The 8th grade team recently held a Middle School Renaissance Fair. The student centre was alive with witches, fortune tellers, kings, queens and peasants. The energy was high and it was clear that the students were thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to play out their various roles. As I gnawed into my turkey* leg I wandered to each of the exhibits and learned about the renaissance by talking with the eighth grade students. It was clear to me that each of the students had become experts in their chosen field and they were owning their learning experience. The fortune tellers had set their booth up behind the stage and out of the view of the common folks, artists were explaining the detail in Michelangelo’s artworks, dancers, musicians, thespians and poets took to the stage and highlighted the modern sounds of the renaissance (modern when compared to the medieval times I was told by a couple of renaissance fashion experts). Sarah Lewis, Shannon Hancock and Eric Beck were on double duty throughout the event; supervising and herding and also assessing.
The element that caught my attention most was that they had created an opportunity to both celebrate AND assess the learning. As a teaching and learning coach I am interested in looking at experiences in our middle school that double as learning celebrations and opportunities for assessment.
Sarah Lewis (8th grade Humanities teacher) had this to say:
Creating a project where the summative assessment is also a celebration of learning was a motivating and engaging experience for the grade 8s. Their assessment was authentic: they had to research and create real characters and costumes and they had to perform or share a Renaissance artifact for a real live audience. When the summative is a celebration, students enjoy learning! Also, they will remember this day and what they learned far into the future.
Shannon Hancock went on to explain:
During our “Rebirth” unit #2, we studied specifically the historic time period of Middle Ages and Renaissance. Though we assessed using a traditional essay exam and other assessments during the unit, we also wanted to assess in a “larger” way–the Celebration of Learning was born! For the Renaissance Fair there was a formative assessment via the students reading and creating their own Canterbury Tale and creating an authentic, collaborative product to share as a gift to their teacher ‘baby-expecting’, Mr. Beck, Canterbury Tales Digital Book. This was assessed on a nearly identical rubric as the Renaissance Fair Canterbury Tale Formative Rubric & Renaissance Fair Summative Rubric. As you can see, The Renaissance Fair was then the summative assessment of a similar earlier experience for the students.
Each of the teachers reflected on how this project had created an opportunity for the students to take ownership of their own learning and make choices in how they wanted to share that learning with the community. The students’ comments echoed those of their teacher’s:
I thought that it was better than expected. It just felt like a festival and it didn’t really feel like people were watching me to grade me. So it was less stressful
We had to do a lot of research about the witches in the renaissance so that we knew how to act on stage
We learned about the renaissance songs and what we learned was that through the middle ages there was only music about religion. But during the renaissance they developed the music and there were more love songs and harmonies developed too
I learned a lot of interesting facts about renaissance artists and we had to know a lot about them because people might ask us questions
By creating a culminating activity that was a true celebration of learning the 8th grade students and teachers captured the attention of the whole middle school. All 6th and 7th grade students were now involved in the learning and other subject areas had bridges to connect the humanities content to their own classes. Ms Kagohara’s media class took full advantage and produced great movies like the one shown below (see all of them here).
Very often our summative assessments come and go in our classes without any time for celebrating and sharing (and the success of the renaissance fair remind us of this reality) – the next time that your students complete a summative assessment try thinking about ways (big or small!) to celebrate the learning.
*it was chicken