What if Bill Belichick Taught Social Studies?

It is the most wonderful time of the year… the NFL Playoffs and once again the New England Patriots are among the favorites to win it all.  The Patriots have been through player changes and quarterback changes over the past decade but still every year they are in the hunt.  What makes them so special?  One man.  Coach, Bill Belichick.  Even though my team has been long excluded from this competition for the 12th consecutive season (Lets Go Buffalo!) I still enjoy watching the games and most importantly the in-depth interviews that are done in the pregame shows.  The Patriots QB Tom Brady today in a pregame interview gave 2 reasons he feels his team is successful year in and year out. 

1: The players feel that the Coach Bellichick has prepared them for each and every opponent.

2: The players believe in their ability to succeed against any opponent they face. 

I can’t help but to conclude that the two are connected. 

Certainly this approach is not isolated to just football.  If one is prepared by a good teacher than one feels confident when challenged. 

Take the NYS Regent exams in Global History and Geography and American History and Government.  The two assessment are very different… or are they?  Surely the content has differences, the classes leading up to them are different but the tests are almost the same in one very important way.  Format.

Roughly 50% of these two exams are on multiple choice and content problem solving.  Students often refer to this section as the multiple guess section. 

10% of the exams are the Scaffolding Questions in Part IIIA these are essentially plug and pull questions.  Traditionally students do very well in this section.  These questions may change with the new common core initiatives from NYSED (See previous post)

40% of the final score for these exams is derived from expository writing in Parts II and IIIB (The Thematic and DBQ Essays)

Throughout the last 11 years as a teacher I consistently looked to pinpoint an area to focus my energy on to  leverage improved results.  On almost every report I analyzed I came to the same conclusion.

Improving a student’s ability to write to convey meaning will have the highest impact on improving test scores.

So… If I was to follow the Coach Belichick’s preparation model (which mirrors Sun Zsu’s The Art of War) I would analyze the opponent’s weakness and focus on defeating them by exploiting that weakness.  Does this mean spend 40% of my time in the classroom focusing on writing to mirror the exams?  Some would say yes.  As a former teacher I can say that I would have no life while I provided meaningful feedback on all that writing.  But… there are ways to increase the amount of writing in the classroom and not destroy your home life. 

At Odyssey this week I watched Mrs. Kirchmaier give students anchor papers and a rubric of a writing assignment that they had already completed.  Mrs. K helped the students synchronize their grading using exemplars of high, medium and low, scored samples.  She helped the students understand how the rubric was followed to obtain that score.  In the end the students were asked to peer grade their partner’s essay and provide feedback as to some improvements that could be made.  The students were then allowed to rewrite their essays with the new feedback and now a better understanding of the requirements and what a perfect exemplar looked like.  When the final draft and rough draft are handed in the next day much of the meaningful feedback was already done by the student’s peer and the teacher can focus on a quick scan of the perfected final.

In many ways this activity allows us to pull back the curtain on what is expected and allows the students to write with a better understanding of these expectations.  Feel free to use the NYSED Regents site to pull anchor papers for an activity like this and help your students practice old exam essays.  http://www.nysedregents.org/

Again, I am not saying we all need to mirror the exam and spend 40% of our time with in-depth expository writing… but certainly increasing writing practice by even 10% from where we are now would see major dividends.  

If we prepare our students for the challenge that we know is coming they will believe in their ability to succeed against it. 

After all, in 1991 my Buffalo Bills were heavily favored to win Super Bowl XXV. Most experts expected that the Giants defense would not be able to contain the Bills’ turbo-charged, no-huddle offense, which had scored 95 points in 2 playoff games.  We all know what happened.  The Giants did defeat the Bills.  The NY Giants defensive game plan is still displayed in the NFL Hall of Fame.  The author of this plan… NY Giants Defensive Coordinator, Bill Belichic.

Dissecting the Perfect Essay

As a child I liked taking things apart and putting them back together to find out how it worked.  Today, that skill I feel has helped make me a better teacher. 

In a recent visit to Olympia High School I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Auriso to discuss some of his writing strategies that he uses in his World History classes.  One of his strategies that he is using currently helps students write better essay introductions by reading NY State Ed anchor papers, taking them apart and putting them back together again.  The theory behind it is brilliant.  The essential question is, “How did the author construct his argument and how did he sequence his argument to make the most sense?” 

Sound familiar?  “I will take Common Core Learning Standards for $100 Alex!”

This is no different than dissecting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or MLK’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail and delving into the reading to find the intent of the author and the skilled usage of words, phrases and passages. 

As with any great lesson Mr. Auriso’s preparation was key. 

Step 1: Access the NY State Education Department’s Regents web page http://www.nysedregents.org/

Step 2 Find an old Regents Exam writing question worth delving into.

Step 3 Locate the model paper with a perfect score (5/5) and print it out for the students. 

Mr. Auriso typed out the introduction of his model essay and put the text into a website that helps scramble sentences. 

 
Finally the students would get strips of paper with one sentence each printed out. 
The student’s task: Knowing what we know about what makes a good introduction reconstruct the intro as the author intended it. 
 
So you ask… How would one diversify a lesson like this?  Simple.  Instead of sentences give the students 5 index cards with the paragraphs (Intro, 3 main body paragraphs, and conclusion) printed out to help a student know the structure of the entire essay if that is what they need help identifying. 
 
Taking things apart to learn what make them tick is great as long as you don’t have parts left over.