by John Beisner
So let’s start with the basics.
What is a DBQ? Some people believe that DBQ stands for Designer Baby Quilts, Drum Beat Quantification or that popular YouTube channel Ducks Being Quacky. All of this is true, yet in an educational context it’s meant to refer to a Document (or Data) Based Question.
According to Wikipedia, this style of question was first unveiled in the 1973 AP US History exam as a way to reduce student’s dependence on “half-remembered facts” and instead assess them on their ability to interpret available documents and respond to the information they present in a meaningful way. The merits of this approach are still evident, and questions of this type are now fairly common. Our students can expect to encounter DBQ-style questions on the GED, CAASPP or even in much of our current curriculum such as History and Restorative Justice packets and the Forced and Voluntary Migration series. It’s a well-established and growing trend in pedagogy, and it’s just as well since it seems to more accurately mirror the ways students will likely be challenged in real-life academic and professional contexts.
Currently there are three DBQ packets on the intranet: The House on Mango Street, To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men. I looked at The House on Mango Street for this review, though I get a sense that one could successfully modify and use this curriculum framework for any number of different projects, depending on what texts the instructor has available to match the student’s interests and needs. That’s because many of the questions are very general, such as “Who is the Narrator?” and “What are many of the characters pursuing?” Aside from the specific reading comprehension-style questions, there are exercises that are typical to all DBQ Project curriculum.
These are: “Bucketing”, “Chicken Foot” and Guided Essay framing and peer or self editing draft. They, like the rest of the packet, can be done in a one-on-one ISP setting or as part of a class or small group instruction. For this latter use, there is a supplementary packet (also available on the Intranet) called a Mini-Q. Like the packet itself with the above-mentioned exercises, the Mini-Qs frame each activity extensively. In my opinion, this represents both the strength and greatest flaw of this curriculum.
It’s worth noting for a moment that the DBQ Project is not a concept or idea but rather a private company founded in 2000 and based out of Evanston, Illinois. Their website shows all the many curricula and Mini-Qs available for purchase by a school or district. (Perhaps if these three packets become very popular amongst teachers and students our own repertoire will increase.) But their proprietary methodology has a problem: it holds the students’ hands very tightly. The step-by-step process of sorting ideas and constructing essay topics and arguments will no doubt lead to the composition of immaculate essays, and yet these essays will be so meticulously constructed that there will be little room for trial, error and therefore growth.
For example, the students are tasked to write their introduction thus:
I have no doubt that strict adherence to this method will generate essays that will shine on the GED, CAASPP, in college or beyond. Yet isn’t this nearly a rote, fill-in-the-blank exercise? It seems in danger of returning to the “half-remembered facts” problem that inspired the development of DBQs in the first place. The peer editing and rubric exercises help a little, yet even those would be more effective if applied to a more individualized essay structure. For some students, being entrusted to apply themselves to an essay structure their teacher has modeled for them--including many mistakes or inefficiencies--and then trying again and again might be more satisfying and effective. Simply put, this curriculum can be like bumper bowling or learning to ride a bike with training wheels (pick your metaphor). Some students might feel coddled.
That said, it does seem to be very careful, thoughtful and thorough material and will doubtless have students engaging with the text in a significant, meaningful way.
Depends on the Document, or the student. In the CAASPP/GED sense, yes. In the immediate sense of connecting with student’s day-to-day lives, well which of our students doesn’t struggle to realize the “American Dream”? Plus they might also happen to live on a street called Mango...
Yes, it breaks the text into small, digestible pieces and asks incisive questions. It doesn’t waste time or let a single line of text go unexamined.
Yes and no. Some students will be engaged from the first page; others will feel their being led by the nose towards pre-approved conclusions and formulations.
Yes, the curriculum does a good job of anticipating student reactions to the text and selecting excerpts that will elicit those reactions. It’s definitely created with them in mind.
It doesn’t impart facts so much as encourage analytical, textual thinking. It also pushes formulaic writing conventions, but insofar as those conventions are important things to understand and navigate, they comprise useful information in themselves.
Okay I hope that gives you a sense of these new resources! As always, please feel free to comment, disagree or share your experience with the DBQ project in your classroom!
