“Objects are what matter. Only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings.” — Claude Levi-Strauss
I was checking my “News Feed” on Facebook today. Someone had posted an interesting item, one of those pictures with pithy a pithy saying written across the top. This one showed a teacher at his desk with the words, “Why do they want you to differentiate in your teaching when they standardize your testing?” I usually smile at these types of “railing against the wind” entries, but this one triggered a thought, “What if you could differentiate AND standardize at the same time?” Sort of like “Eating your cake and having it, too,” with better benefits………..
Artifacts naturally and immediately differentiate. This occurs because we are human. When a person is confronted with an object with which he/she is unfamiliar, the first thing that happens is to try and relate the object to something in one’s past. The mind immediately begins an analysis starting with, “What does this look like (that I have seen/used before)?” The natural response to an unfamiliar artifact is to reach out and touch it. This is also an attempt to relate to the object through examination. The mind attempts to resolve the problem of “What is this?” through the senses: seeing, touching, smelling…. What this means for us as teachers is that, each student, when presented with an object he/she has not seen before, connects with it personally through his/her natural senses. Not only is this engagement at its best, but it is also differentiation at its finest. When we ask the questions, “What is this and why is it important to us right here, right now?”, we do not add the caveat(s), “Think about this only in English.”, or “Where is this found in a 5 bedroom house?”, or “Read the essay about this before you look at it.” Instead, we ask the open-ended question, and allow each student to begin his/her road to the answer through his/her level of experience. This first step, accession of prior knowledge, occurs at the level of “higher-order thinking.” It occurs in all languages and across all ethnicities. It contains no gender boundary, nor any reading or writing skill level. Yet, it reaches every student at a personal level. Artifacts naturally and immediately differentiate.
Artifacts lead directly to standardization. Every set of State Educational Standards contains the following goal, “the preparation of students for the 21st century through teaching them 21st century skills.” That set of skills most often is defined as, “analysis, synthesis, cooperative effort, decision-making and communication.” If our goal is truly the incorporation and refinement of these skills, then artifacts are the best, and easiest method to reach that goal successfully. Divide any class into groups (size of the group does not really matter), and ask them our open-ended question, then step back and watch what happens. Students will examine the artifact. Each student will relate it to his/her own experience and communicate with the group his/her ideas. Discussion naturally occurs as differences of interpretation naturally arise from each individual’s personal experiences. Students create an argument (“I think it is….”) based on hands-on evidence (clues they have derived from their analysis). They begin to synthesize the evidence from all in the group (cooperative effort) and then make a decision based on a group consensus. The final step is to communicate their answer (decision) to the group, “We think this is “x”, because of “a, b, c.” The artifact-centered lesson has, in the simplest fashion, just practiced each student individually and collectively in the use of the very 21st century skills we all are required to teach. We have addressed our state standards and their goals. We have taught the standards without “teaching to the test.” We have prepared our students, regardless of grade level, reading, writing, or language ability, to think critically, make decisions based on evidence, and communicate those decisions effectively. Artifacts lead directly to improved performance in a “standardized environment.”
Artifact-centered lessons provide the opportunity to differentiate naturally and teach to standards effectively each and every time they are utilized. Artifacts are easily inserted into your current lesson plans in math, Language Arts, science, art, theatre, and Social Studies. You can quickly and easily create an artifact-centered lesson/exercise to introduce a unit/lesson, enhance an existing unit/lesson, or assess the information in a unit/lesson.The question, then, is, “Why are you not using artifacts in your classroom?” They are readily available at www.artifactsteach.com. Artifacts differentiate and standardize simultaneously because