At the end of last week I found myself scurrying through the tunnels of the state capital complex in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was raining cats and dogs, as my students will tell you (it is their favorite idiom), so I was traveling through the tunnels to the judicial meeting rooms about 2 blocks from the state office building.
My neighbor had roped me into being a judge for the high school and middle projects for the Project Citizen, a civics curriculum used across the country. I was not very excited about it but it was raining and I couldn’t work in my garden so there I was walking about with my state legislators, hundreds of school kids who were there to tour the capital and the 100 or so participants in the competition.
In my group there were three of us judging four different projects. The students presented boards and a binder on a topic of their choice, which we reviewed. They then came in for a presentation of their work. We scored both the written and oral presentation. Our goal was to be as positive as possible and helping every one feeling like a winner.
We saw 2 middle school reports and 2 high school reports. Over all the middle school students did a better job, which I found interesting but what left me excited at the end of the day was our one group of English as Second Language learners.
A supporting judge had come by to let us know these were ESL students so be kind, don’t expect much. (I was fuming at this comment but I was the new judge and so sat quietly as he shared his opinions with us.)
Most groups were 3 or 4 kids, this group had 12 or 14 students in it. Their topic was on the loss of bees in our environment. Only two of the students spoken English with confidence but it was clear they had all researched, made phone calls to experts and had detailed and heated conversations on the best solution to the problem. They shared their discussion with us, produced a creative board that shared their message while their binder covered the research and the more formal paper. In the other three groups the boards and binder where really just a repeat of each other.
We asked about how they worked together with so many people. They explained they split up the jobs into three main tasks and small groups completed that work. They then discussed how best to complete the required board and binder using the skills of the whole group to do the best work. They were fluent and confident in their work. You could see the massive amount of learning that had taken place for these students.
These students were fabulous – as I had expected. Their work provided more detail and content then our other high school group who gave the impression of high tech, gifted students. It was wonderful to have these new citizens develop just good work. (Congrats to both students and teacher)
They knew and cared about the process. They reached beyond their reading level in English to share their concern for the environment, the need for people to understand the root causes and how government, as well as the community, might help to solve this problem.
Yes – we did expect a lot from all students and all students did a wonderful job! These ESL students were bright, capable and ready to learn as new citizens. They might not have had the fancy clothes, and the slick technology but they were far more creative, cooperative and worked much harder than most. As judges we were excited to give them full points because they errand them not because we did not expect much of them. Our supporting judge was quiet after their presentation.
Students are smart and capable no matter where they come from, what language they speak or how they look. I was glad to have been part of the learning for all of these young citizens.
If you are not familiar with Project Citizen or We the People – Center for Civic Education check them out! – Project Citizen. What a great way for students to read and write while learning and thinking about major issues that are part of the real world! Applied, real world learning – Yes, please!