Assessment and sharing student work at The Birch School.
Showcase, student-led conferences, publishing, and more ideas for opening up the community of assessment.
The Birch School is a multi-age, self-directed learning community developing around connected learning principles. We are an experimental school founded in 2012, with students from ages 7 – 17.
The evolving program is student-centered, and we participate in many different learning modalities. Students are creating projects, making posters, writing in a variety of genres, making art, and building models. As we organized our learning community we realized that we needed a new kind of format to share this type of student work. Our “Student Showcase” was born.
Each trimester concludes with a Student Showcase. Parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, guests; everyone is invited to this evening event. Showcase offers opportunities for students to share their work with others. During the event sticky notes are available for guests to leave comments on student work. The following school day, students review and consider the collection of artifacts of student work and offer feedback for each other. The organic internal motivation that students demonstrate during the preparation for Showcase is notable. When we asked students why they were so focused and industrious in the days leading up to the event they told us several things. “If your work is not done by Showcase night you miss it. There isn’t a second chance.” Students felt the real deadline and it became and authentic motivator for work completion. The other comment we heard was “My parents will be here looking at my work, but also my friends’ parents and other people will be seeing it, so I want it to be good.” Opening the audience to others outside the school community is also an mechanism to help focus student production and completion, as well as include many voices in assessment of student work. Student Showcase has become a foundation of Birch.
At Birch, every student convenes a “Student-led conference” each trimester. Parents, teacher and student meet together to discuss student progress, work skills, interests and long term plans. Students know that they will be asked to provide examples of their work and share with adults who care about them. Student-led conferences are gaining popularity and the list of resources is growing for teachers or schools who may want to venture into this style of assessment. This too has become a foundation of Birch.
SCHOOL LITERARY JOURNAL
Another practice we have adopted is publishing a class or school-wide literary journal. We compile writing that students have done at school and collect them into a journal format. We publish this and distribute. When students know that their writing is going to be published and read by a wider (often unknown) audience we once again see the internal motivation to “get it right” increase.
Each graduating Senior at The Birch School is required to complete a Capstone project over the school-year. They begin to identify their project at the end of Junior Year. One of the requirements is to find an advisor with experience in the student’s area of interest. This could be a community member, a friend or relative, a college professor, or other expert that they can identify. This person also sits of the Capstone Review committee for that student. By including a professional, from outside the school community, we are asking students to expand the audience for their work. The Advisor’s feedback on student work is meaningful to the student in a different way than others, because this person is an “expert” in this area of interest.
An additional way to include “Experts” in the review of student work is through Skype. You might find a guest speaker willing to comment on a classroom project or student work.
We have found that opening our school community beyond the walls has changed student attitudes towards completing and sharing work. It has given opportunities for feedback from more than just teachers, offering students richer and more complex assistance than they might get just in the classroom. It also allows our school community to be more connected to the larger community surrounding our school. The authentic motivation that students feel when they know that their work will be public is invaluable to continued student growth.