Small Acts of Courage: Illuminating Standards Video

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Small Acts of Courage: Illuminating Standards Video

Format(s): Video

Topic(s): Spark Discussion

Audience: Educators

How can rich learning experiences become the evidence that we value in education? At King Middle School in Portland, Maine, students demonstrate evidence of their learning by creating powerful projects that benefit their community. In 2010, 2012, and 2014, seventh grade students explored the Civil Rights Movement and became historians as they researched events, interviewed local heroes, and documented their experiences. In celebration of their work, students organized a community presentation to honor their interviewees and share their collection of stories. Forming a connection with inspiring community members provided students with a unique learning opportunity, and expeditions like Small Acts of Courage prove that valuing authentic evidence transforms education.

This video examines how student work illuminates—and is illuminated by—the following standard: CCSS ELA standard W.7.3.  



In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (Expeditionary Learning) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion is true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible.

Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project:

What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination?
How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?
How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them?



Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the student work in Models of Excellence and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and many of those films are presented here.

We invite you to watch these films, and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students. See a suggested protocol for viewing linked below, along with selected videos from the series. (The complete list of videos in the series can be found here.)

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