Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Let It Go

 “Let It Go”

If you have a small child, a love for Disney, a musical theater background, Internet access, or have even been to Target in the past few months, you may have heard of a little movie called Frozen. My three year old is obsessed. Apparently, so is much of America, since the soundtrack is, so far, the best seller of 2014 and the movie is simultaneously still in theaters and released on DVD/digitally and the ninth highest grossing film ever.

I’m not a big movie person, but I have heard those songs a few bijillion times.

So in honor of Frozen, I’d like to invite you to “Let It Go”.

I’m talking about your kids’ DBQs, of course!

(*To the tune of “Do You Want To Build a Snowman”)

Do you want to write an essay?
Do you wanna make that call?
I think writing is overdue
I’ve started talking to
The teacher down the hall....

Here’s the thing. You teach DBQs several times during the year. Hopefully, three times before FCAT. Many teachers are getting ready to teach that last DBQ for the year. You have taught and taught and taught DBQs.  Knock on wood, but hopefully after all that teaching, there has been some learning.

Think back to the first DBQ you did, at the beginning of the year. Either your kids were new to DBQs (or they pretended they were new to DBQS) or they rolled their eyes and sighed about how they had done them a million-bijillion times. Now, they’ve done a few for you. They’ve done it YOUR way.

So, let it go. Let your kids try one (or more of one) on their own.

IF (and only if) you have done year-long gradual release, IF you have explicitly taught each piece of the DBQ, IF you have modeled during the first three DBQs, IF you have had your kids do guided practice, it’s time to release them. Let it go. Let them go.

What does it mean to let it go? It means to thoughtfully examine the gradual release you have done throughout the year, examine student writing, reflect on which parts of the DBQ Process your students have mastered, and take off the training wheels and let them try it with less help, less teacher guidance.

“Letting it go” means to continue to introduce each part, but to let the kids do more of the DBQ-ing on their own.

“Letting it go”  doesn’t mean to hand a DBQ packet to a 6th grader and tell him to do it by the end of the period (and then complain when he doesn’t do it perfectly). But it might mean that for a high school senior that has done four DBQs this year and four junior year that and four sophomore year. It definitely means hand it to an AP student and time her DBQ.

If your kids aren’t ready to do a whole DBQ by themselves, then move them along the gradual release spectrum. Here are some ideas to help them Let It Go a little further on the Gradual Release model...
·         Keep the hook. Let them do it in small groups if they’re ready. Read the directions if they need it.
·         Keep the background essay as a teacher-led portion. I still strongly believe that if kids don’t get the background essay (especially low readers), then the rest of the DBQ will be unnecessarily tough.  Read it aloud. It helps kids work on their fluency and background knowledge at once. Maybe you can let them choose what reading strategy you use with this -- text marking, vocab choosing, highlighting, etc.
·         Don’t model the first document analysis anymore. It’s April!! Instead, have them review the parts to a Doc Analysis for you. Then, have the students complete one or two Doc Analyses as group practice and do the rest on their independently.
·         Hand over the bucket OR the chickenfoot to the kids to do on their own. IF they are ready, have them do both independently. If not, you can guide them through one and they can do the other on their own.
·         Verbally review the parts to the Essay and then give them time to complete that in class.
·         Have them peer-review each other’s thesis statements to help reinforce how to write these.
·         If your kids have the essay mastered, try to do that portion timed. See what they can do, but don’t penalize the slow writers.

It’s that time of year. Time for kids to take tests. Lots of tests. Progress Monitoring tests. End of course tests. Advanced Placement tests. FCAT tests. Even final exams are looming in the not-so-distant future.

We assess the heck out of our kids, as we all know. This is how we assess how well our kids understand the DBQ Process.

Don’t abandon them. Don’t punish them with lousy grades.

But use this as a chance to see how much they have learned. Use this as a way to inform the teachers of the next grade (if possible). Use this as a way to guide next year’s DBQ instruction. Use this as a way to take off the training wheels and let them go, to see what they can do. Use this as a way to see what they mastered and what they still struggle with. Use this as data to inform instruction.

Take off the training wheels and let them crash or fly on their own. Let ‘em go.

So here is your tribute to Letting It Go, with regards to DBQs... (please sing to the tune of Tony-award winner Idina Menzel’s Oscar-winning performance of “Let It Go”. If you’re not familiar with the song, ask one of your students to hum it for you. Or, try this YouTube link

Don’t let them whine, don’t let them get a D
Be the gradual releaser you have to be
When they first started they didn’t know
Well now they know

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold their hands anymore
Let ‘em go, let ‘em go
Gradually let them do more

I don’t care
If it’s the greatest ess-say
Let the kids struggle on
The handwriting never bothered me anyway . . .

Let ‘em go, let ‘em go
And they’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let ‘em go, let ‘em go
The hand-holding is gone

Here we stand
In the classroom today
Let the kids struggle on
Their handwriting never bothered me anyway.

Any thoughts about releasing your kids for one last DBQ? Have you done whole-year gradual release? How did it go? What have been your DBQ victories this year? What areas do you want to do differently next year? As always, I love to hear from you! email me at


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