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Ampersand: Illuminating Standards Video Series

This video features a project in which eleventh grade students at High Tech High Media Arts created a book of essays inspired by their work in a community internship. The process of creating high-quality narrative writing—meeting and exceeding standards—is highlighted. Students used models from the professional literary world; each student chose a particular literary influence to guide his or her style. The class worked as team in a collaborative editing process. The film celebrates the connection of school to life, and the power of inspiration, models, critique and collaboration.

This video examines how student work illuminates—and is illuminated by—the following standard: CCSS ELA standard W.11-12.3.

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.


- [Narrator] Think back to high school. What questions did you have? What would it look like for teachers to help students answer these questions for themselves, at the same time as teaching them to be great writers? It could look like the classroom of Randy Scherer, a teacher at High Tech High in San Diego, California. By pushing his students into the real world and guiding them through well-structured writer’s workshops, Randy gives his students the inspiration to want to write, the space to explore their identities, and the support needed to exceed the common core standards. This is the story behind the class project Ampersand: The Journal of School & Work. And this is the journey students took to publish a high-quality book of personal narratives about their internship experiences.

- At Kipp Adelante Preparatory Academy.

- Oh My Dog! Photography.

- SPAWAR Bayside.

- [Narrator] At their internships and when they come back, students complete several assignments, including a blog, a photo essay, and a mentor interview. During this process, they brainstorm and come up with article topic ideas.

- The experiences while I was there and how I could relate it to the real world outside.

- [Narrator] After they pick their article topics, students read lots of models of good narrative essays from the New Yorker and other Ampersand essays. They discuss literary tips that good writers use. Finally, each student selects a literary influence that he will model his article after, and he explains which literary tips he will focus on.

- [Male Student] Kind of a list of things that he suggests that we look towards in our writing.

- [Female Student] So make meaning early is the way to structure your sentences where you say the subject, the action, and then everything else so that it gives the reader a nice flowing piece of information.

- [Narrator] The next steps are using Google Docs to edit in small groups. The first question that the students use to edit their own work is, in what ways does my piece look like the literary influence that I respect so much? And in what ways is it falling short? After several rounds of editing, students format and publish the book. The final published personal narratives in the book Ampersand: The Journal of School & Work illuminate the common core standards. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. Many times I have vowed to stop procrastinating once and for all, but I still haven’t gotten around to it. His face looked tightened with furrowed, wooly eyebrows. As I headed toward the NBC offices for my second week of internship, my head felt like it was bursting with so much information that we had learned the previous week. I felt a little anxiety mixed with enthusiasm as I began my day. Little did I suspect that today’s activities would involve the dire state of our economy. By working together to publish a book of personal narratives based on real-life career experiences, students became better at writing according to the common core standards, they became better at collaborating and working hard to create a high-quality product for their community, and they became better at answering the questions they need to answer for themselves to become well-adjusted adults.

- I learned what it takes to be in a major news corporation and the skills that you need in order to do well while you’re there.

- And it was a unique experience ‘cause I went into a field where I thought I’d be really good at and thought I wouldn’t really have any problems with, but it ended up being something else.

- [Female Student] School, you work for an hour, you take a 15 minute break, and then you work for an hour on something else, and then you take a 15 minute break, but in the real world, it’s like you’re doing one thing for the whole day.

- [Male Student] That experience that I had is a really big milestone in my life. I grew a lot as a person and being able to see the world outside of school kind of made it a little bit less of a small world.

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