ToolsAndResourcesTOOLS & RESOURCES

Great examples of Student Defenses in action:

Portfolio Defenses at Envision Schools
Portfolio Defenses: Powerful Public Presentations

An Envision Schools Graduate Defends Her Learning
An Envision Schools Graduate Defends Her Learning

Yvonne's Portfolio Defense


Good reads about Defense.

Lighting Fires of
the Mind in Detroit
Defense: Where a Graduate
Makes Her Case

November 2014
In the Spotlight: Rick Lear shares impressions of his early days with ELP
Tools & Resources: Videos and articles about Defense
Good Reads: Food for thought from Envision
Partnering for Success: Ways to get involved with ELP and Envision Education

by Rick Lear, Interim Executive Director of Envision Learning Partners


I'm in my early days at Envision Learning Partners, coming to this new adventure after four years at the New Tech Network.  ELP and New Tech have worked closely, both as partners in the Hewlett Foundation-sponsored Deeper Learning Community of Practice and as New Tech adapted Envision's student assessment system for use in its 160 schools.


One powerful theme has emerged for me already: the centrality of the Defense of Learning as simultaneously a cohering and a transformative element in Envision's work, whether in our own three Bay Area schools or in the schools and districts across the country now working with Envision Learning Partners.  Equally prominent is the awareness that this educational transformation is the king of thing that can interrupt the cycle of poverty and help low-income students achieve success in college and career.  The defense is it: where students show that they are ready for the future.


Many of you have visited an Envision school to see live defenses, or you've seen inspiring videos of Senior Defenses. You'll recall the poise, assurance, reflectiveness, and intellectual accomplishment that characterize most of them. They often seemed effortless as well, though mystery writer Tana French reminds us that "nothing takes as much work as effortlessness."


I've already had glimpses of what goes into preparing students - and their schools - to produce such "effortless" performances. Here are three:

  • The presenter stood quietly at the front of the room, her presentation materials on the table behind her, notecards clasped in her hands. Just before being introduced, the student said, "Can we wait a few minutes until my mommy gets here?"  The student was a ten-year-old participating in the Community School for Creative Education's first Defense of Learning in early October, and Envision's first elementary school defenses anywhere, ever.  

  • Another young woman - a junior at Envision Academy in Oakland - also stood quietly at the front of the room, her material in a Keynote presentation on her computer as Principal Kirsten Grimm briefly explained the audience how the College Success Portfolio works at Envision Schools. The student was reprising her Spring 2014 10th grade Benchmark Portfolio presentation for the visitors, who came from other schools, Oakland USD, and a local foundaiton, visitors from two other schools, and two district leaders from the Oakland USD - all of them interested in learning more about Envision's system.

  • Eighteen educators from the six high schools and district office in Detroit's Educational Achievement Authority (Michigan's controversial state takeover of low-achieving schools) have a day of professional development with two ELP staff. The group looked at videos of some of last year's 700 seniors participating in EAA's first Senior Defense, after less than two years of work on the part of teachers and students. They then viewed an Envision school senior's defense, and discussed what they saw.

In each instance, the focus is on students, even when they are not in the room: what students know and are able to do, how they reflect on and describe their own learning, their challenges as well as accomplishments. Watching Senior Defenses at schools with a well-established performance assessment system, we see the polished, seemingly effortless results. Looking at students earlier in their school careers and in schools developing their own systems, we gain a sense of the process, and what such a system asks of students, their teachers, and their schools.


The fifth grader was nervous, and read most of her notes, as did her classmates during their presentations. Their reflections revealed their own assessments of what they did well, and where they needed to build more skills. Their teacher said, "Talking with each student about her own performance pushed me to think far more carefully about what each student needs from me than I'd ever done before." She later added, "This whole process has completely changed our classroom culture, and focused students on their learning."


The Detroit teachers, five months after the defenses, remained rightfully proud of their students. They recognized the vast variation - both in presentation skills and in demonstrations of content knowledge - but they also saw the possibilities of developing a system that would both challenge and affirm students. They saw, too, the pride in the graduate who had been accepted at the University of Michigan, and in the student who thanked them for inviting him to reflect on his growth as a learner. ("No one has ever asked me to do that before!") Their challenge now is to engage their teaching colleagues and their administrators completely in the process, and to focus their energies on fully developing - institutionalizing - an EAA student assessment system in the face of the many distractions that challenge urban districts.


At Envision Academy, the challenge is different: to ensure that the already-confident young woman continues to grow, to be challenged, and to be supported as she prepares for the next phase of her career. And to ensure as well that every one of her classmates, not just some of them, is similarly challenged and supported as they prepare for their futures.


These are early snapshots, but I can already see how a performance assessment system provides shape and coherence for students and teachers alike - something that gives purpose and power to the daily grind of school over the months and years of a student's or teacher's career. That coherence, and the culture that supports it, also transforms learners and teachers by demanding agency - a trendy word right now, but a very old concept - from each of them.


I can hardly wait to see what I learn next!

LearningCornerGOOD READS
A round up of recent articles written by Envision Education:


The final installment in Bob Lenz' "Watch What's Working" series on his Edutopia blog features Stanford's Carol Dweck, talking about the "winning combination" offered by teachers at Envision Schools.  | September 19, 2014


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The American Institutes for Research recently released a study comparing "Deeper Learning" schools with traditional schools; the findings indicate that deeper learning leads to better academic outcomes for students.  Bob Lenz wrote two posts about this report, one for EdWeek's Learning Deeply blog (The Evidence is In | September 25, 2014) and Edutopia (New Evidence: Deeper Learning Improves Student Outcomes | October 23, 2014).  We encourage everyone to read - and especially to share - these posts as a way to increase awareness about the benefits of deeper learning.  The more, the merrier!


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Ben Kornell, Envision's Chief Operating Officer, shares his insights about efforts to scale what's working in education in 3 New Rules for Achieving Scale 2.0 in Education on EdWeek's Learning Deeply blog. | October 20, 2014.


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And finally, in another Learning Deeply post from Bob Lenz, (October 24, 2014) we share recent findings from Dr. David T. Conley's report A New Era in Educational Assessment.  This report highlights the importance of improving the way schools decide how their students are doing, so that students can be better prepared for their futures.  Bravo Dr. Conley, and listen up, American schools!


INSPIRE: Capture and share student and teacher success!   Email your stories, photos and videos and we will share them in a future newsletter.  Email Rachel Maida, Program Manager.

INFORM: Learn more about Envision Learning Partners (ELP), our partnership opportunities and our events.  Contact Rachel Maida, Program Manager.

INVOLVE: Join us!  Visit the Envision Education Career Center for opportunities to join our teams. Currently, Envision Schools has an opening for a principal at Envision Academy of Arts & Technology in Oakland, CA.  Spread the word!

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