The last two weeks of school: Limping to the end

battleBack in this post, I talked about students undertaking year-end culminating performance assessments, to bind together what they learned over the course of a semester, even a year, and to present that work to an audience, preferably in a real-world setting. That helps to make their academic efforts authentic, not just superficial and unconnected to reality. I was reminded of this belief as we limped to the end of our son’s school year. The last two weeks of school did not thrill me. He took a few final exams, played academically-focused games, and watched movies, some connected to the classroom, some not.

Now, I know that I’m being a grump about this. I know that the year’s end is not an easy time for teachers and kids, as summer looms and work winds down. I’ve been there, done that. But I’ve also seen what the last few weeks of school can be like, as students take part in year-end culminating assessments that give them a sense of accomplishment, that tie together loose ends, that connect their school-based efforts to the real world. Rather than limp to and through the end of the year, students bound through it, focused right to the end.

See great examples of project-based work here at the Buck Institute site. And I’m not that worried that summative projects be intensively academic. Sure, that’d be best – but I’m more interested that students have an all-encompassing, culminating experience, that it build on a personal interest, and that it connect to the real world. For example, see some of the senior projects that students at this school do.

Let me conclude with something close to home. Our son has a band, and they competed in a “battle of the bands” two weekends ago, a great experience for these boys, for a variety of reasons. Since January, they’d been working on several original songs, which they narrowed to two to play at this gig. At an actual music venue, they played in front of three judges, who graded them on a set of criteria that my son and his mates had known beforehand, as well as an audience of other people, many of them strangers.

For me, their performance was an exciting example of a culminating assessment. Yes, it’s easier to do this sort of thing in disciplines like music or theater, for they’re obviously performance-oriented. And their performance did not involve deep research, with a focus on academic content. But, still, these four boys – with their teacher – practiced some great 21st century skills: Collaborating with and being responsible to others, communicating clearly, thinking and working creatively, etc. I know that their year-end performance and the work leading up to it will stick with my son and his three friends for a long time. It’s just the sort of big, year-end project that I want to have happen at school, for I know that that experience, when done right, will also stick.

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