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A Little More Than Just People: Illuminating Standards Video Series

A Little More Than Just People is a project created by the founding eighth-grade class at Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield, Massachusetts. In this project, students publicly recognize the contributions made by members in their town. These individuals hold important roles in their area, both in official and volunteer capacities. Pairs of students interviewed “community cultivators” and, through an intensive editing process, created monologues from recorded transcripts. How can a project like A Little More Than Just People help students meet state-mandated content standards through the use of the storytelling medium? How can project-based learning provide opportunities for students to meet high standards and create beautiful, creative, collaborative work?

This video examines how student work illuminates—and is illuminated by—the following standards: CCSS ELA standard W.8.4 and 8.5.

The Illuminating Standards Project

In the last two decades of the ‘standards movement’ in American public education, many educators have concluded that ‘teaching to the standards’ and project-based learning are incompatible. Ron Berger (EL Education) and Steve Seidel (Harvard Graduate School of Education), co-directors of The Illuminating Standards Project, wondered if this conclusion was true. Indeed, they speculated that long-term, interdisciplinary, arts-infused, community-connected projects may well be one of the best ways to actually see what state standards look like when fully realized in the things students make in school—to make the standards visible.

Three questions frame the work of The Illuminating Standards Project:
- What does it look like when state standards are met with integrity, depth, and imagination?
- How can we use standards to open up and enrich curriculum, rather than narrow and constrain it?
- How can we use student work to raise the level of our understanding of standards and our dialogue about them?

The Videos

Collaborating with Berger and Seidel on The Illuminating Standards Project, over 30 students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have explored these questions by choosing projects from the Student Work Archive in the Center for Student Work and considering the ways in which those projects did—and didn’t—meet specific state standards. Further, they examined how the student work illuminated the standards—and vice versa. Many of those students created short films and 13 of those films are presented here.

We invite you to watch these films and we encourage you to use them as the catalyst for discussions with your colleagues about the relationship between your commitment to meet demanding state standards and approaches to designing powerful learning experiences for our students.


- [Female Narrator] A Little More Than Just People is a project created by the founding eighth-grade class at Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Pairs of students interviewed community cultivators. These individuals hold important roles in their area, both in official and volunteer capacities. They conducted interviews, and through the editing process, created a monologue for each person. These profiles include an overview by the students, a featured quotation, and a portrait taken by a professional photographer.

- So they had to learn incredible editing skills. They had to learn the selection of the most important text. How did they, out of all the things people said, a lot of it wasn’t important, so how do you find the parts that are, and then once you’ve found them, how do you organize them into a coherent narrative, and then, how do you edit for punctuation, paragraphing, getting all of that stuff right, and formatting for the book, so they learned all that. They learned InDesign. They learned interviewing skills. We had a professional interviewer come in and teach them, model how to do an interview, so they learned that, and so between desktop publishing, the interview skills, and the editing and the writing skills involved in taking a transcript and getting it into a finished monologue, then learned to time. And then, when they were doing the editing and they had to go through and pick, they were working with me and with their classroom teacher, and they were working with each other to read through the first editing of the transcript, and people are saying “Well, that’s not that interesting,” or “What about this part?” or “You left out,” or “This is great,” and so we all worked together to identify and to teach each other what’s the best part of the story. So kids interviewed me, and I can ramble sometimes, and I went off on tangents, and then when they were editing, I had to get rid of those tangents and just get the part about what made me want to start Four Rivers. Think of any standard you might pick. So in this case, a writing standard might be writings organized in a coherent way so that you can make meaning, right? There’s a standard around organization writing, there’s a standard around mechanics in writing, and conventions, there’s a standard around sentence fluency. Well, when you’re editing a monologue, oftentimes we don’t speak grammatically, so that the kids had to fix sentences that weren’t really grammatical. They had to learn to apply all the conventions. They had to learn paragraphing and organization, and all of that stuff is, it’s not like because it’s a project somehow it’s separate from standards. Standards, you could take any standard and teach it in the most conventional, book-driven, teacher-centered way, or you can take the exact same standard and design a project that has kids have to learn the things that that standard addresses in a really student-centered way. It’s not like it’s harder to make the standards this way, it’s just a more inventive, and I would argue more creative, way to meet the standard. But when you ask kids in eighth grade to do something hard, they’ll do it, but we think it’s too much, or maybe, I don’t know if adults have lower expectations of kids when they’re not upper-level high school, but we had no idea what they would do with it, but they did, and it was a real lesson to me to think don’t shy away from a challenging task.

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