by Robert Todd Felton
I recently attended the Fall open house of my son’s public middle school. Although the year was still relatively fresh, the students had done very impressive work. Beautiful artwork adorned the front lobby and samples of compelling student writing on everything from poetry to lab reports were on display. It was an impressive collection...and a little frustrating.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan of displaying and celebrating high quality student work. I think we don’t do enough to recognize that our students are capable of the type of care and craftsmanship we expect from adults. Student work, no matter the discipline, can be every bit as polished and impactful as that we see in galleries, businesses, and the media.
What’s different for me is that when I go into an art gallery or read a published report, I am often only interested in the final product, not the struggle itself. When I look at student work, I am eager to enjoy both the outcome and the process. For students, the learning that happens during the project is every bit worth celebrating as the product itself.
I know no more compelling example of this than the story Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning tells about of how Austin learned to draw a butterfly.
What is important here is not just the progress Austin makes as he works; we all know that our work gets better when we revise. It is that Austin’s struggles can be used to show other students (and adults) that any difficult and complex task can be achieved if we tackle it in steps and have a team to help us. We are all capable of drawing a beautiful butterfly if we start with the basics and add a little detail each time. That’s the story that often gets lost when we display student work.
Think about the truly spectacular pieces of student work you’ve seen (if you want inspiration, try Expeditionary Learning’s Center for Student Work or High Tech High’s project archive). Think about the stories behind the projects. How did the students get there? What were the steps?
What have your students done? Share with us both the final products and the steps they took to get there. It helps us all get closer to drawing that butterfly.
Hangout with BIE: Student Stories: High Quality Work and How They Got There
Todd Felton shares stories about students striving for excellence during projects.