One of my most vivid memories from Junior High is an eighth grade social project where we had to make a diorama to illustrate all that we had learned about Australian Aboriginal culture. That project was truly my undoing. You see I could have scored top marks by writing a paper, taking an exam or concocting a short story to illustrate my understanding of the material but to bring it into three dimensions was maddening. In my head I could see perfectly how the project should look but no matter how hard I tried that vision would not materialize in the diorama. My group received a dismal mark, even though we had a good proportion of "top" students. Meanwhile, across the room, a group of "non-top"students had created this wonderfully intricate scene utilizing carvings they had done from bars of soap. Not only was it beautiful but it truly did incorporate all of what we had learned. They got the mark that was traditionally mine.
Even now as I recount that story I get a sickly feeling in my stomach. I hated every moment of it, hated feeling stupid and hated the frustration of knowing what they wanted me to know but being unable express it in the way they were asking. I only had one project that made me feel that way but some of the other students, who didn't excel at writing and exam taking, probably felt that way more days than not. Looking back I realize that my academic success had less to do with knowledge and more to do with the fact I didn't have to prove my knowledge by building 3D objects.
Although my Grade 8 experience was many, many years ago, sometimes I am getting the feeling that not much has changed. Academic success is still determined by how well you can demonstrate what you know in the format the school/teacher/district chooses. I am still seeing really bright children feel as stupid and as frustrated on a daily basis as I felt trying to complete that project so long ago. It's not right.
One of the most exciting possibilities I see with all of the Web 2.0 tools is the ease in which students can demonstrate their knowledge in individual ways. Videos, slideshows, blogs, voicethreads, the list is really quite endless. And to semi-quote Clay Shirkey "it (the web) has become technologically boring enough to be socially" (and dare I say educationally) "interesting". It no longer takes a technical genius to use these web 2.0 offerings, basic computer skills are often enough. I feel that students need these tools in their hands, teachers need support to implement change and parents need to be the advocates for both.
The possibilites are out there we just need to capitalize on them. Every child deserves to demonstrate what they know. In whatever way they can. Even if it's in a diorama.
I'd like to draw your attention to a K12online presentation "Oh the Possibilites" by Lisa Parisi. The presentation is aimed at teachers but as a parent I found all the different ways that children could demonstrate knowledge interesting. I thought about which of my children may fare best using each of the approaches and how I could introduce those things at home to unlock their potential. I hope you enjoy it...