Promoting Student Engagement and Agency

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Try, Try, Try Again: How Revision, Reflection, and Portfolio Assessment Promote Student Ownership and Agency

Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School - Devens, MA

As representatives of the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, Diane Kruse, Susan Massucco, and Jon Churchill all knew ahead of time what they hoped to accomplish with their presentation at the Student-Centered Secondary Schools Showcase in San Diego (Feb 15-17, 2017) entitled: Try, Try, Try Again: How Revision, Reflection, and Portfolio Assessment Promote Student Ownership and Agency. Their goal was to provide direct examples of Parker’s distinguishing approach to student-centered learning and demonstrate how they engage students as active partners and agents in their own education. But the question loomed: How would they share their teaching experiences with the San Diego Showcase, when their most essential resources and most vivid chroniclers, the students themselves, remained at home in Devens, Massachusetts?

The Parker team’s solution was to find innovative ways to bring the students with them to California — virtually. In the highly interactive presentation, they distributed artifacts of student work, led discussions that were windows into the student-teacher evaluative process, and also found a way to literally give voice to the absent students by playing a series of video and audio recordings. Diane Kruse, the school’s Math, Science and Technology Domain Leader, says each section of their presentation was correspondingly structured, in order to underscore Parker’s approach to the “personalization” of education for their students. “We put an artifact in front of people and gave them a chance to understand it, before hearing from the students about the impact that the practice has,” she explains.

Sue Massucco, Parker’s Arts & Humanities Domain Leader, felt that sharing student artifacts during their discussion of revision, helped them illustrate common ground between their system, which grades students along a continuum, and the other schools at the conference. “Revision reframes the purpose of teacher feedback for kids. The feedback personalizes the work that he or she will carry forward.  By incorporating active revision and response to feedback, it opens the dialogue between teacher and student — it shifts kid's mindsets to ‘Have I done something well? And now, what do I need to do next?’  And that can happen in any grading system.”

The presenters also shared portfolios, which Parker students create when they are ready to move up a level, at the end of each two-year cycle. This gave conference attendees in-depth, personal examples of how individual students make the case for their own educational growth, asserting what areas they have mastered, as well as what they are ready to accomplish next.  The third component of “personalization” highlighted was reflection.  Participants reviewed the personal learning plans students write at the beginning of each year and then listened to recordings of students reading from their own portfolio cover letters.

In keeping with the rough protocol they candidly referred to as “What?  So what?  And… Now what?” at the end of the presentation Churchill, Massucco and Kruse invited representatives from the other schools at the conference to share their responses to the examples of work they had just seen. Attendees were asked to openly imagine which student-centered-learning practices they planned to discuss in their home districts, and which personalization-focused methods might have the potential to be implemented in their own schools.  Sue Massucco said she wanted to give the audience their own “Now what?” moment— and perhaps an appropriately ‘personalized’ call to action. 

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NEASC 2017-02