10/22/2018 1 Comment
By John Beisner
Previously, we reviewed the first unit of the Intro to Data and Modeling series. While unit 2 (Introduction to Experimental Design) and Unit 3 (What Does it Mean to Live in a Food Desert?) look enticing, I've decided to jump over to another series of packets within the great CAASPP prep series.
A few quick bullet points about why we're reviewing CAASPP prep packets:
In order to thoroughly evaluate this curriculum, I've solicited the help of Dr A.E. Geigenhopfer, renowned Scholar, Author, Education Theoretician and creator of the REALI model of curriculum evaluation. The following is a transcript of our recent conversation (redacted for brevity):
JB: Dr. Geigenhopfer, thank you for joining me in reviewing this new packet!
Dr AEG: Ya, is mine pleasure.
JB: I'm looking forward to employing your famous REALI criterion to evaluate the packet. Can you introduce the method a bit and tell us why it will be useful to us today?
Dr AEG: Ya, it is being an acronym for Relevant, Engaging, Accessible, Learner-oriented and Informative. It was initially written and published in Flemmish, where the acronym is translated TBSKM. Your English acronym is an improvement.
JB: Thanks, that’s very kind of you. It also seems to align with the goals of the packet, and by extension with the goals of the state-wide exam that we're hoping to help students prepare for. So you could say that all the stars are aligning.
Dr AEG: I could say that, but I will not because it is foolish. I am not here for astrology nonsense. This exam, like the packet, is the product of rigorous and exhaustive rational thought; nothing more. We must be dispassionate and consider emotional or sentimental impacts only in the most abstract sense.
JB: You are right of course; I beg your pardon. So tell me then: what is your reaction to this packet?
Dr AEG: TBSKM gut.
JB: Come again?
Dr AEG: REALI good.
JB: Really?! REALI? That’s fantastic. Can you tell us more about why you’ve come to this conclusion according to your metric?
Dr AEG: Ya, let’s start with R. Is it Relevant. Well of course, since it’s preparing students for the CAASPP, and the CAASPP is measuring how students are preparing for the future. It’s Relevant in the general and immediate sense.
JB: That’s great. And E for Engaging?
Dr AEG: Ya, the packet is laid out in a very logical, sequential format. Learners are drawn in naturally by close readings, realistic scenarios and skill-building activities that are immediately put to use. They are also often skills and tools that are applicable outside the context of this packet, so students are potentially learning beyond the packet, so to speak. Overall I think the packet is very engaging apart from one flaw: there is a grave paucity of dog pictures.
JB: Yes, I’m very fond of dogs and pictures of them. Perhaps in later units...
Dr AEG: Ya. They would certainly make the packet more Accessible. For the moment the learner will have to be content with the use of videos, real-world scenarios, interviews, dialogues and exercises that make the packet seem welcoming. It’s rather like the shallow end of the pool: you enter and the water is warm and you are not afraid of drowning, and yet very quickly you have entered an world of delights in which any number of exciting acquatic activities are available to you.
Dr AEG: You can do the backstroke, the froggy stroke, fancy handstands, blow bubbles...
JB: ...which are metaphors for discrete learner outcomes, surely.
Dr AEG: Eh, ya.
JB: Okay then, let’s move on to L. “Learner-Oriented.” How does this packet measure up?
Dr AEG: The packet’s authors include several real-world jobs held by real-world people in which these individuals describe how their respective positions are made possible by the deployment of particular skills. Taken in the abstract, these skills might seem arcane and frustrating. There is always potential for curriculum to be undermined by the question (which students are ALWAYS right to ask, even if we find it frustratingly difficult to answer momentarily) “why do I have to know this?” We learn best when we are interested, so by introducing the learners to the humans and their exciting jobs, and from there leading into the skills and abilities which these humans and jobs require, the dubious voice which seeks to withdraw the learner’s interest is precluded. The skills are literally personified.
JB: That’s a very keen insight Dr Geigenhopfer, thank you.
Dr AEG: You are welcome.
JB: Okay then: we have our last letter of the English Acronym. The last letter in REALI stands for “Informative.” Tell us Dr G, how do you think the packet measures up in this regard?
