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Status of the Heart, Mind, and Pen: Formative Assessments for Lengthy Research Projects

By Mary Buckelew

Looking for ways to support and sustain the momentum and commitment needed to complete lengthy research projects in my secondary and college classes, I adapted Nancie Atwell’s “Status of the Class” method, which she describes in her book In the Middle (3rd Edition 2015). Atwell uses Status of the Class as a way to keep track of independent reading and writing. At the start of an independent reading or writing session, Atwell rapidly asks each student to state her or his plan for the session. She records student intentions in her own shorthand so that she can assist students in achieving their goals. She also wants “kids to hear what other students are writing about. Status-of-the-class responses are important sources of inspiration for new topics and genres” (Atwell, 2015, p.46).

I adapted Atwell’s strategy so that everyone in the classroom becomes involved in the Status of the Class. I use Status of the Class three times during the research process. The dialogic nature of Status of the Class that I’ve incorporated reinforces that we are a collaborative, creative, and supportive Think Tank.

I’ve implemented the following three (3) status of the class assessments throughout major research projects: Status of the Heart, Mind, and Pen.

Each “Status of the Class” occurs at different points in the research process, moving students along and giving me an idea of who may need more assistance – all the while reinforcing that we are a community of researchers.

Prior to each “Status of the Class,” we form a circle and I have my clipboard ready ala Atwell to record each student’s status.

General Protocol
I remind students of the protocol for sharing during Status of the Class:
1. Each student has one minute or less to share.
2. Other students may offer suggestions/answer questions in one minute or less.
3. Students may follow-up with each other after the initial “Status of the Class” is finished.
After one or more class periods of brainstorming, discussions, trips to the library, and or web quests, students report on one or more of the following during “Status of the Heart.”

Status of the Heart
–Each student shares what they are passionate about thus far in their research; i.e., they share their research topics
— Students may pose a question for the group

Some examples of sharing during a “Status of the Heart” include the following:
–Sophia shares, “Because I grew up on a farm, I am excited to find out more about the local water rights and watershed bill in my hometown. I’ve started researching the history and current state of affairs of water rights in Lancaster. This weekend, I plan to interview my grandfather about water rights.”

–Frank: “I’ve collected information on steroids and baseball and I plan to delve into the background of two or three of the athletes who have been accused and tried.”

–Shavon interjects to let Frank know that she just read a blog post about steroids and baseball. She offers to send the link. Frank thanks her and we move on.

–A student may also pose a question for the entire class regarding his or her research. Randy asks for help, “I’m looking for someone who is a Certified Public Accountant to conduct an interview regarding the CPA field. Does anyone have any suggestions or connections?

We are still in the preliminary stages when we do Status of the Heart so students may take a different path after hearing classmates’ research topics.

Status of the Mind
At this point in the research and writing process, students have written, participated in peer workshops, and have a draft or multiple drafts of their projects.

Students share:
— The focus of their projects and what they’ve accomplished
— Pose a question for the group if they have one.
–Students also share one goal.

John shares “I’ve completed an interview with an athletic trainer and researched requirements for entering an athletic training program. I plan to revise my interview materials to look and read like the interviews in Time Magazine.”

Anna shares: “I’ve researched aspects of digital journalism and website design.  I plan to finish a formal journal column on the transaction between digital journalism and design and drop in some photographs to enhance my message.”

The “Status of the Mind” serves multiple purposes. Students hear the ideas – the topics, the focus, and the modes and genres that their peers are working on for the project. The language of goal setting is reinforced and community is built as students give support to each other throughout this session. Status of the Mind is especially effective in moving students along while working on a big project; it opens up discussion on audience, purpose, and genre.  Students are empowered by sharing their PROGRESS with the entire group.  Status of the Mind may span two or more days; i.e., after 10 students share, we may move to writing workshop for the rest of the period. During this time students can continue the conversation or work individually. We continue the next day with anyone who didn’t share the day before.

Status of the Pen
Finally, we’re closing in on the home stretch of the paper or project; it’s time to do a quick check – “Status of the Pen.”  Using the language of the Six Traits +1:  IDEAS, ORGANIZATION, VOICE, SENTENCE FLUENCY, WORD CHOICE, CONVENTIONS & PRESENTATION) students share their final revision, editing, and design goals.

–Lauren excitedly shares, “I’m putting the finishing touches on my blog. I’m working on the presentation aspect and dropping in some photographs and quotations –

–Sophia is thrilled to share the results of her research into water rights and the water shed in her hometown. If Sophia can keep the word count to 1000 her hometown paper will publish the piece and they will include three of Sophia’s photographs, and the infogram she designed.

While the Status of the Heart, Mind, and Pen checkpoints do not take the place of conferences — peer or teacher – these checkpoints have helped me to reinforce ownership of the projects and to reinforce the importance of community in research, reading, and writing.  Atwell writes “Over a career of experiments with writing and reading records, I understand how personal a decision it is when a teachers settles on a system. We need to ask ourselves: What’s useful to me as the teacher of these children? What’s manageable and convenient? What won’t eat up my face time with kids. What will help me to get to them as writers and readers . . . .?  What do I really need to know? (Atwell, 2015, p.49).  Please share your strategies and answers to Atwell’s questions.

Mary Buckelew 3.29.17Dr. Mary Bellucci Buckelew is the Director of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project and Professor of English at West Chester University. She is co-author of Reaching and Teaching Diverse Populations: Strategies for Moving Beyond Stereotypes. When she’s not facilitating workshops, leadership gatherings, and institute meetings; visiting youth sites for Young Readers & Writers; or teaching undergraduate and graduate courses – you may find Mary composing a poem about life in New Mexico, taking long walks with her husband Paul, visiting with family and friends, or reading a good book!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Janice,
    Thank you for your feedback. Involving the students in giving feedback during the Status of the Class has made an important difference in how students perceive themselves as writers and researchers. I am always changing up the Status of the Class so you will have to let me know how you tailor this great Atwell strategy to your classroom. Yes — Atwell also asks great questions — always prompting reflection.


    April 1, 2017
  2. janiceewing #

    Mary, I’ve used status of the class, but not in this format of three stages and purposes, and I’m looking forward to trying it. I also love the idea of class as think tank! This whole post embodies the spirit of co-learning with our students. Your ideas and student examples, along with Atwell’s questions, will lead to much reflection.


    March 30, 2017

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