Brightworks Adapts to Reality

Source: KQED Mindshift, Aug 2012

Now, students are grouped into age-based cohorts, or “bands,” so that age-appropriate work could move along more smoothly. … Overall the typical structure involves a few key parts: 1) Morning Circle, when the entire school gets together to check in and make announcements; 2) “band” meetings, or small-group reflections where students check in with one another and the teacher about where they’re at in a certain project arc and what they plan to do that day; 3) Exploration or Expression phase activities, often involving a field trip or a visit from a professional in some field; and 4) Closing Circle time when the entire school gathers again to reflect and part ways.

Student assessment at Brightworks takes the holistic approach. At the end of last year, teachers pored over student work, progress, accomplishments, behavior, and everything else that contributed to a student’s experience and put together a two- to three-page narrative assessment sent home to parents. These assessments were specifically tailored to each student, but were based on a template that Brightworks staff put together based on “all of the things we want our students to eventually be,” says Director Ellen Hathaway — including qualifications in academic areas.

The assessments covered three areas: students’ project-based learning, social and emotional learning, and skills acquisition and quantitative learning, according to Program Coordinator Justine Macauley. “Rather than assessing the students’ work product, we looked at their work and development during the process of their project,” asking questions like, Are they a supporter of other students’ projects or do they spearhead their own? Do they listen to others? Do they self-advocate? What subject areas do they gravitate to? and How adept is the student at organizing him/herself, their projects, their process?

For Amanda Moore, a teacher whose daughter is six and attends Brightworks, the results are evident in what she sees everyday. “The real feature of my day is that I show up at 3:30 and she does not want to leave. She feels empowered by her education. She understands that she’s responsible for things,” Moore says.

Adds Tulley, “Each child has his or her personal narrative through the school. That seems to be working really well. They each have an individualized experience. It feels like they have a story to tell; it feels personal.”

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