Dr AEG: Ya certainly it is informative! We are invited to learn about new and current jobs which students might not have known about, to consider the capacities that underlie these positions and to evaluate our own ability to demonstrate or acquire these skills. Things are put into the framework of “The Four C’s”: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking. By overtly framing the exercises in this way, the learners are encouraged to consider their own learning trajectory. That adds a level of meta-cognition that can be applied to any number of academic or intellectual endeavors in life. Don’t you consider that Informative?
JB: Yes Dr G, I must agree with you.
Dr AEG: Ya you must, for I am the expert.
JB: Okay well on that note, thanks for sharing this time with us and helping introduce us to this new curriculum. Do you think it’s likely that teachers will integrate it into their student’s learning plans?
Dr AEG: Who can say? I am an internationally-renowned scholar and theorist, not a fortune teller. But I hope that they take the time to investigate the packet for themselves, or better yet have their students try it out. Then the instructors may base their decisions on the reactions and opinions of their students.
JB: That sounds wise and very reasonable. How can teachers access this curriculum?
Dr AEG: It’s in your intra-net in the right-most column under “Academic Development.” They click on the electronic button called “CAASPP Prep.”
JB: That sounds easy enough. Can you tell me what grade level is required for this curriculum?
Dr AEG: Later units require relatively high TABE scores, but this packet is available at the very accessible 4.0 level for both English and Math. These are merely recommendations mind you; officially the packet is accessible to all learners, particularly in a Small Group Instruction setting when instructors are available to provide more immediate support.
JB: That’s excellent! Almost anyone can do this packet, in other words, regardless of whether or not they’re preparing to take the CAASPP exam.
Dr AEG: Ya correct.
JB: Okay last question: how many credits is this packet worth?
Dr AEG: Students can receive 0.25 credits of General English, 0.5 credits of General Math, 0.5 credits of Physcial Science. It is quite reasonable.
JB: I agree! The packet does seem a bit long, but 1.25 credits isn’t bad…
Dr AEG: No not bad! In fact the packet is quite economical in terms of student effort for credit return. Though it looks rather large at 40 pages, students should remember that this accounts for both the reader and the student workbook. Considering that, it’s actually not very large at all. Besides, the pace and flow of the exercises is quite natural.
JB: That’s fantastic Dr G, thanks again. Before you go, would you like to tell us about your current research? Are you writing any other seminal tomes, delivering department-shattering guest lectures, upending decades of conventional thinking, redefining the word “orthodoxy,” or honing fresh, new, world-shattering acronyms?
Dr AEG: No, I've been dead since 1884. Happy Halloween!
by John Beisner
Okay before we begin the review of this curriculum, let me state the obvious: data and modeling is somewhat less than incredibly fun. I’d put it about two ticks below feral cat bathing on the ol’ fun-o-meter. But it is no less obvious (albeit less fun to observe) that data and modelling is important. It’s at least 15 ticks above cat bathing, and given that this curriculum was created in-house to help prepare our students to succeed on the CAASPP, and given that student performance on that mandatory exam has real implications for our success as an organization, I’d say it’s well worth an in-depth look.
So look: on the intranet under “ISP Academic Curriculum” you’ll find “CAASPP Prep” listed under “Academic Development” in the center column (towards the bottom). Clicking on that will lead you into a magical world of new curriculum designed to help our students boost their test scores. Have you ever been into this enchanted corner of the intranet? Few have, and yet behold the riches that await intrepid instructors! Come with me, bold persons, and click on the link called “here” (for the Data and Modeling page).
There they are! Three glittering new packets. Are they for Math credit? Science? Advanced English? What if I were to tell you that they were potentially available for all of the above? Feel free to gasp. I’m gasping so much I may just have the hiccups.
But wait, can you hear that voice echoing in the shadows? What’s it saying? Listen closely! It says
“It is not necessary for students to complete the units in any particular order, but please note that the third unit has a significantly higher GE than the first two units. Students will earn credit in general math and physical science for all three units, and they will also earn advanced English credit for the third unit.” Thanks, kind wizard! Now it’s clear: Units 1 and 2 require a TABE of 5.0, while Unit 3 requires a TABE of 8.0. Though I can hardly wait to review them all, diligent application of the scientific technique known as “eenie meenie miney mo” has clearly indicated that packet two, “Introduction to Experimental Design” will be our point of entry.
