Uncovering and Addressing Misconceptions of Place-Based Education

How can language teachers draw on the principles of place-based education and project-based learning to facilitate authentic, student-driven learning experiences? Eleventh and 12th-grade Spanish students at Mountain Academy designed and carried out three projects that highlight the meaning of performative assessment, ways to set up personalized learning pathways, and reflections on integrating a schools’ education values with language learning students.

Emerson Peek, a former Spanish teacher at Mountain Academy Upper School, showcases how he contextualized his Spanish classroom and how he guided student work to exemplify performative assessment.

A performative assessment, according to Defined Learning, 2017 is: “A performance task is any learning activity or assessment that asks students to perform to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and proficiency. Performance tasks yield a tangible product and/or performance that serve as evidence of learning.” Learning to interact in another language is considered a performance task. 


What does this look like as a student project?

Gus, at the time an 11th-grade student, was passionate about woodworking. He proposed building a table, filming himself throughout the process, writing a voiceover script and putting it all together in a video, creating a performance task. 

Peek says, “Gus’ project was complex, student-designed and student-driven. It required the application of receptive, productive, and interactive language skills, and according to his mother, Gus thoroughly enjoyed the project and it’s easy to see why – it allowed him to engage one of his passions –woodworking– which in turn gave him the fuel he needed to expand his knowledge base.” 

Watch the video

Natali and Abby, at the time, 12th-grade students, approached the project from a different angle. Natali and Abby listened to Daniel Molina’s TED talk on the constraints of social identities, then drew on those themes to design a choose-your-own-adventure-style game for their classmates. 

Peek says, “Their final project exemplifies performative assessment in that it took much planning, application of diverse skills and a performance in front of their classmates. It also highlights the local-to-global approach, as the game compares the life experiences of a Mexican immigrant and a U.S.-born actor-turned lawyer born to well-off parents. As designers of this learning activity, Natali and Abby not only exercised their productive, receptive and interactive skills, they also found an opportunity for leadership and performance by becoming teachers.”

George and Matthew, also 12th graders at the time, shared a love for sports. 

Peek says, “They proposed researching how the NBA and MLB handled challenges presented by COVID-19 and producing a podcast episode to share their findings. This process included reading authentic Spanish-language articles, synthesizing and comparing information, writing a podcast script in Spanish, and then recording their show. The end product was impressive and super fun to listen to – let’s take a listen.” 

Listen to the podcast

Peek says, “By allowing students to be co-designers of their own complex performance assessments based on their own interests and curiosities, engagement in my Spanish classroom increases as students feel empowered to creatively apply their skills in new and challenging ways. It is my observation that providing complex, multi-faceted opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning creates opportunities for critical thinking and furthers character development by exercising students’ executive functioning skills and leadership opportunities.

A place-based approach isn’t limited to our own backyard. Rather, it is a way of approaching learning that focuses on connections between people and place, whether that’s in our classroom or el parque de las papas en el valle sagrado en Peru.”

Emerson Peek offers these tips for teachers:

  1. Work backward. Start with the overarching goal of a unit, brainstorm potential project formats or performative assessments. Figure out what your students already know and what they need to know in order to get there, and provide opportunities for skill-building and practice.
  2. Then, give it a go! See where student ideas might meld with learning objectives, and experiment with a performance task.

On April 22, you have an opportunity to join fellow teachers to learn more about uncovering and addressing misconceptions of place-based education. Join us virtually for Teton Science Schools’ sixth annual Place-Based Education Symposium, focused on education for a just, vibrant, sustainable world on April 22, 2022 from 4-7:30 MST.

Register today!

Resource: Performative Assessment via IB Spanish, Emerson Peek. 


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