data and Gilgamesh

I want my last unit of the year to be something pretty rich and powerful, so we’re reading He Who Saw The Wellspring, otherwise known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. If my kids can read three or four tablets in three weeks, I’ll be happy.

But I’m realizing that I also want some data. I genuinely want to know what they’re absorbing from it. And in order to do that I have to quiz them, and grade them. And as Bendrick-Santoyo points out, you need to design questions that tell you what you’re doing wrong when your students get them wrong.

In order to do that, you need questions. So that’s what I did tonight. I pulled together a writeup on the history of the Epic, and then found five pieces of Art History to go with that, that I can make into a slide show tomorrow. Then I went line by line through the first tablet of the Epic (Benjamin Foster’s 2001 translation, which I read with Dr. Foster at Wesleyan U.’s summer program), looking for questions about vocabulary, interpretation, grammar, structure, characterization, and historical relevance. I generated about 75 questions. I probably need about 25 more.

And I’m going to need to put in the same kind of effort on Tablets II and III and IV. There’s a lab on writing cuneiform that I did a few years ago. If I can get some sculpey, we may do that and make tablets one day late next week. There could be another primary source, in the form of the traditional Sumerian story about scribal training, and that could be part of a sub unit on Leonard Woolley’s excavation of Ur and the royal graves of Ur. More art history, which admittedly fits well with the Bull of Heaven story, though not so well with Humbaba.

Having questions is only half of rigorous assessment, though. I also need strong answers, either in the form of grading rubrics for open-ended questions; or one-right-answer multiple-choice questions. And the questions need to be tied to a set of guidelines that tell me what my students need help on when they get a question wrong. Some questions need to be open-ended for the final exam, and others need to be multiple choice. And there has to be a lengthy essay option in there too.

Wow. This is hard.

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  1. Of course you know what it is. You probably think I’m a big geek, which I am, but I mean well. I think if you’ve cited resources, you’re good to go. Teachers “share.” 🙂 Somebody has to! Sounds like an intense unit!

    • Oh, I’m a big geek too. I mean, I helped write the Exalted game for White Wolf… if that doesn’t give me geek cred, I don’t know what does.

      It was actually a lot of fun putting together the bibliography. I think one of the things I should do on my next wiki is create bibliography pages on a regular basis, and make students contribute to them often.

  2. We do the same at my school – our planning/prep time is spent covering other teachers’ classrooms constantly. I feel your pain.

    Anyway, Understanding by Design by Wiggins/McTighe. Curriculum planning is a huge love of mine, and their methods of asking the “big question” and getting to “essential understandings” is so valuable. That way, your units won’t try to serve too many masters, and your students will walk away with deeper understanding. If you have a chance to take some professional development, I highly recommend it, but if not, buying their books is a huge help. I taught myself, and then reinforced my understanding with a class years later. Basically –what do you REALLY want your students to learn? And then design an assessment tied back into that. I’m not about touting gurus unless going up to the mountain top is really worth it – this is:

    I’m happy to help further. Let me knowl

    • Kelly,

      It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who steal prep time.

      My colleague and boss is a big Wiggins/McTighe fan. My current info packet for students, for Gilgamesh, has the big ESSENTIAL QUESTION on the cover. I’m tempted to post it for everyone to go through and make use of, but I’m worried about copyright both infringing someone else’s, and losing mine. I’m also using the 49 techniques with it, as well.

      I should probably post it. Maybe I should add a bibliography page too, though.


  3. Do you use UbD or (revised) Bloom’s? I have a lot of success when I teach kids how to write leveled questions, annotate text, and go from there. That way, they can construct their own learning –everything from knowledge to evaluating. Sounds like a fantastic unit, though! WOW! Epic!

    • Dear Kelly,

      I don’t even know what UbD is… I do know Bloom’s taxonomy, and I sometimes even use it. One of the weird things about working in a boarding school, though, is the degree to which all your prep time gets compressed on a regular basis — we all serve as substitute teachers on short notice, and designing lesson units is always a little crazy.

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