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The Eye of the Storm: Illuminating Standards Video Series

Eleventh grade students in Portland, ME, created documentary films to highlight the human impact of Hurricane Sandy on residents of Rockaway, NY; they also did service work restoring homes and businesses. Connected to a larger study of climate change. Explores the power of narrative to effect change in students and the world. Illuminates 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.


- This is an incredible responsibility to try to listen so intently that she will reveal that part that is very unique, specific to her, and personal. So we have to go in with the style and mode that is honoring and listening to unearth that. And the more you explore these questions in the text in think the better prepared we’ll be to do that. So thanks. And they have to map this narrative and then they have to make it happen, they have to make the change, the tweaks. But no, and the conversations they have, “No, I really think it was about his role with his father. “That’s gotta be the driving force, “he became the man of the family.” And someone will say, “No, I really think it’s that “actually you know, it’s about the storm “and what happened at school during that time. “I really think he was struggling in school. “And we have to get at school.” You know, they have to work that out. And they are compelled to do that because it’s real. Every single person therefore has an experience, some kind of experience, that stretches them, that moves them, that makes them discover things about themselves.

- As an individual from Portland, Maine, I impacted a student from the Far Rockaways who was affected by Hurricane Sandy.

- By interviewing him, that was for me a culmination to all my research and everything that I learned about previously because it was like a live person that was affected from natural disasters.

- I wanted to tell their story and then it turned into almost forgetting about that this is my education and I’m gonna get a grade for it and I’m gonna get credit for it and move on because of it, but it also become a big part of being like, this person has an amazing story and I need to share it because if I don’t, nobody else will, they won’t have the opportunity otherwise to share it. And it was just like, that was the biggest motivation for me.

- It got huge, like, reflecting on it and looking back it’s like, wow, it didn’t seem that big when we were there but it got huge and you don’t realize that until even now it’s still like, just sinking in that the work we did that that big of an impact so the reflection, it just gets deeper and deeper and it goes on for a while, it’s still going on.

- The thing I learned along the way, the biggest thing I learned eventually was that when you have to make sense of somebody else’s narrative, and you realize that this person has a narrative, you suddenly realize that you have a narrative and that your own life has a story that has a trajectory and that you are a player in that story and that you get to define that and it will unfold and it has value because sitting across the table from somebody else, you realize that they have value. And so you can’t help but realize that well, you do too.

- [Student] There are so many different angles of reflection because there are so many different pieces.

- [Student] Now I feel like I could get put into a group that I wouldn’t pick myself and learn how to work with that and collaborate with that.

- [Student] They’re giving us the tools to make us like become the experts of the expedition.

- [Student] We’re asked to analyze this and try to figure out what the meaning is.

- [Student] Forcing us into different realms of ourselves which we hadn’t seen before.

- [Student] It all came down to that one point where it was like, we’re actually making a difference.

- [Student] Committed to do really great work because you knew their story and you kind of owed it to them to make their story the best.

- [Student] And then when you come out with this piece or you finished this part of the project and you’re like oh, wow, I didn’t know I could do that.

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