This article is coauthored by Cynthia Rimmer and Lynn Burrows
Last fall, when my colleague and I were reviewing our scope and sequence, we commiserated together over the pressure to meet all of the grade level expectations in one short school year. This shared frustration lead us to question the practices we had followed for years and to look for a different way to facilitate students’ ability to demonstrate their mastery of the standards.
Was there a way to combine efforts to support one another? Would the students be invested in a combined fourth grade/physical education project? Would the final product be worth the time and effort invested?
We discovered the answer to all of these questions was, Yes! And, out of this discussion began one of the most meaningful projects either of us had completed.
In both the fourth grade English Language Arts class, and the Physical Education class, students had learned many skills and extensive content knowledge, but didn’t have an opportunity to apply their learning in an authentic, meaningful way. Our project set out to remedy that situation.
In the Physical Education classroom students were concluding a unit on the Colorado Physical Education Standard: Physical and Personal Wellness. To begin our culminating project the students began by choosing a topic of study generated from the fourth grade level expectations. As a pre-assessment, students noted what they already knew about their topic of study. They were then directed to a series of teacher generated instructional slideshows giving them access to informational resources on each of the topics. Students commonly reported that the slideshows “were so fun to watch, I watched them all even though I didn’t need to!”
In the fourth grade classroom students worked on their English Language Arts skills. As they read and took notes on the presentations from physical education class, their curiosities were sparked and they eagerly searched for more information. The students were actively constructing meaning from the informational text they encountered. After compiling their research, the students set out to create a presentation that would effectively share their information with other students at school, as well as their parents and various community members. Knowing their work would be viewed by their peers and respected adults, fourth graders strived to use the appropriate words and phrases to convey their intended meaning. They also worked hard to ensure their final product had correct conventions, vocabulary, and grammar. The students persevered in their goals, not because we pushed them along, but because they themselves were motivated to create a report that they were proud to share. The students asked for constructive feedback and took ownership of their learning. Students were working hard to create meaning, not because we told them to, but because they had the motivation and an authentic reason for wanting to understand what they were reading. They were reading, they were comprehending, they were writing, they were learning; it was a beautiful thing!
The evening, which we titled, A Celebration of Learning, had finally arrived and the students were ready to share their projects. Every student was able to speak as an expert, effectively communicating while reporting on their topic. The success they experienced on the performance-based project continued to be felt throughout the remainder of the year as they eagerly tackled new academic challenges.
Looking back, we took a risk and tried something different. It could have been a flop, but it wasn’t. Through collaboration our students were not only able to meet standards, but achieve at higher levels. What began as an experiment, turned into a meaningful learning experience for both the students and the educators.
Sample Final Projects