First things to note: there are separate Form 1’s for the Math and Science credits. Since we don’t use Form 1’s anymore (!) it seems these documents are of little use. This is a shame since they’re particularly beautiful Form 1’s and have some vital information: this packet is work HALF a credit in Science and half a credit in General Math. It might be important to tell a student up-front that, while they can receive credit in two subject areas, this is NOT a two credit packet.
Another thing to note: at present, no teacher guide or answer key is available on the intranet. Would this be enough to keep some teachers from assigning it? Maybe so. But is the packet so difficult and dense that it would take an instructor an exorbitant amount of time to grade? I think not, but let’s look.
Page 1 has a nice picture. That’s actually an important attribute since we (teachers, students and humans in general) really do tend to judge books by their covers. (This is not an aphorism. By “books” I literally mean books.) This looks like a packet that students might want to open.
So let’s open it. I won’t go page by page. Rather, let’s turn to our trusty Curriculum Assessment Rubric. Is the packet…
1) Is this packet Relevant?
In the sense that it’s preparing our students to take and do well on the CAASPP, it’s arguably one of the most relevant packets we can offer. Designing experiments is also essential to the scientific process, so developing an understanding of how science works could go a long way to helping students understand later science curriculum later on, or even to critically analyze science-related discourse they might encounter in their day to day lives. So in that sense too, it’s relevant. But this is all teacher talk. Is the packet relevant in a way that students will recognize? As in, is it relevant the way the DMV packet is relevant? Is it practical and engaging because students will be able to immediately implement its lessons into their lives? The answer is probably definitely “no.” This isn’t necessarily a knock against the packet though, since one could say the same thing about nearly all our packets or high school curriculum in general. Still, this lack of relevance does have the potential to diminish student enthusiasm. So it goes.
2) Is it Engaging?
There are some minor things that could help the packet grab the reader. Some of the formatting and layout can seem a bit busy and potentially intimidating. Key vocabulary could be bolded, for example. While some words such as “randomized” are treated as new vocabulary, other words like “causation” and even “manipulate” are not. These might constitute intimidating or discouraging vocabulary on a GE 5.0 packet. Though students are told “if you are still unsure about any of the words above, consult a dictionary or ask your instructor,” this is something that students often find uncomfortable or tedious. I think it’s incumbent on the curriculum itself to make these words accessible, especially for lower-level packets.
Also, we’re told that, in a good survey question, “the researcher's opinion shouldn’t be included.” This echos the opening anticipatory set wherein students are asked to compare and contrast subjective versus objective statements, yet the connection isn’t made explicit in this instance. Is an opinion by definition subjective? This seems too epistemologically complex for page 13. Perhaps an exercise in making leading questions neutral or neutral questions leading might help illustrate the essential point about good survey questions. I think this criticism could be applied to the packet in general: asking students to develop and demonstrate their understanding of what makes “good” or “bad” practices regarding discrete aspects of experimental design might be both more engaging, challenging and illustrative than asking students larger, summary-style questions such as “what is a research question” or “identify two characteristics [of a designed experimental study].” These are little things that might make the packet a bit more engaging.
3) Is it Accessible and learner oriented?
The above observations could apply to Accessibility as well. Now let’s look at if it’s Learner-Oriented. In section 3 on page 31, we’re finally invited to look at an experiment example and criticize it using the vocabulary and criteria we’ve accumulated so far. The sample experiment is followed by several pages of sample data. The learner is then asked to evaluate the experiment and the data in a series of questions. Yet missing from the final questions are those larger, more challenging questions that invite the learner to think critically and become cognizant of their own understanding or lack thereof. While those questions seemed a little too much to swallow earlier in the packet, at this later stage it could constitute a critical, summative step before the final task in the packet. That task is where students are asked to design their own experiments from start to finish much as they would be asked to do in on the CAASPP. Perhaps a little more guided practice would help the student move on to this big final task with a little more confidence. As it is, the packet seems oriented slightly more towards developing students skills, rather than prioritizing their learning experience. What does that mean? I guess we’ll have to ask Dr Geigenhopfer.
4) Is the packet Informative?
