I don’t give final exams. I hate them, not only because I don’t think that the bulk of a student’s grade should be dependent on one (high-stress, overly pressured) example of his or her performance, but mostly because I just don’t teach like that. Really, it doesn’t matter to me if a kid can regurgitate a plot line or identify the main clause in a sentence; what’s really important is that the kid understands how to think. I want my students to leave my class as more agile and critical thinkers than they were when they came to me, and that’s not something one can determine with a multiple choice final exam.
I do like the idea of a culminating project, though, and mine is designed around the portfolio model. Kids gather up examples of their work and reflect on what they did over the course of the year. My goal for this is twofold; I want them to review the work we’ve done over the course so they can revisit both their successes and their shortcomings, and I want them to have an opportunity to see the growth they’ve made since September. Most of the time, I understand their advancements far better than they do, and asking them to reflect on their work gives them a chance to see what I see.
Not every kid gets that, though; most of them aren’t quite mature enough for that kind of self-aware, thinking-about-how-they-think work that I ask them to do in their final projects. Every once in a while, though, a student is able to articulate something remarkably close to what I would say about him if someone asked me what his greatest leap was during the year. Today, as I was reviewing project drafts to offer feedback, I opened this, from a junior who’s planning on graduating early:
Second Semester Reflection
For the most part, I really enjoyed this last semester. Although there were many assignments that I found to be difficult and did not like too much, I learned a great deal from them, and learning is something that I enjoy doing. Being a naturally creative person, I enjoy having the ability to write what I want to write about, and although the assignments usually require students to focus the writing on a general subject, the creative control and freedom that students have been given this semester is tremendous compared to the high school that I came from; a school that follows state requirements and guidelines exactly as they are written, and that incorporates little to no creativity and freedom into the curriculum.
Personally I was not a very big fan of the first semester, since it was very structured and guided, however I realize now that it more or less served as preparation for the level of independence allowed in during the second semester, which I have enjoyed greatly. As a student who is graduating a year early from high school, independence is an extremely important skill to learn, and I believe that after completing the various assignments given throughout the second semester, I have become a much more independent person in school and out. Having come from a school that gave me a rubric and guideline for everything, it was nice to finally have some independence, however it was also very difficult.
Throughout the course of the second semester, I learned that independence is much more difficult than it seems. Although it was not easy, I was able to manage it by essentially learning how to critique my own work as if I were a teacher grading the work. Overall, being able to handle independence is one of the most important skills that a student can learn, and based on my experiences throughout the second semester, I can safely say that I have successfully learned how to be independent.
I’m not convinced that early graduation is a good idea in general, but I’m reasonably comfortable letting this one go early. He’s got a very clear idea of what he wants to do (he’s going into a music production and management program), and while I know a lot of teachers who question whether a 17-year-old can really know what he wants at 17 years old, I knew I wanted to be an English teacher since I was in about 3rd grade, so I’m willing to cut the kid a little slack. He very clearly has some decent communication skills, he’s working on that self-aware, critical thinking piece, and I think he’s going to be just fine.