Student End of the Semester Reflections

At Coastside Leadership Academy, we spent the semester cocreating curriculum with our students, focusing on 21st Century Skill development. Our students have learned about our Coastside Community from many different angles and now it is time for them to reflect back on the skills they have learned and begin creating their portfolio. 

At CLA we provide narrative grades as feedback for our students and their parents based on our student’s reflection and portfolio. Narratives give a clear picture of the student’s progress in their learning and skill development, as opposed to an impersonal letter grade based on a percentage. Even though we believe narratives are a more well rounded way to capture a student’s learning process, this creates a non-traditional transcript in the eyes of college admissions offices, and could be a risk for our students to submit when applying. We want to support our students as best we can, so we had the challenge of figuring out a way to package our feedback in a way that the traditional education system could understand while staying true to our values. 

My co-founder Lindsay, crafted a process for our students to synthesize all of our CLA lessons with 21st Century Themes and Skills into a student portfolio. From there, she has created a rubric that we can use to create a “traditional” transcript to use when the time comes to apply to college. When our students apply to college they will submit both their student portfolio and their transcript. It will provide colleges with a clear picture of who they are as a student and a person, and we believe this will give them a leg up.

Here is CLA’s student reflection portfolio process created by Lindsay Stewart. The procedure is scaffolded into many steps to help the students stay organized.

Infograph: Translating non-traditional learning reflections into a transcript the traditional education system can understand.
  1. Create a list of all of the lessons students learned. This entailed going through our entire learning notebook and making a document of all of the things we did during the semester. We included field trips, social emotional learning lessons, interviews and conversations we had with community members, journal prompts, learning how to learn and research, and books or articles we read. We created this list for our students to save time.
  2. Create a list of the five 21st Century Themes. For our student’s reference, we made a document with the five 21st Century Themes that their lessons have been based on and an explanation of each. The five themes are Global Awareness, Economic and Business Literacy, Civic Literacy, Health Literacy, and Environmental Literacy. 

In this document, we have five columns. One for the 21st Century Themes, one for explanations, and three empty columns. In one empty column, we had students fill in which CLA lesson could be categorized under each theme. For example our field trip to the Pescadero Marsh falls under the Global Awareness and Environmental Literacy theme. 

In the next column, we had students go through the list again and label which traditional high school subject the theme and lesson falls under. Our field trip to the Pescadero Marsh can be categorized as science and history. This information will be used later when creating the transcript. 

The last column is for students to fill in which 21st Century Skill they learned and can be applied in each category. 

  1. Select a lesson to reflect on for the student portfolio. In their student portfolio, students are reflecting on CLA lessons that they feel they understand and can explain in detail. We had our students look over the document and select a lesson in each of the four traditional high school subjects. For example they could select calculating tides for math, learning to write a thesis statement for English, our field trip to the historic Half Moon Bay Jail for history, and tide pool ecology for science. 
  2. Identify a 21st Century Skill learned during each lesson. We created another document with all of the 21st Century skills listed and explanations of the skill. The skill categories are leadership, life and career, information media and technology, communication and collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, and creativity and innovation. With the CLA lesson and which 21st Century theme and high school subject selected, our students are able to identify a 21st Century Skill they learned in the process. For example while learning about the local elections, our students were learning Civic Literacy, history, and developing skills for their life and career.  
  3. Write synthesis statements. Once all topics in the four areas are selected, our students are writing synthesis statements in their portfolios. Below is the example we gave them as a model to follow. 

I learned the scientific process of fermentation and will explain how it connects to the themes of health and environmental literacy, how I practiced the skills of communication and critical thinking.

Student portfolios will have four synthesis statements, one in each of the four traditional subjects.

  1. Students defend their learning. This is the self-reflection part! With the synthesis statements, our students will write a paragraph to defend their learning. We are asking them to show what they have learned by accurately describing it and then reflect on their understanding of the 21st Century Skills and Themes. This will become part of the narrative grade, along with teacher feedback, on their progress reports.
  2. Use a grading rubric to create a traditional transcript. Once the narratives are written, we will generate traditional letter grades based on a grading rubric. We will have conversations with the students when using the rubric to cocreate the letter grades. 

The final portfolio for the semester has four parts. The sections are synthesis statements, learning reflections in the four traditional high school subjects, co-written narrative grades, and letter grades for a transcript. We have already completed steps 1-5 with our students and I am looking forward to reading their reflections in steps 6 and 7 this week. They have learned so much in a wide variety of areas this semester and learning to self-reflect is super important. At the same time, it feels a bit unfair that we have to fit their progressive education into a traditional package to be considered for college. 

I am in awe of and grateful for Lindsay’s understanding of pedagogy to be able to create this reflection process. It has been amazing to watch it unfold. The process seems complicated, but once we had all the pieces it came together easily. The good news is now that the document has been created we can use it again in the future with any curriculum we cocreate. This is the beauty of scaffolding lessons!

I am also really proud of our students and all of the skills they have developed this semester. I know they will use these skills to lead in all aspects of their lives. It has been a pleasure to watch their joy, healing, and growth.

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