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Our three demonstration schools were founded upon the Coalition of Essential Schools Ten Common Principles. The 6th principle, ‘Demonstration of Mastery’, is a cornerstone of our academic program and shapes our approach to assessment as an opportunity for powerful learning.

Units of instruction in our three schools – by design – include student demonstrations of understanding and mastery all year long. But in the spring, our students are challenged to share their most powerful learning of the school year. In April we host the Pennington Street Showcase for a community audience, featuring student performances and demonstrations, and in May each student presents a culminating presentation of their learning that we call Gateway exhibitions.

As an example of our commitment at CITY to students demonstrating understanding and mastery, let me share in depth the 8th grade Gateway experience at our middle schools. At the heart of the middle school gateway is a student’s portfolio. Each 8th grader at the Paulo Freire Freedom Schools develops an 8th Grade Graduation Digital Portfolio throughout their final year of middle school.

Here is an excerpt of the document students receive describing the portfolio process:

  • Essential Question:  As a learner, what are your areas of strength, stretches, improvement, and passions as you graduate from the 8th grade?
  • What is it:  Your portfolio represents the hard work and accomplishments achieved at PFFS. It also is your opportunity for you to reflect on yourself as a learner through our 7 Habits of Heart and Mind. Your work will be kept digitally using the weebly website. You will be asked to defend your reflection using evidence in the form of artifacts that you have created over your time at PFFS. This will be done in front of a panel of staff, peers, and family.
  • Why:  This process will provide you with the opportunity to observe your growth, evaluate your work and reflect upon your PFFS experience – both academically and through the lens of your Habits of Heart and Mind. (Read the entire document here.)

PFFS eighth graders work on their digital portfolios throughout the year, with preparations for these culminating exhibitions really heating up after Winter Break. These are high-stakes demonstrations of learning. For the eighth grader Gateway exhibition, students must present their digital portfolios to a panel that includes teachers, fellow students, and their parents. Successful completion of the Gateway is required in order to walk in the 8th grade graduation ceremony.

It is always amazing to me what kids can do when expectations are high and clearly presented. The eighth graders in our two middle schools are no exception. CITY Center for Collaborative Learning hosted a Student Portfolio & Exhibition Residency Workshop on April 9, the day of the middle school Gateways. As part of their learning, the workshop participants had a hands-on experience as audience members; they observed three of the 8th graders present their portfolios and listened to the deliberation of their panels.

Below are excerpts from the students’ presentations. (Note that students are expected to look at their work and frame their reflections through the lens of our 7 Habits of Heart and Mind: Action, Reflection, Evidence, Care, Inquiry, Perspective, and Evidence):

  • “We tried an experiment to see what happens when you attempt to take Action. We took a law from the Arizona Revised Statute and attempted to change it. We researched our assigned topic and came up with potential solutions. We then displayed our solutions at a Law Change Fair for the public to see and comment on. We discovered that it is very difficult to change a law and it requires a lot of research and work. While we were unable to change a law, we learned that perseverance is the key to making changes. Although we didn’t get it done, it was a very rewarding experience.”
  • Reflection is a view of experience. When you have failed in or accomplished something, reflecting on the experience is what determines the effect the experience had on you. With reflection you see how the experience is helpful to you, and how it has added to your life. Music, my main passion, is a very reflective art. When I started playing music, I was reflecting more on how I was as a learner. I consider this reflection because it was this time of seeing other musicians, seeing myself, and seeing what I could become. Now, reflection helps me to know who I am as a musician. A year after I started to play music I began to write songs. Reflection is a key habit when I write lyrics, because I’m thinking about an experience or idea I’ve had, what it means to me, and how I want to express it.”
  • “I think I have used Evidence in almost all of my work, but in some pieces it has been an especially crucial part. I remember that in our seventh grade science class we studied climate change and the evidence that supported it. During that time, we also watched videos of Trump talking about climate change and his arguments against the theory. I think it’s important to always look at evidence against your claim. That way, you can find stronger evidence that combats opposing views and use it to clearly prove your point, and that’s what we tried to do in our science class. I think this is one of the best examples of use of evidence in my time at Paulo.”
  • “We use Care in advisory very often. We make connections and have discussions, taking care that we are all respectful to each other. Advisory is meant to be a place where we are comfortable to speak. Without care we wouldn’t be as confident. Paulo is also a project based school, so we have many assignments that involve constructing a final product. This work involves care. I put care into projects like the Water project, and the record sleeve for the Genetics project. Putting care into a project will make you do your best.​”
  • “I used Inquiry many times in eighth grade, but I specifically remember using it on an expedition [field trip] we did where we interviewed people on the street about topics such as women’s rights, immigration, and health care. In my group, we interviewed people in and around The Mercado neighborhood about environmental sustainability. A lot of the people we interviewed spoke little English, but they had really important things to say about protecting forests and taxing pollution. It was so powerful to be able to ask deep questions and talk to people about things that were clearly very important to them.”
  • “A second example of the habit of Perspective is the book Calpurnia Tate by  Jacqueline Kelly. Calpurnia Tate had a far different perspective than her parents did on what she should be when she grew up. She wanted to be a biologist and she spent time with her grandfather on expeditions exploring the outdoors, wildlife and plants. Her parents, specifically her mother, wanted her to be a proper lady and sew and cook and learn how to take care of the house, and get married and have children. Their perspectives clashed but she ended up doing what she wanted and received recognition in botany. Sometimes it’s important to listen to other people’s perspective, even if you don’t agree, because you might learn something.”
  • “One of the coolest projects related to the habit of Expression was the planter bed project in seventh grade math. It was the culmination of all the things we’d been learning such as angles and y = mx + b. We were split up into groups and designed and made models of our own planter beds using the math we had learned. Rather than taking a test on paper, this was a creative way of showing what we had learned. Math is a struggle for me but when it’s applied to real life situations it’s so much easier to understand. It taught us there are many different ways to show that you understand something.”

That was two weeks ago. The 12th graders at City High School presented their Senior Gateways last week and 9th, 10th, and 11th graders are presenting this week.

Spring has definitely sprung at the CITY Center schools – and our students are stepping up to show us what they know!


If you are interested in learning more, check out the ShareYourLearning.org website for helpful tool kits for setting up Exhibitions of Learning, Student-Led Conferences, and Presentations of Learning – all of which CITY Center is demonstrating in our three schools. CITY Center for Collaborative Learning is a partner in the Share Your Learning movement.

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