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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Preparing High School Seniors for College, Part One

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

Here, in California, another school year has finally dipped into the cool, blue Pacific. I've been reflecting on all that we've accomplished this year, including the fact that more than 90 percent of our graduating seniors will be going to college. I also can't help but think about everything that goes into the rite of passage that is graduation at Envision Schools.

Before students ever walk down the isle or throw their hats in the air, seniors gear up for their culminating defense: a public presentation of the College Success Portfolio. Students must defend their best high school work before an audience of parents and peers. Unless this work is completed, presented, and defended acceptably, a student will not graduate.

Seniors at Envision Schools work harder in the last six weeks than they do in their entire four years of school. Teachers work side by side with students, often staying late into the night, and hosting weekend sessions in their homes to get kids prepared for the graduation defense.

The completed College Success Portfolio can also serve as a pinnacle of a teacher's career, as many of them witness not only the academic growth of their students but also the transformation from childhood to adulthood.

This is in sharp contrast to the typical senioritis experienced by most students, who often burn out by January, much to the chagrin of their teachers. Instead, the students' mental muscles are primed and ready for college in the fall, unlike so many college freshmen who struggle in their first year.

Much of our collective success hinges on standards that are clear, selective, challenging, and attainable -- and that kids have four years to achieve. Former graduates from our schools often share with current students that completing the College Success Portfolio was more difficult than their first year of college. This project builds confidence for their next important milestone: college graduation and beyond.

Exactly how we prepare kids for college at Envision Schools will be the subject of my blog posts over the next several weeks as all of us reflect, regroup, and gear up for the coming school year.

Has your school used high-stakes assessments similar to the College Success Portfolio? What are your thoughts and ideas about the use of a culminating project such as this? Please share.

This is the first part of a two-part blog entry. Read part two.

Comments (18)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Anne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We used a senior project as a capstone experience at our school. Juniors were encouraged to attend senior presentations in order to begin thinking about their own senior project. As early as October, we met with seniors to help them think about what they wanted to work on. They were given rubrics to complete during the remainder of the year that had to be signed off by their mentor teacher. At each benchmark, students had to show evidence of their work toward completion. The final presentations took place over several days and included the campus community, parents and friends. There are ways in which to make this meaningful for students not attending college, and in fact, gives them an opportunity to explore a trade prior to graduation. The project also requires an outside mentor that the student identifies and works with, bringing them closer to the community before graduation.

Although the entire process is time consuming for teachers and students, it becomes a right of passage, and allows authentic learning to take place. Grades are pass/fail, and there are many opportunities along the way for students to understand where they are in the process.

Finally, the public display of the artifact becomes an opportunity for the student to stand in front of his/her community and demonstrate the work toward not only completing this capstone project, but using the oration and presentation skills gained during the previous high school years.

Anne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We used a senior project as a capstone experience at our school. Juniors were encouraged to attend senior presentations in order to begin thinking about their own senior project. As early as October, we met with seniors to help them think about what they wanted to work on. They were given rubrics to complete during the remainder of the year that had to be signed off by their mentor teacher. At each benchmark, students had to show evidence of their work toward completion. The final presentations took place over several days and included the campus community, parents and friends. There are ways in which to make this meaningful for students not attending college, and in fact, gives them an opportunity to explore a trade prior to graduation. The project also requires an outside mentor that the student identifies and works with, bringing them closer to the community before graduation.

Although the entire process is time consuming for teachers and students, it becomes a right of passage, and allows authentic learning to take place. Grades are pass/fail, and there are many opportunities along the way for students to understand where they are in the process.

Finally, the public display of the artifact becomes an opportunity for the student to stand in front of his/her community and demonstrate the work toward not only completing this capstone project, but using the oration and presentation skills gained during the previous high school years.

Anne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We used a senior project as a capstone experience at our school. Juniors were encouraged to attend senior presentations in order to begin thinking about their own senior project. As early as October, we met with seniors to help them think about what they wanted to work on. They were given rubrics to complete during the remainder of the year that had to be signed off by their mentor teacher. At each benchmark, students had to show evidence of their work toward completion. The final presentations took place over several days and included the campus community, parents and friends. There are ways in which to make this meaningful for students not attending college, and in fact, gives them an opportunity to explore a trade prior to graduation. The project also requires an outside mentor that the student identifies and works with, bringing them closer to the community before graduation.

Although the entire process is time consuming for teachers and students, it becomes a right of passage, and allows authentic learning to take place. Grades are pass/fail, and there are many opportunities along the way for students to understand where they are in the process.

Finally, the public display of the artifact becomes an opportunity for the student to stand in front of his/her community and demonstrate the work toward not only completing this capstone project, but using the oration and presentation skills gained during the previous high school years.

Anne's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

well, I am sorry the post ended up here 3x's. I refreshed the page, and each time my post did not appear.

Tara Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We also implement a senior portfolio. All seniors are required to complete their portfolios in their English classes. Students chose a mentor who they need to meet with once a month. As a mentor, we review where they are, ideas for artifacts and their achievements or proudest academic moment- whether it is a paper, lab experience, building an engine, building a house, etc... Students will use photos and then write a description about their artifact. While I believe the portfolio is a good experience for the student, I do not necessarily think it prepares our students for the future academically or any other way. The students look at the portfolio as a terrible experience that they can't wait for the experience to be over.
Even though the school requires a portfolio, I require that my students to complete a cap stone project. They have to use one or more of the laboratory techniques and concepts that they have learned in the three year biotechnology program. They think of a problem, create the hypothesis, design the procedure, perform the experience, analyze their data and form their own conclusions. When my students are working on their projects- I am their to guide and provide feedback when appropriate. I hope the cap stone provides my students with the experience they need to be successful in college. All of my students are going to college.
I would like to see other teacher's rubrics for the projects. I would like to see how students are being evaluated.

Charles Mowen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Marcia, the high school I went to also required a portfolio for all of it's graduating seniors. While 80% of us went on to college, those who did not also did their own projects. What I found to be the most beneficial about these projects is that they were very 'out of the box' in comparison with a lot of the work that we had been doing for the last four years. Every graduating senior, whether they are going to college or not, should be able to convey information in a logical manner through a variety of ways. By the end of my senior year I knew that I wanted to be a teacher, so my project focused on building a curriculum for a comparative religion course, but some students made portfolios of their best art pieces, others created furniture or rebuild car engines. The point of the project was not the content, rather, it asked us to choose any theme and run with it. The final project, regardless of what the project was, needed to be presented to a panel for Q&A, papers had to be written as reflections, etc. In my experiences, any student would find portfolio projects beneficial, even if they did not plan on going to college.

Jenine Nowakowski's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really support the usage of a portfolio for graduating seniors. In my school in Buffalo, NY, we go one step further and require what is called a "Passage Portfolio" at the end of each high school year. This is to make sure that students are prepared to move on to the next grade. Also, when they finally do become high school seniors, they are completely adjusted to the process, and their portfolios become very impressive, as they are to present them to a board at the end of their senior year.

MisterLoftcraft - 31775's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Your article here has surprised me in a positive way: some people actually work a lot so they are ensured about their students going to college. When I read about teachers staying late into the night close to students and helping them out, well, I just felt a special joy inside my heart. Congratulations for your dedication. If any of your students is interested for the future in masters in human resources, I would be very happy if they visit the university's website. Again, congratulations on your dedication for helping students have a better life.

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