The root of the word assessment is the Latin word assidere, which means "to sit beside." Assessment is quite literally the practice of sitting beside our students as they learn—to guide them, to work with them, to push them, to understand them. Assessment is so much more than what it has been narrowed to: testing, grading, evaluating, judging. Assessment is a partnership and a working together toward learning. So when I design learning tasks, in addition to thinking about my students' interests and strengths and needs, I consider what I might enjoy doing—because often, I will end up doing it alongside my students or as a model of what might be possible. And this is actually one of the great unspoken pleasures of teaching: working alongside your students—creating with them, questioning with them, writing with them.
As we have come to the end of our non-traditional social studies space in Explore MKE, Candance and I wanted some way of capturing the student learning, questioning, and wondering that has occurred over these 13 weeks together. But we are not a traditional academic space, and we haven't been working on things like sourcework or writing mechanics or disciplinary thinking. We have the luxury of not being concerned with standards or coverage or grading; instead, we get to be concerned with curiosity, engagement, and identity. We wanted to invite students to share their reflections without feeling judged or evaluated and in ways that might feel meaningful or enjoyable. In other words, we wanted to assess without it feeling like the assessments that can be so suffocating to students in traditional classroom spaces.
We settled on a making a collective map of Milwaukee, a way of telling the story of Our Milwaukee through our shared experiences this semester. Each student was asked to place a single pin on our map by first selecting a photo from our group's collection and then narrating that photo in some way. We offered students creative license with this task, but we did provide guiding questions for those that wanted them: What do you see in this image? What does the image remind you of? What does the image say about the story of Milwaukee? Students' unedited stories can be found on our map here. In a more traditional academic space, we would next engage in revision and editing, in connecting to primary and secondary sources about these sites, and in disciplinary inquiry into what they represent. But in this space of curiosity and exploration, our 'first draft' of learning is exactly what we want to share with the world.
While you won't find our teacher pins on the map, Candance and I also chose photos and narrated them—as examples of the different ways we might approach pinning the map. I took thirty minutes the night before we were to teach to create my pin, and what a joy it was to give myself space to play with words and images, to try to tell a story of learning about my city, and to experience writing as the authentic working through of ideas that are only just beginning to emerge. Often, when I work alongside my students, my contributions intentionally fade into the background scaffolds of their own creations. That is, after all, the whole point of teaching and assessing: providing the background scaffolds so students can climb and soar. But we told our MKE explorers that we wanted them to go public with their musings, so for a change, I'm sharing my classroom creations publicly, too. This was, truly, a joyful assessment of my own semester's learning.
Afternoon in the pfister Hotel
We are unexpected, Milwaukee. Sports announcers tell the world that we are a terrible place, and when the cars are screaming down my street, when the accidents are piling up, when I hear the gunshots at night, when I’m reading the neighborhood FB page, I almost believe them.
But then I am out in my city and I remember that we are a magnificent place, Milwaukee. Magnificent because generations of workers have built this. Magnificent because generations of immigrants have enriched this. Magnificent because generations of youth have marched for this. For this, our city--Minoakking, the Good Land. We owe this good land to the people who were here first, the generations who came before us, who still teach us how to be of Milwaukee, this city where the waters meet. Murals and memories, homes and basilicas, bridges and lakefronts. This is our good land now, and it is beautiful, even when we forget.
In the Pfister Hotel, this marvel of Milwaukee wealth, there is gold leaf and there are velvet sofas and there are floors and floors of priceless art. Renaissance, maybe? Naked angel babies kissing naked buxom ladies. It’s wild, the wealth decorating the views of the lake from the upper floors. It is wild, and we are giddy, and it is not ours, or so it seems, so we are laughing and sneaking and snapping pictures and enjoying this stolen moment in this place of (arguably stolen?) wealth. But then, when we are hunting for coffee, I am stopped in my tracks. Quilting and collage, colors and faces. Is it a Bisa Butler?? I wonder. And I am frantically Googling and asking and trying to confirm that this one, it is bigger than Milwaukee deserves. I come up empty. But never mind. I don’t need Google to tell me what I know now.
We are magnificent. We are Milwaukee.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
Like what you see? That's mostly Ross Freshwater. Check out my talented partner-in-life's photo gallery.