There is no way to say it except that last weekend, EduCon was a transformative professional development experience. My job now is to close the gap between what is current and what is possible. So much of what I heard resonates with what I think education can and should be. There were many moments that stuck with me, thoughts I cannot shake. When someone said that the world has enough problems to tackle and teachers should stop making them up, it reminded me the value in grounding kids in the reality they are inheriting. The conversation about the difference between wonder and curiosity keeps replaying in my head. Do we strive for engagement or empowerment, or both? Words matter.
Kids matter. I have been an advocate of student voice and choice for a while now, but I had not really thought about the meaning. My first session was run by Senior Honors Seminar at Hudson High School in New York. Those students and their teacher, Grace O’Keeffe, spoke directly to me and their words have continued to resonate all week. The seminar is governed by real student choice, not selection from a few options the teacher provides. Students choose what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and how they will be assessed. These incredibly eloquent, genuine, and passionate students took charge of their own education. Decisions in the class are made by consensus. I translated that to mean Quaker process. I was excited.
I plan to propose a senior elective course for next year governed by the same principles, but I did not want to wait to test out the ideas. I am in the middle of a Pick Your Path unit on American Foreign Policy where students could choose to follow a more structured, chronological approach planned by me or do individual or partner research on a topic of their choice related to American Foreign Policy. We had not decided on the end product yet, so it was the perfect scenario for empowering students to create their own rubric.
Last class (with each of my two sections of US history) we spent our time working to create a rubric that includes the standards I will grade them on at the end of the unit. Students put forth their ideas about what would make a history project excellent, what was essential. I was not sure that they would invest in this and see it as valuable. I worried they would see it as a waste of time, a case of me not doing my job, and lost work time for their research. I do not think that was the case. We talked about how every type of assignment can have a thesis. We discussed what it would mean to understand a topic deeply. Students disagreed on the importance of having elements of the process in the rubric. Even students who are often late with work acknowledged the importance of deadlines. We discussed whether the top category should be one where expectations were met or exceeded. One group wanted to count effort, but when I asked them to give me guidance in how to evaluate it, they were stumped. There was some disagreement about how to provide the standard for sources. In the end, students had a very hard time nailing down precisely what the rubric should say. In both classes, we wrestled with the question of creativity – could that be an element for everything, even an essay.
We are only partly done. I asked the students to go home and reflect on our work so far. I am hoping that we can complete a class rubric next class. It will not be final, I am sure. There will be things that do not work so well, and we will tweak them. I have faith that students will really own them, since they have crafted them. My dream is that having created them, they will be motivated to live up to them.
To be continued…