Over the summer, my Advanced Placement World History students are assigned to learn a set of dates and what those dates mean. That assignment has evolved (and simplified) with each year I've given it, but it's purpose is always the same: I want my students to have an initial, very rough draft of world history sketched out in their minds before the first day.
In my standard world history courses (which I design to require more reading and writing and arguing and knowledge-building than what the curriculum calls for; after all, it's more fun to do hard things), I don't have the luxury of the summer assignment, and so the first unit of the school year is seeks to tie material learned from middle school with a rough draft overview of what we'll learn this year.
From September to spring break, in all of my classes, we create the second draft. For this one, they've got me as their teacher, they've got each other, and there will be lots of reading, writing, speaking/listening, and arguing as we go about the business of learning what Ben Freeman calls “the history of everything that's ever happened, ever.”
After spring break, we spend our final weeks of the school year (before the AP exam for the AP kids, before semester exams for the kids in the standard course) creating a third (and final, for our year together) draft of world history. Once again, we go through the material — this time through reading SparkNotes-style summaries of each of the major periods, through listening to and taking notes on my abbreviated interactive lectures on each period, through writing summaries of each period, and through crafting several kinds of argumentative essays (specifically, we do essays on causation, change and continuity over time, comparison, and periodization; this is the part of the year where my stopwatch gets handy). This third draft culminates in a self-directed research project towards independently generated questions — and the process of completing that project yields an additional fourth draft of learning on whichever question the student has chosen to pursue.
This is the flow through which I seek to help my students build and maintain knowledge in a world history course. It is, of course, a work in progress, but I'm seeing my students get further — in their knowledge, in their ability to think, read, write, speak — through this recursive, “drafts of learning” approach than I used to through a more traditional, one-time-through method.
I didn't happen on this thinking out of nowhere, of course. Here are some like ideas:
- Kelly Gallagher writes about second- and third-draft readings of novels in Deeper Reading.
- The CCSS address the recursive nature of grammar and mechanics in their language skills progression chart. (Notice how subjects and verbs are taught not just at Grade 3, but all the way up to Grade 12. This is because sentence complexity in Grade 3 is quite different from sentence complexity in Grade 12. The knowledge gained in the lower grades needs refreshing and refining in the higher grades. Secondary ELA teachers, take note!)
- Doug Stark spirals the language knowledge taught in his Level A Mechanics Instruction that Sticks book into his Levels B and C books.
So here's the question: Is there a way that the material in your course could benefit from a “drafts” approach to learning?