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Describe, Analyze and Reflect On This

By Emmet Rosenfeld — April 23, 2006 3 min read

Spring break sprang, kids’ soccer is rained out for the third weekend in a row, and I retreat to my basement office to slog on towards the base of the mountain. This week, as promised, I’ll address how to describe and analyze “accomplishments that contribute to student learning” as required in Entry 4.

We begin by cracking the bible to a section called “Get Started.” (Unlike Deuteronomy, this is not in the beginning.) Here it is written that description is “retelling... what happened in a classroom situation,” analysis explains the “significance of the evidence” one takes from that situation, and reflection tells how you would do it next time.

There is quite a bit of qualifying and the passages are sprinkled with bolded words, each seeming to supersede the last in importance. Reading here I am left feeling that a strict schoolmarm is at the head of the class glaring out over her pince-nez at a bunch of us rather dull students. Here’s an example:

“Analysis” and “Reflection” overlap, though they are not identical. “Analysis” involves interpretation and examination of why the elements or events described are the way they are. “Reflection,” a particular kind of analysis, always suggests self-analysis, or retrospective consideration of one’s practice, in the terms of this assessment. (EA/ELA 2006, page 62)

And so on. Following this didactic bit are samples with labels in the margins to show where each sort of writing occurs. Example 3 is by a math teacher in a rural school who has learning disabled 3rd and 4th graders play a card game called “snap” to review multiplication. Fortunately, this sample and the others seem to be composed by regular every day teachers who (gasp) often include description and analysis in the same paragraph.

Next, practice activities are provided to help the hapless separate the strands. The first, about description, has you choose an assignment and ask questions like: What was the goal? What concepts did the student need to know before doing this? How do you think this will extend student learning?

Activity 2, about interpretation, asks questions based on work from the lesson, like: How can you interpret the response from the student? What “frame of reference” do you draw upon in interpreting it? And this whopper: “Using what you know about the connections that need to be made in order to understand ideas in particular domains appropriate to the content area, what does each student’s response tell you?”.

Practice activity 3, about reflection, gets you to ask if the students learned what you thought they would learn. You glance back to “prior instruction,” too, and forward in terms of strategies for each student and for you as a teacher.

My keen research skills lead me to another relevant passage in the bible, this time in the part about Entry 4, titled “Description and Analysis.” Here it says in two pages more or less what was said before, with the bolded words boiled down to three that would make a newspaperman proud: what, why and how.

My last resource for information on how best to present accomplishments are my notes from the prep class. About description, our instructor offers tips to give us a sense of audience: “They won’t know you or where you teach-- only your i.d. number.” They’ll probably be moon-lighting teachers, but gauging how much to “set up” is important for any writing task (reminds me of a discussion I had this past week with seniors getting read for the AP exam).

For analysis, Patrick stressed the reliance upon hand-picked evidence, i.e. student work or the video tape that you provide. Doesn’t need to be perfect, but don’t be so naive as to send the lesson that bombed.

Last, for reflection, he gave the analogy to the job interview trip wire, “What’s your greatest flaw?”. We all agreed that the safest answer to that one was something like, “I’m a perfectionist,” rather than “I leave my nail clippings on the bathroom floor.” I’ve got a better answer now: “I tend to overanalyze my contributions to student learning.”

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