People in general (especially in the United States) under estimate middle schoolers. But at Paulo Freire we know first hand that preadolescents and early adolescents are very capable of deep thinking, insightful reflection, passionate engagement and much, much more. The key is the right combination of high expectations with developmentally appropriate support. At no time is this more readily evidenced than when our 8th graders enter into the process of assembling artifacts, writing/revising reflections, and then presenting a graduation portfolio of their middle school work to a panel comprised of teachers, parents and peers at the end of their 8th grade year. We call this process Graduation by Exhibition.
During our first seven years of Graduation by Exhibition at Paulo Freire, 8th graders presented their work as a collection of physical artifacts and written reflections assembled in a binder. Their oral presentation in many cases was accompanied by a set of projected PowerPoint slides. Two years ago we began encouraging the use of digital portfolios and last year digital portfolios became a requirement for 8th grade graduation at both schools (PFFS-Downtown will have its first graduating group this year).
Every student is given their own PFFS ‘Google Site’ that they may choose to use for this process (see Portfolio Template) or they may design their own site containing all of the required portfolio components. To view an example of a self-designed portfolio site created by a student two years ago see Oliver’s Portfolio. Below is a video slice from a student’s Graduation Exhibition a few years back:
Another requirement for graduation is that students participate in a service learning project. In the past, students have had to complete this service learning component on their own with guidance from their advisor. However, this year there is a unique opportunity for more structured support. One of our PFFS-Downtown 8th grade parents, Chris Broduer, is currently a UA graduate student studying youth empowerment. To that end she will be offering an AfterSchool club this semester on Thursdays that will help students explore their passions, assess community needs, and then plan an impact project. The class will start each Thursday with optional programming at 3:45 pm and with the full programming at 4:00 pm (so that PFFS-University 8th graders will have time to travel downtown) and will be open and free for any 8th graders at either campus who sign-up. Students who successfully complete the course will automatically satisfy the Portfolio Service Learning requirement outlined in the Graduation by Exhibition.
If you are interested in signing up your 8th grader for this great opportunity email JoAnn Groh.