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Our Presumpscot School Community: Illuminating Standards Video Series

This video demonstrates how Common Core literacy standards can come to life naturally, thoughtfully and joyfully for kindergartners, who engage in real-world research in their own school. Through interviewing school staff members, the kindergarteners come to understand their contributions to the school and the meaning of community, and create beautiful informational cards to honor staff.

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] What would it look like for kindergartners to meet common core standards and do original research? Let them show you.

- [Child] I’m at Presumpscot school community is a project done by kindergartners at the Presumpscot School in Portland, Maine. Here is our story.

- The focus of our expedition was to teach incoming kindergartners about the people and places of their school community. Our guiding question was : what is community? To get to this knowledge we worked on discovering the physical layout of our school such as where the principal’s office was, where you find the teacher’s room and even looking in our basement at the secret tunnel that goes underneath our floor. What naturally followed then was meeting and interviewing each staff member including everyone that worked in the building. From the secretary to the teachers, principals, lunch aides, and even the custodians. We then took all the information we gathered and formed them in a community card for each staff member.

- [Narrator] Before the project began, the teachers asked the students what is community. Here’s what they said.

- [Hamza] I think it might be science.

- [Ivan] It means you go outer space so you go catch a star.

- [Nasteho] I don’t know.

- [Narrator] You will see what the students learned about community, but first let’s take a look at how this project illuminates the common core state standards. The common core standards put a great emphasis on research and evidence, particularly in the elementary grades. This project illuminates the following standard: with guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question. This standard insures that kindergartners begin honing in on their research skills of asking questions and gathering information in order to build and present knowledge. What makes this project unique is that the provided source is a staff member in the Presumpscot school community.

- [Beth] We started with a huge huge list of questions about the people of Presumpscot and then we grouped it to narrow it down. We really wanted the kids to feel involved so they came up with all of these questions.

- The students prepared to interview a staff member by having our speech and language therapist come in and work with the kids on speaking clearly and making eye contact and they also practiced their questions. Then the students teamed up and they practiced with one another.

- [Beth] The kids actually went to that person in their space and interviewed them and then they came back as experts and shared out to the classroom what they had learned.

- I interviewed Miss Gibb way before back. The lunch lady. I went to the kitchen, and said “are you busy?” she said “no”. I asked her a couple questions. Does she do lunch or breakfast or both. She answered with both. We asked her about what does she do at the community. She said she helps people at Presumpscot school, feeding children and I said “what do you do “on your weekdays off” she said she likes to go to garden, visit her family and paint and listen to music. Her tool was an apron ‘cause when you cook she can’t get her clothes dirty and there’s a little pocket right here.

- At the end of our expedition, we asked students what their role was in our school’s community and they were able to say their job is to follow the rules, keep our school clean, and to learn at school.

- [Narrator] At the end of the project, the teachers asked the class again, what is community. Here’s what the same group of students said.

- [Hamza] Community is a neighborhood. Community is a school. There is teachers and kids. The teachers help kids learn.

- [Ivan] Our garden is for community. For kids to work you have to be nice and no hitting.

- [Nasteho] School is community. People learn, people help each other.

- [Beth] The details they might not remember but I bet that if you ask them what a community is, I think it’s just one of those words that now really know.

- A community is a group of people that helps make a place or a building better.

- [Rebecca] Is Presumpscot school a community?

- [Both] Yes.

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