute worksheet that prepares them for the ensuing lesson. Today, these students are learning about rubrics, as they move closer to writing their own argumentative essays and will eventually vie for the title of Student Ambassador, an opportunity to represent their school and have their work published in our Student Writing Library. For now, these first few minutes of class are quiet while students digest the assignment in silence, with the occasional whisper of a student helping a peer.

This serene moment is short-lived, as the five minutes come to a close and Ms. Warren takes command of her increasingly chatty class of middle school students to run through today’s agenda. She then introduces our Director of Teaching and Learning, Steph Bunton, who will be team-teaching today’s class on rubrics.

Before passing the baton to Steph (a.k.a. Ms. Bunton, as she’s called by students), Ms. Warren clearly outlines the activities and goals for today, along with her expectations. She has a clear, respected presence in her classroom, and her students are responsive.

Steph dives into an  explanation of how we select and publish student work on our website, then asks students what they think is the best process for identifying exemplary essays. After a few responses, one student raises his hand and suggests, “a rubric, which is criteria for measuring something.” (This student has obviously made the connection between their Do Now assignment and today’s lesson.)

At that exact moment, a well-timed elf (another teacher, wearing an elf hat), pops his head into the room, providing an excellent opportunity for explaining how to create a rubric using a real example:

How can we judge this elf? Elves should be hilarious!

What is the range between hilarious and boring? Hilarious, Funny, Amusing, Boring (with corresponding smiley and not-so-smiley faces)

When asked where that elf would fall on the rubric, the students giggled back, “amusing” before sharing that he would know how to be hilarious if he looked at a detailed rubric.

When it’s clear the students are all on the same page regarding how to measure an elf’s effectiveness, Ms. Warren brings the topic back to writing. Students open their One World Journals and walk through each step of the rubric assignment, underlining the specific descriptive words used to evaluate student writing (exemplary, satisfactory, or needs work). Ms. Warren points out that some of the same words are used in both “satisfactory” and “exemplary,” noting the correlation of the standards of measurement. Then, she asks students to identify the difference between “exemplary” and “needs work.” Students quickly respond that it depends on how well you establish your claim, and through that statement, they realize this is the scale by which their writing will be measured. The framework of the rubric lesson has now come full circle, as students see that by using a rubric to evaluate their writing, they’ll also be working toward refining their voice so that others clearly hear what is important to them.

To give students a deeper understanding of each element measured by the rubric, Ms. Warren divides them into groups to analyze the student exemplar essay, with each group looking at a different element of the rubric. A noteworthy aspect  of this activity is that the student who wrote the exemplar is actually sitting in the classroom. His peers gently rib him about his photo, but are also genuinely impressed that their classmate wrote this essay and was honored at the GALA Theatre last spring. This group, specifically, listens with wide eyes as they are told that this year, Student Ambassadors will be honored on stage at the historic Howard Theatre.

Students are engrossed in their group work, comparing notes and reading their classmate’s essay, when suddenly the period ends and it’s time to transition to the next class. Ms. Warren helps several students gather their things, reminds them of their ongoing projects, and enjoys a very brief moment of silence before her sixth graders start streaming through the classroom door.