I just finished evaluating seven history fair documentary projects created by middle school students. I am constantly challenged in my quest to perfect the art of Ron Berger’s model of “kind, specific, helpful” feedback. These young students have been challenged to create a project which argues a thesis. They work within the National History Day framework to conduct research, develop an argument, and assemble their analysis into a persuasive form, in this case a documentary video. They are also required to create an annotated bibliography of their sources.
This is tough work, demanding well-developed higher-order thinking skills to be able to sift through numerous sources, make sense of them, and synthesize that bombardment of information into a coherent narrative. And then combine evidence in the form of visual elements (photographic images, newspaper clippings, maps, political cartoons, etc.) with an audio narration, and oftentimes a layer of background music.
So, when the “experienced adult” part of me wants to pull my hair out with the inaccuracies, omissions, or incomplete thinking, I need to take a step back and put myself in their 12- or 13-year-old shoes and simply say, “my hat’s off to you for a job well done.”