After exiting security at the Milwaukee airport a few years ago, I was tickled pink by the sign: Recombobulation Area. What a wonderful idea to set aside a space – and time – to gather your things together, reduce confusion, and reorient yourself. If only…
If only the end of the academic year had a place or a space or time set aside, but the frenetic pace and inherent juggling makes it virtually impossible to step away from the conveyor belt. Last minute submissions of late work, extra help sessions, exam grading, recommendation requests, and deadlines make most teachers feel like they are running the gauntlet rather than wrapping up the year.
If only the Innovation Lab were immune to such things! We, too, have juggled and fretted and raced and assessed. Each of us has stacks of papers that we carry around like an albatross. But this post is not a litany of things yet to do; as a community, we have so much to celebrate. Last week’s Presentations of Learning were powerful reminders that our students are reflective learners who are eager to continue to grow, and have internalized the language of learning. They embody the famous John Dewey quotation, “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” It will become a hallmark of our culture.
This week celebrates more than one type of performance assessment embedded in our culture with the culmination of the National History Day competition. We couldn’t be more proud of all of our students’ work this year, and the opportunity to exhibit their scholarship to a global audience is unparalleled. “This contest represents the national finals for affiliate level contests held in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Central America, China, Korea, and South Asia. Each year, more than 600,000 students around the world. ‘Less than 1% of all entries make it to the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest,” said National History Day® Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “The level of research and presentation of the students at this level is astounding. They truly represent the best and brightest minds of the next generation.’” Flora, Katherine, Juliana, and Nicole were consummate professionals and inspirational ambassadors for our program and state; they earned both 6th Overall and Outstanding Entry for Connecticut out of more than 600,000 students worldwide!
Back at home, students had the challenging opportunity to demonstrate their growth and skill development through department-standard exams. There is value in learning how to demonstrate knowledge and understanding, and just as we taught students how to reflect and talk about their growth, we helped them develop the skills to write about their knowledge through exams. Our 10th grade scholars have learned to demonstrate success in a wide variety of performance assessments, and it’s a skill that will enable them to be successful beyond our community. In the days leading up to each task, you could hear the buzz of shared knowledge and that special language of review: redux reaction! unseen passage analysis! Trickle-down economics! logarithms! The shared experience of reviewing and taking exams bonds students; exams are just one more way that they are able to exhibit their learning.
As our inaugural year winds down, we, teachers, reflect on our experience as well. The year-end is always a bittersweet time; I never feel as if I have done enough, helped enough, challenged and taught and championed and supported enough. I am often reminded of Maya Angelou’s famous line: “When we cast our bread upon the waters, we can presume that someone downstream whose face we will never know will benefit from our action.”
If only we knew the impact.
But this year, we have a remarkable opportunity for which I am grateful… we will join our students further down the river, and we will continue together again next year. That is enough.