Saturday, May 26, 2007

It’s Exhibition Season

All of my students complete a two part project as part of their work for my classes. This project, called an Exhibition, is based on the model for assessment endorsed by the Coalition for Essential Schools. Instead of measuring a broad range of skills over my entire curriculum, however, the Exhibition my students create is limited to a single topic. This topic is of their choosing, and only needs to have a clear and relevant connection to the language they are studying or the people who use it.

Students learn how to determine their topic through general exploration, then they engage in focused research using search engines and translation software. They produce a research document with sources and notes, prepare an outline and create over two drafts a formal 5-page research paper (in English for my first-year students; ½ in the target language for my second-year students; 100% in the target language for everyone else). That’s the “academic” part of the Exhibition.

The creative part comes in the form of their Demonstration Element, when they take a facet of the topic they’ve chosen and prepare a lesson on it for the class, including both a demonstration of their understanding of their topic and an exercise that actively and directly involves the class in learning something important and valuable about the topic.

The final month of classes for me is reserved for the students to present their Demonstration Elements. One student presents per day, and they fill up the full class period, so I don’t actually do any teaching of my own. I basically spend my time supporting my students as they do their thing. It eases some of the end-of-year stress because I don’t have daily work or exams to grade, but it does mean that my time during the school day is non-stop busy.

The payoff comes in watching what my students are actually able to accomplish. I had two Exhibitions just conclude on the Cuban Revolution that were outstanding! Each group talked about the event in general historical terms, introduced the major players (Batista, Castro, Guevara, etc.) and talked about some of the reasons why it occurred. This was not really what they wanted to teach the class, though. Joe and Aaron decided to explore just how 300 revolutionary guerilla warriors with no money and little modern weaponry was able to defeat more than 10,000 seasoned troops with tanks and missiles. They showed just what Castro and his followers went through to achieve military success by developing a board game to simulate the events of “Operación Verano”, which the class played for more than an hour. Sarah wanted to look at was what it must have felt like to be an ordinary citizen in Cuba during the time of the Revolution. She created a role-play game in which students had to make choices based on random events over the course of a simulated revolution. Students were tasked with simply surviving. Some decided to join the revolution. Some decided to help Batista. Some simply remained uninvolved. What they did determined how Sarah’s version of the revolution eventually concluded (Castro ended up winning), and a number of students suffered ill effects in the game. Both demonstrations led to a great discussion afterward on the complexity of the Cuban Revolution and its very real effects on people.

There will be others coming in the next couple of weeks, and I’m really looking forward to them. I’ll share some with you, if you like. For me, it’s truly inspiring to see what my students are capable of doing when given time and support. It sort of even makes up for the fact that they can’t get a lick of homework in on time from September to May!

No comments: