History Alive

Assessments of learning can take all forms. We are all familiar with the endless bubbles of standardized tests, but standardized tests do not tell the story of the frequent and creative ways which we assess learning here at Greenhill. Lower school teachers often record anecdotal notes that contribute to a record of a child’s learning progress. Every time a student speaks up in a class discussion, the teacher makes a mental note and checks both understanding and thought process. Eighth graders perform scenes from Romeo and Juliet that demonstrate understanding of Shakespeare’s characters, plot, and language.

Eighth grade French and Spanish teacher Claudia Loewenstein has developed digital portfolios for her students that monitor progress and incorporate both visual and audio evidence of learning. These portfolios can be passed to the next year’s teacher and contribute to programmatic as well as individual learning goals.

Traditional paper and pencil assessments do play an important role in assessing learning at Greenhill, but so do a variety of authentic experiences that offer students the opportunity to demonstrate application of content knowledge in new and daring ways.

I found myself right in the middle of an impressive display of understanding at the Fourth Grade Mystery Theater last week. Students chose and researched historical figures and then created their own original biographies of these figures. The fourth grade Humanities teachers, in the words of Math teacher Linda White, encouraged the students to “look for characteristics of leadership and significance of action.” A room full of experts was then divided into small groups to create a Mystery Theater presentation. Four historical figures, ranging from Lucille Ball to Napoleon, then collaborated to write a play in which the characters worked together, all within their own personalities, to positively influence the world. Mrs. White says, “It is an ambitious project, stretching everyone involved to higher levels.”

Punctuated often by appreciative laughter, the four plays that I saw went beyond traditional assessment. Somehow these students found ways to use specific personality traits of, say, Anne Frank, Mother Teresa, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Harry Houdini. They pooled their individual strengths (the students as well as the historical figures) to create a final product where learning “went beyond content,” as Mrs. White says.

And it was so delightful to see such student-driven performances, homemade costumes, helpfulness with scene changes, and pride in accomplishment.

As always, the Fourth Grade Mystery Theater represented only a snapshot of the many creative, innovative, and effective learning moments here at Greenhill. I will say, though, that the conversation between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Benedict Arnold was pretty amazing.

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