My previous post looked at a badly done task via Common Core. To cleanse my palate and focus on the positive, I’d like to share some of the questions that I’ve heard and asked, in my classroom as part of formative assessment.
I’m going to focus in on a unit the class is doing on Esperanza Rising and human rights. We’re now at the point in the story where Esperanza has lost her father, her family home in Aquacalientes, Mexico, and has fled with her mother to the United States (with a false birth certificate — their originals had burned in the fire) to work in the fields of the Central Valley as the Depression descends. Students have also been exposed to the plain text version of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Here are two questions, how they came about, and the types of responses I got.
Does Esperanza have a country? A lot of our analysis has focused on how Esperazna’s life has changed since before and after her father was killed. I cannot recall exactly how this question came about but we were looking at rights and privileges she had lost (and understanding the difference between the two being something you should have vs. something that is nice to have). We were reviewing the list of rights, and came to the right to a country. The responses are interesting. Some focused on her being born in Mexico, and therefore being a citizen of Mexico. Others picked up on the legal issues and lack of papers determining the answer to the question. You can hear some of the oral responses here (among other comments, sorry they’re mixed in together). Next up, we’ll have some discussion about citizenship by “blood” versus by “soil”.
How would Esperanza’s life have been different if her mother had married Tío Luis, after her father’s death? To give some background, in the story after Esperanza’s father is killed, one of his brothers offers to marry Esperanza’s mother. He is well-off, but her mother and Esperanza find the proposal repugnant. This question did come about with some manipulation on my part. I asked students to come up with questions for the week, because my own efforts had run dry. One of the submissions was a question about how would her life have been different if her father had not died. This seemed a much easier question to answer, and we had grappled with similar ideas at early points in the book. Many students focused on specific details in the book, like Tío Luis’ threat to send Esperanza to boarding school, but others read into the situation saying that because Esperanza’s mother would be unhappy (which is indicated in the story), Esperanza would be unhappy.
What did I learn? There are a couple things that made this work. First, the text pairing of Esperanza Rising and UN Rights of the Child work well together. The use of literature with a legal document helps illuminate both texts and gives both more meaning for students. More on how to do this is here. Next, the question really can’t be authentic if you have the question first (which is what happens in standards-driven instruction, see here, and here for examples of this type of stupidity and here for why this could be happening). I’m going to co-opt Larry Ferlazzo’s quip about being data-informed rather than data driven, and say that we should be standards informed, not standards driven in our instruction and curriculum.
Image credit: 06/11/18 12:47:15 BEIJING by 2 dogs, on Flickr