Spring practice

This is the time of year that kids hate homework most! The weather is warmer, and the clock is running down to the end of the school year. Teachers get mad at kids who blow off their homework . . . and kids get mad at teachers who assign it.

So why, in certain schools around the country, are kids working harder than ever on after-school academics right now?

We see them staying after to work in the computer labs. We see them collaring teachers in the halls for advice. We see them asking other students to read what they’ve written and give their opinions on making it better.

Where does all that motivation come from? Here’s the secret: One day in May or early June, these kids have to get up and present what they’ve learned in front of others whose opinions they value.

That one factor makes kids their “spring practice” in academics as seriously as any baseball player going into spring training. As Bridget, one of our student contributors to the book Fires in the Mind, noted:

With a presentation, it’s not just the teacher who’s gonna be disappointed in you, it’s gonna be a whole audience. You have your peers judging you, and outside people, so you want to present the best of yourself. And that pressure creates a better product.

Performance assessment like these require students to practice all kinds of things that don’t usually show up on tests. For example, Brooklyn Prep, a small New York City public school, assesses end-of-year roundtable presentations largely on the “habits of mind” students can demonstrate.

Roneesha, an eleventh grader, explained to her panel how those habits influenced her final paper in history. She said:

I think it was mainly the habits of mind of analysis and perspective that helped me most. I already had the background information . . . the only thing was how to get it down on paper and choose my position properly. Mainly, perspective helped me see what was the question, and what was it that I knew about the question, and how could I put that, so I could write an essay that fully answered that question.

“It’s amazing to us to see the tone shift when portfolio presentations are happening,” one New York teacher told me:

All of a sudden students take it more seriously. We all felt like students were like really learning, just from going through the process of the presentation. Even just having a voice on other students’ panels — really assessing another student based on a rubric — had an effect on kids. I am so excited to do it again this month.

Quite a few schools do this kind of performance assessment, often called exhibitions, though we don’t hear enough about it in this policy climate of high-stakes standardized testing. But May is a good time to go see for yourself what kids know and can do! The Coalition of Essential Schools has declared National Exhibition Month, and schools around the country are inviting the community in as guests and panel members.

What are YOU asking your students to practice this spring? How are you asking them to practice it? Who are you inviting in to see how they’re doing?

Share your experiences with practice! We’ll mail you a free copy of Fires in the Mind if your comment causes others to reply!

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One thought on “Spring practice

  1. A big amen to public exhibitions! At the project-based high school at which I teach, they are an essential part of our learning. Sharing learning with real audiences automatically increases our four R’s–1)Relevance – Our students answer the question “Who cares?” as they dig into projects and we work to get those people to the table. When those who believe in the importance of your topic are there to hear your presentation, relevance is validated. 2)Relationships – Having mentors who’ve seen you through the project there to see you present cements relationships with significant adults. 3)Rigor – When you know there will be people in the audience who know something about your topic, you step up your game. 4) Reflection – Receiving feedback, facilitating dialogue with the audience, and responding to questions forces you to think about how you know what you know and why you believe what you believe. Metacognition increases as students publicly process their own thinking.

    We call them Learning Expositions at Phoenix and they occur at least once every quarter. In advisory today we were talking about experiences that cause an adrenaline rush and one of my critters said “Expos are a rush!” Yep. For the students and for the adults.

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