I’d say yes. It contains information and it shares it. It could contain more information, but then it’d be a longer packet. On the other hand it could contain less information, but then it wouldn’t be as informative. So I’d say it’s struck just about the perfect balance in order to become the packet that it is. If it had done otherwise, it would be different. Some might say that this has already happened in a parallel universe, and though there’s abundant evidence to suggest that this is factually accurate according to particle physics and the tenants of string theory, I say that’s a bunch of poppycock. Leave it to alternative wloggers to critique the alternative packets. I’m critiquing this one, and I say it has exactly as much information as it does and no more. So there.
Okay that’s it! So is the packet good? I can definitely say that it isn’t not good. Is it REALI good? That’s harder to say precisely since we sort of skipped the A and the I and conflated the L and the E. So let’s just say it’s TRULI good, and you, dear reader, can decide what the letters of that acronym stand for. At the very least, we can conclude that it’s worth a look. Find it on the intranet. Give it to a student and work on it together! See what they think and share their feedback with the rest of us on the comment section of this article! Or just check it out for yourself and tell me all the ways that I’ve got it wrong/right. Right? Thanks!
In the meantime, keep up the goodness!
by John Beisner
Esteemed Fellow Instructors,
Welcome to my web log! I'm calling it a “wlog” for short—hope it catches on.
Allow me to introduce myself and it:
My name is John Beisner, your humble colleague. I've been with Five Keys in Northern California for nigh upon three years. During that time I've taught in custody and in the community, both Independent Study and Classroom Instruction. Like many or most of you, I've been called upon to teach in just about every subject area. This has brought me into contact with tons of curriculum (literally) as well as tons of other teachers (probably also literally). This has led me to some real hard conclusions:
1) Five Keys teachers are awesome. I mean, 98% of us are amazing 98% of the time. Statistically speaking, this makes us some of the most outstanding humans who have ever lived. Congratulations!
2) Number 1 notwithstanding, we're mortal, fallible humans. As such, we tend to prefer what we already know. This applies to cereal, clothes and curriculum. Since we're often called upon to teach the same subject matter over and over, we tend to rely upon the same, familiar materials. Tried, tested and true. But also tired?
To wit: I've adopted the internationally renowned curricula assessment criteria developed by Dr. A.E. Geigenhopfer. For each packet, I will ask the the following questions: is the packet...
Then you can say, “that packet is good, but is it REALI good?”
Okay here's the rub: I have no expertise in curriculum, no grounds to criticize those who compiled or created it and no claim whatsoever to any insight beyond that of my peers. If anything, I know less about what constitutes “good” curriculum than those many teachers with vastly superior experience. “Why, therefore” (you may justly ask) “should I pay any attention to this wlog?”
Good question! The answer is that this wlog is not meant to be didactic (it won't be REALI good) but rather to give exposure and attention to new curriculum. After reading a review, you'll likely have one of three reactions: you'll say...
1) “What an interesting and amusing review! Now that I've been inspired to check out this new curriculum for myself (something I might not have done otherwise given my busy schedule), I fully agree with John's assessment and shall add this new curriculum to my repertoire immediately. Reading that wlog—and visiting the BITE in general—was certainly worth the 2-10 minutes of my time. Hurray! I'm happy now.”
2) “I checked out that new curriculum for myself and wow, that John is an utter fool. His assessment is all wrong and his acronym is only slightly catchy. I find the curriculum to be [better/worse] than he says and [will/won't] start using it in my teaching practice. I'm really glad I spent 2-10 minutes of my time reading that review—and visiting the BITE in general—so that I can [implement/avoid] that curriculum going forward. I'm happy now...albeit in an agitated kind of way. Grrr/hurray!”
3) “I have no idea what that guy is talking about and don't really care about his opinions. The world is already too full of acronyms and wlogs for my liking. Still, I'm glad to have been made aware of this new curriculum. I'm so busy being a statistically outstanding person that I might not have noticed it on Chaska's Curriculum Blog since, being mortal, I tend to be biased toward what I already know and trust. What an excellent use of 2-10 minutes of my time! Hurray.”
See the redemptive potential of my sometimes half-baked opinions? Like reading a review of a movie before you see it, it doesn't really matter if you agree with the reviewer or not. The review will have pre-heated your intellectual oven to help you more readily achieve your own delicious opinions. Who knows? I might even say something intentionally controversial just to add a little intrigue. You can always rip my arguments to shreds in the comment section. I'll just blame it on Dr A.E. Geigenhopfer, who is not a made up person at all.
Thanks for reading!