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Metacognition and The Absolutely-True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

BetterLesson/Tim Pappageorge

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Note that this resource was reviewed during the Spring 2014 review period. The resource may or may not have been updated since the review. Check with the content creator to see if there is a more recent version available.


This resource was reviewed by OSPI in Spring 2014. Learn more about the review process and the data analysis approach.

Background from OER Project Review Team
BetterLesson was founded by a group of teachers from Atlanta and Boston public schools to help educators create, organize, and share their curricula. CC BetterLesson is a new project from BetterLesson that has partnered with the National Educators Association to highlight best teaching practices around the Common Core from master teachers.

EQuIP (Learn more)

Exemplar if improved (8.3)
Chart with scale of 'meets criteria' from 0 (None) to 3 (All). Alignment: 2.75, Key Shifts in the CCSS: 1.75, Instructional Supports: 2.0, Assessment: 1.75.

Achieve OER (Learn more)

Chart with scale from 0 (Weak) to 3 (Superior). Explanation: 2.25, Interactivity: 0.0, Exercises: 2.0, Deeper Learning: 2.5.

See standard error chart for the review scoring

Reviewer Comments (Learn more)

Minor (1.8)

Comments/Ideal Use:

The ideal use scenario for this resource is a grade 8-9 classroom. Because the speaking tasks are so well-scaffolded, this could be taught by teachers at any experience level. Indeed, it would be helpful for new-to-the profession teachers and/or teachers who are not comfortable with student-led discussions.

Since U.S. history is part of the 8th grade social studies GLEs in Washington State, this might be a nice fit. In addition, because Washington State history is part of the seventh grade curriculum and the GLEs do call for study of Native Americans, it could also work for honors level 7th graders, although Absolutely True Diary does include some themes that may not be appropriate for all seventh graders.


  • The pacing is deliberate and is excellent for students who need additional support. Average students may benefit from a faster pace, and advanced students would definitely require this.
  • The writing portion seemed to be rushed. Granted, the ability to incorporate text-based evidence to support claims is very well developed in in the speaking/listening portions of the unit.
  • Page 3 of the Comparative Study Guide included a rubric, but it was not standards referenced.


  • Provide accommodation / modification for increased pacing for honors level students.
  • Fix the “Writer’s Workshop” link.
  • Lesson 17 calls out modeling argumentation writing. Providing examples, graphic organizers, etc., would have been helpful. The unit would benefit from additional standards reference rubrics not only for the writing task, but also for the reading and speaking / listening tasks.
  • Develop and include standards-referenced rubrics for the standards being addressed.
  • Develop and include graphic organizers and other supports for ELL students and students with disabilities, as well as for average students.
  • The excellent memoir, “The Cutting of My Long Hair” by Zitkala-Sa, was used at the start of the unit. The unit could benefit from circling back to this piece. Perhaps include topics / evidence from this text during discussions and in the writing task.

Comments/Ideal Use:

I think that the ideal learning environment for this resource would be 7th or 8th grade middle school. Maybe even 6th grade. I think that a beginning teacher might take a look at this and find it usable, but would find classroom management and depth of knowledge questioning inadequate. In part because the questions that are presented by the developer are not sophisticated enough for the audience and in part because the other elements that should be present, such as rubrics, assessments, and relevant supplementals simply are not there.


  • There are very few CCSS represented for the number of lessons (19) presented for use.


  • Re-work the unit / lessons with multiple rubrics and review with a team of individuals who are familiar with CCSS and the book 'Absolutely True Story' to further refine the lessons, activities, rubrics, extensions, assessments, etc...
  • Utilize the text material to diversify lessons and activities that are aligned to the CCSS over an extended unit with 19 lessons.

Comments/Ideal Use:

The BETTERLESSON Unit 1 – does a good job focusing on direct instruction of students’ metacognition and reflection using direct instruction, scaffolding and formative assessments. It focuses on students’ verbal argumentation skills through the use of The Hotseat, The Fishbowl, and The Panel Discussion exercises. These activities are also part of the AVID curriculum that encourages lower-performing students to excel.


  • Because claims and logic are integral to quality argumentation, this unit seemed a little too focused on student opinion, in the activities and in the handouts’ questions, rather than on text-based support. All students had the opportunity to take a pro/con stance concerning one of the five questions about the book, and they had to use the text to support their viewpoints but three of the five questions were contrived and seemed more geared to opinion than logical argumentation.
  • The “why” questions that don’t have easy answers are rather spotty and the argumentative writing assignment did not ask for an authentic piece of writing. The ultimate goal here was, once again, the nefarious five-paragraph essay.
  • Few opportunities for the highly capable or gifted students to move on as this would take three to four weeks. The lesson takes approximately three weeks to read a small book and to discuss it with The Hot Seat, The Fish Bowl and The Panel Discussion--too much discussion, too little rigorous test and writing for this group.


  • Have students write argumentative essays making claims about assimilation or discrimination from both of Alexie's pieces using text support for the claim/warrants.
  • Shorten the time spent on the activities and ask the students to do research on the issues that Junior mentions. Have they improved? Why or why not?
  • Make text-based questions for the entire novel.

Comments/Ideal Use:

As a speech and debate coach, I appreciate the focus on oral argumentation leading to writing. I believe we need to see more of this. I would fine tune this a bit, but even the writer reflects on some fine tuning in places and bringing in some historical documentation around assimilation, creating more context and possibly greater debate.

This unit could be used in a 9th grade classroom. I think any teacher could use the unit. They would probably need to do some exploration around the teachers approach to writing, but other than that is an easy to follow lesson and well laid out and most of the pieces are there.


  • This unit delves into a variety of close readings of the text and brings in two other pieces that address the same issue.
  • Uses the Speaking standards to develop students’ skills with using evidence and developing argumentation.
  • Writing Argumentation Essay though writers workshop based on the speaking activities - the activities and students practice in providing oral argument has been shown to increase their ability to develop their written arguments.
  • feedback process for students’ pre-final essay - getting feedback is essential for students and the use of technology has been shown to increase student willingness to edit.


  • Rubrics are missing.


  • Sample rubrics for Fishbowl, Hotseat, Panel Discussion and Essay should be provided. Teachers may ultimately modify or use their own, but they want to see the rubrics that were used to assess the major assignments.

Creative Commons License
This work by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.