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Iconic: Illuminating Standards Video Series

This film features a book of essays and photographs by eleventh grade students at High Tech High of famous and little-known heroes who inspired the student authors, paired with black & white self-portraits. It demonstrates the power of publishing a real book for a real audience—raising the stakes for students for the quality of their individual and collaborative work, putting literacy standards in service of creating work of meaning and value.

This video examines how student work illuminates—and is illuminated by—the following standard: CCSS ELA standard W.11-12.2A.

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.

white self-portraits. It demonstrates the power of publishing a real book for a real audience—raising the stakes for students for the quality of their individual and collaborative work, putting literacy standards in service of creating work of meaning and value.


- [Woman] Examining Common Core standards for grades 11 and 12. ELA-Literacy standard 2A. Introduce a topic. Organize complex ideas, concepts, and information so that each new element builds on that which precedes it to create a unified whole. Include formatting, graphics, and multimedia when useful to aid in comprehension.

- [Man] “I was worried. “I knew he wouldn’t be back for years “and I didn’t know how to make it without him.” “I don’t want to be a singer when I grow up, “but I do want to make a difference.” “My grandfather taught him everything he knows “so that he can show it to me, and I can go “and teach the next generation.”

- Well first of all, this is oriented towards a published book. I came from the world of publishing into teaching, and in that, you never write for an audience of one. You know, and the editor and publishers are there to support you because once they enter into the publishing project that you’re on, they have no incentive for it to fail. So they’re helping you satisfy that audience, and that’s the same premise that the class operates under.

- [Man] This project personifies the essential nature of the Common Core 11th and 12th grade writing standard 2A. Recognizing this project’s organization of complex ideas and concepts into an aesthetically pleasing uniform whole, it serves as a true model of excellence.

- I have this like, when you do books with kids, you hear kids say, they say this sentence: “This is gonna be in the book.” with all sorts of different tones of voice, different punctuation, like they’ll hold someone else’s work up and be like, “This is gonna be in the book?” You know what I mean? And I’m like, “I know, that’s why “you need to step in now.” That’s a goal, to make a community that, where really this is a totally effective team working together and that anytime you see an individual’s work, what you’re really seeing is an individual standing on the shoulders of a whole bunch of other people. So we always need covers, so I have to get them started designing covers and like thinking of how you use the language of visual media to communicate.

- [Man] “As I looked at the colorful book “that had been laid in front of me, “I couldn’t help myself from being totally mesmerized “by the front cover.” “I learned how to appreciate the things I have, “and be grateful that I had a mother that cared for me.” “Moving from city to city constantly “and being gone from your family for long periods of time, “sometimes not having enough money to send home. “This was and still is the life of a migrant worker.” “Quality has been sacrificed for price, “so customers keep returning, and in a way, “it’s killing them.” “What would the world be like if we didn’t have people “who risked their lives and rose above the occasion “to fight these diseases?”

- [Teacher] I don’t know how you can do any kind of educational work if you don’t know where the person is starting. The point of this is to value who they are.

- [Man] “Looking at the hopeful animals “after just waking up from surgery “will give me the inspiration I need “to become a great vet.” “If I try to succeed long enough and have passion “in everything I do, I really can do anything.” “All the voices singing in unison, “all shouting the same thing. “An adrenaline rush fills your body. “You feel as if something else “was controlling your every move. “Then one kick changes everything.” “But look at me now - I defy gravity.”

- [Woman] “As young adults, one of our most important roles “in society is to mature into reputable “and responsible people, but this is a difficult task “to accomplish on our own. “we are all very much influenced by the icons around us, “and what those icons represent to us “is an important window into who we may become.”

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EL Education

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