On Thursday, we went to see Boo's Third Grade Presentation. Each third year student at her school has to research and write a report on an assigned topic (this year they were all about plants) and then present the report to an audience of parents, school staff, and first through eighth graders.
During the Presentation, the second graders each stood up with a first grader and read a "Who Am I?" about a specific plant. Then the first grader would hold up a picture of the plant and say its name.
From first through third grades, the children learn about public speaking in a step-by-step, age-appropriate manner. They learn how to be a good audience. There was no teasing or jeering from the older students at the presentation. In fact, there wasn't even talking or obvious distraction. They were a respectful audience, probably because they had all been there and empathized with the experience of the first through third graders and the nerves one has getting up before an audience for the first time.
They also, of course, learn about the research topic each year. Boo has had the Solar System, The History of Communication, and Classification of Plants. She learned a lot from each presentation.
This is how you tell whether children have learned something. Incidentally, it's the same way we find out whether adults have learned anything. I work at a university. I watch adults give reports on their research all the time. The grad students I work with are jealous that Boo is learning this skill so early--some of them didn't learn it until graduate school.
In participating in these projects over three years, Boo has learned research skills, she has worked with others and individually. She has learned about non-fiction writing. She has learned public speaking skills and how to be a good audience member. She overcame her nerves and felt successful. And she worked hard and then had that work acknowledged by her learning community.
I suppose that some people might say there is no way to quantify what the children have learned from this process, or whether or not their teachers are effective. Boo has never taken a test in her life. She has never received a grade or a report card. And yet I feel confident in saying that she has learned a great deal at her school and her teachers are very effective. How do I know? Regular conferences with the teachers that take about 45 minutes twice a year. Constant additional communication via e-mail, phone, and in person. Displays of student work around the school. Presentations I'm invited to like this one. Watching Boo grow and develop and engage with the world in a different way than she did before.
That's how you evaluate a school. It's also an assessment of student learning, but one that teaches useful skills at the same time. Nothing about that Presentation was a waste of time.
So why isn't any of this happening in public school?
Oh, and all the work for the presentation happened in school. None of it was homework.