This year, students in seventh and eighth grade English have explored Shakespearean plays, classic novels, poetry, and award-winning topical fiction. For the final reading experience of the year, English teacher Dan Roy told his students that they could choose any book they wanted as long as they connected its themes to another work they had read in class. The opportunity to pick their own book was motivating to Dan’s students. Seventh grader Ivy Taylor chose House of Hollow, a horror mystery by Krystal Sutherland, and the novel inspired Ivy to draw a portrait
of one of the characters and share it with the author. To Ivy’s delight, the author wrote back, and they discussed the book and Ivy’s art! Being able to select the book deepened Ivy’s interest in the work: “Being able to choose made me want to read the book more, and that made the project more enjoyable.”
At Fay, students are encouraged to make a personal connection to their academic work. While there are rigorous standards and curricular objectives for each course, there is also recognition that when students find the work personally meaningful, it deepens the learning experience. “We don’t want our students to feel like they are just doing rote learning,” says Director of the Academic Program Julie Porrazzo. “We follow standards, but we can also be flexible. Our teachers have the autonomy to respond to the specific learners in their class, and we can set the students up for success to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways.”
Discovering Who They Are
Fay students are frequently encouraged to share who they are through their academic work. “We get to know our students as individuals,” says Julie, “and we give them opportunities to share their world and what they care about.” In the Primary School, for example, students considered the significance and meaning of names as part of their racial literacy curriculum. Throughout April, students explored stories about names through literature, art, and writing. In Morning Meeting, students were able to share their stories of how they got their names, and to celebrate their growing sense of self, each second grader shared a unique aspect of their name at the Primary Moving Up Ceremony in June. Hailey Cahill said, “I like my name because it sounds pretty, is unique, and makes me feel brave.”
Personal choice is also an important component of Lower School projects. When third graders researched and wrote biographies of historical figures and cultural icons that they admire, Hailey Liu decided to explore the life and work of William Shakespeare because she loves Romeo and Juliet, while Aurelia Perez and Rory Matlock both chose Ruby Bridges because they were impressed by her bravery. In sixth grade, students participate in the Letters for Change project, where they practice persuasive writing by identifying a real-world problem that they want to solve and crafting a letter to someone with the power to help. Students become invested in the topic because they are sending their letters to real people, and they are motivated to bring all their skills to bear on the work. Danny Warner wrote to Governor Charlie Baker about the problem of littering in Massachusetts, for example, while Emily Morgan wrote to the Director of Foster Care Support for DCF, advocating for changes that would increase the number of foster homes available for children in need. Reflecting on the project, Emily noted, “We got to choose an issue that we wanted to change, and we could make our voices heard even though we are only sixth graders.”
Upper School students made their own personal connections when they channeled their musical talents into writing protest songs this spring. After examining the history, songwriting, and seminal voices of six different eras of protest music, students researched topics for their own protest songs. Students learned about the issues, potential solutions to the problems, and other artists and songs that have addressed their topic. Students finished the term by writing music and lyrics and producing meaningful songs about issues ranging from climate change to gender stereotypes.
Showing How They Know
In recognition of their varying interests and strengths, Fay students often have a choice in how they demonstrate their understanding. In Extended Topics in Algebra and Geometry (ETAG), students read Hans Magnus Enzenberger’s The Number Devil. The novel tells the story of a boy named Robert who hates math; each night, the number devil appears to Robert in his dreams and explains a mathematical concept in a funny and original way. Teacher Craig Ferraro asked his students to write and illustrate their own chapter to add to the book. While they had to mimic Enzenberger’s style, students could write about any math-related concept that they wished. “ETAG students are some of the most independent math learners in the school, so I knew that opening it up for them to write about a mathematical topic of their choice would yield some amazing results,” says Craig. In their chapter, students had to accurately explain their math concept using proper writing conventions, include three to four illustrations, replicate the writing style of The Number Devil, and most importantly, convey passion and joy for their topic. Students wrote chapters explaining various concepts from game theory to the coordinate plane and how the angles of a triangle work.
Other projects offer students the opportunity to choose the form that their work will take. After reading Twelfth Night, English teacher Richard Roberts gave his students three options for their final assessment. They could create a poster featuring a detailed character study, trace the usage of specific language throughout the play, or perform a monologue from the play and write about why they chose it. Julie Porrazzo explains, “Some teachers create a project plan for the year and make sure that there is a visual, audio, and written component, all of which meet the major curricular objectives.”
Choosing Their Journey
Implicit in the Fay curriculum is the idea that education is a personal journey. In Upper School, math and world language classes are leveled to meet students where they are, and when possible, teachers incorporate opportunities for students to learn at their own pace. Eighth graders in Physical Science learned some basic programming to start the spring term but then transitioned into a self-paced environment where they could build on those skills at a comfortable rate. Students used Zulama, a project-based coding curriculum designed by the game design and computer science departments at Carnegie Mellon and MIT. “With Zulama, the kids can take coding as far as they want to go,” says Physical Science teacher Eric Lane. “There’s such a wide range of comfort level and ability with this topic that we wanted to be able to differentiate the instruction for each student.”
Every year, students reflect on their journey through the annual Public Speaking and Scull Essay competitions. Starting in third grade, students write and deliver a speech every year. In Upper School, that tradition culminates in the Upper School Speech Finals. This year, the finalists shared compelling stories of moments in which they recognized moral courage—or felt its absence. The stories were personal, but relatable. Cami Hartigan ’22 talked about struggling to break free from a peer group, and Delphi Lyra ’21 discussed the importance of recognizing the humanity in people who do not share your point of view. Similarly, each year Upper School students take three to four weeks to write their Scull Essay, a personal narrative about a topic of their choosing. While the Speech Contest emphasizes a student’s speaking voice, the Scull Essay cultivates and recognizes their writing voice. As a more private form of expression, the essay topics can be deeply personal, and students often reflect on their growth through the work.
Knowing How They Learn
Fay teachers recognize that it is equally important to find ways to personalize the assessment process and provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning styles. In Primary and Lower School, students select assignments that they believe demonstrate noteworthy effort or growth to share with their parents at parent/teacher conferences. In Lower and Upper School, those conferences are student-led as students present their work and talk about their progress. This kind of reflection is helpful for both students and parents. “The conferences highlight how well the teachers know the students,” says Julie Porrazzo. “They know the students’ strengths and their areas of growth, and they can share anecdotes that underscore how well they know each student as a learner and an individual.”
Formal opportunities for self-assessment are complemented by the moments that emerge organically as students walk the halls and see their work on display. In Primary School, for example, students create self-portraits every month. The newest picture is placed over the previous ones on the wall. Students can often be found flipping through the portraits, marveling at how detailed, colorful, and accurate their drawings have become compared to their September attempts. Fast forward to ninth grade. This spring, in-person art and design shows for Advanced 3D Design and Advanced Studio Art were not possible, so each student created a gallery of their work within a class exhibit in Adobe Spark. Students shared images of the work they created along with written reflections about the challenges, successes, and growth they experienced along the way.