The Value of Audience A Gallery of presentations

This is our claim:

STUDENTS AT FOUR RIVERS ARE VERY SKILLED AS COMMUNICATORS AND PRESENTERS.

These are the Four Rivers school-wide learning targets on which the examples included in this focus:

At Four Rivers, our students begin learning and practicing presentation skills early in the first semester of 7th grade and continue through to their final day of school when, on Senior Ex Day, they present their senior expeditions and complete their graduation passage. Their highest stake individual presentations are surely 8th, 10th and graduation passages, with the expectation of independence increasing from one to the next. We recognize that having an audience for their presentations of learning makes the learning itself more meaningful for the students and it makes learning visible to those who attend.

8th grade passage presentations involve extensive preparation with advisors. They prepare by studying the Hero's Journey in literature, and making connections between the archtypal hero's journey and their own passage through life. They then work on the elements of their passage presentation, ending up with a script for both themselves and their assistant. The script covers each element of the presentation. The final element is the sharing of the Journey Map, linked back to the idea of the hero's journey. Each student creates a map that represents their aspirations, along with the impediments and temptations that can knock them off course. The final 8th grade passages take place with an intimate audience, including family members, advisors, and one or two students from grades 7, 8, 9, and 11.

10th graders prepare for their passage presentations with less support and structure, but still somewhat guided by their advisors. The 10th passages include these elements: a quote the students feel is representative of their qualities, attitudes or outlooks; an artifact that has symbolic meaning; three assertions about their readiness for the demands of Junior and Senior year; goals for their time in Division 3; longer term goals or aspirations for life beyond high school; and they conclude with appreciations and amends. Students also make a resume as part of their presentation. The 10th grade passages have a larger audience, with more students from each division, family, and additional faculty members and staff.

For their Graduation Passage Presentation, seniors present their Senior Expedition, a year-long capstone project, and reflect on themselves as learners. This presentation has an audience comprised of parents, teachers, many students from several grades, board members and visitors. This is the final presentation they do at Four Rivers. Students are required to design their presentations, practice and get feedback at least once, and observe and give feedback to at least two fellow students. By the time they get to Senior Ex Day, as we call it, they are ready!

Four Rivers students also take part in presentations of learning that take the form of theatrical productions, debates, workshops and speeches. In all of these formats, they practice, rehearse, get feedback and work to improve.

In the 11th grade, once students have finished their study of human rights, they prepare for a theatrical production of a reader's theater piece called "Voices From Beyond the Dark". Written by Ariel Dorfman, and drawn from Kerry Kennedy's book, "Speak Truth to Power", the play is comprised of the voices of human rights activists from around the world - some living, some dead - who have worked, lived and died for defending human rights. The content of the play is quite serious, including descriptions of assault, torture, imprisonment, and harrassment. There is also a clear message that action is transformational and that nothing surpasses the importance of individuals being willing to work for the good of others. Students choose the human rights activists they want to portray, practice for several weeks and as a final culmination, perform the play at a local theater as a fundraiser for the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, a local oganziation based at Greenfield Community College that works to further social justice both in our community and abroad. When the play is over, students remain on stage to take questions from the audience about what they have learned. In addition, students make posters describing the work of each activist. The posters are displayed in the lobby of the theater so that the audience can do a gallery walk and learn more about each person portrayed in the play.

A sample poster from the poster gallery
Part of the poster gallery in theater lobby

In 10th grade, as a culmination of their study on war, students work with a local playwright and actor to write short dramatic vignettes. The vignettes are written by combining both original student writing and appropriated texts from veterans' accounts of war. Voices of soldiers, military leaders, political leaders, and family members of soldiers are incorporated into the vignettes to give voice to the many perspectives of people who are affected by war. The 10th graders go to Washington DC and while there, perform their vignettes in front of the memorials of the major wars fought by the United States. Veterans, visitors to DC, other school groups, and residents of DC are among the audience that gathers as the performances begin. The performances take courage, in addition to strong presentation skills, because the students don't know who among their audiences are veterans of the wars they are protraying in their vignettes, or whether their audiences will receive their performances in a positive way. For example, one year, a group of students presented a vignette on the Korean War that included content about the less admirable, ethically questionable behavior of US soldiers. In the audience were three Korean War vets. After the presentation, they approached the students and told them that the presentation was accurate: they had done those things. The students were afraid they had caused offense because the veterans clearly were distressed, but instead what followed was an amazing conversation between them. Often, veterans who view the performances want to engage with our students afterwards. Below are pictures of 10th graders speaking with veterans after their performances.

A WW II veteran shares his experiences with a Four Rivers student
A Four Rivers student speaks with veterans of the Vietnam War

Finally, in our interviews with alumni, we asked them how well they felt their experiences at Four Rivers prepared them for college. Here is a snippet of an interview with an alum whose perspective on how well-prepared she was to do presentations in college was typical of feedback from alumni.

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