Don’t you love the elegance of backward design and the joy of a perfectly crafted lesson plan? But recently a colleague reminded me of what’s really important:
“Listen,” he said, “that sounds like a nice plan, but what did the students do? I know as teachers we make plans and they are very pretty and interesting but unless I see the student work that comes out of it, I’m not terribly convinced they are that good. Show me they actually lead to student learning.”
Of course! Student work is the only evidence we have that our pretty, perfectly prepared plans are worth the paper they’re printed on.
I know this, I just forget sometimes. Early into my career, I attended my first conference on using student work to inform my teaching (amazingly, this was not part of my teacher training program!). And I was reminded of it again when I read “Deeper Learning: Highlighting Student Work” on Edutopia. Ron Berger said this about student work: “...it changes the vision of what is possible when students are allowed, compelled and supported to do great things.”
Student work changes our vision of what is possible. Who needs more help envisioning what students can and should do in our classrooms more than our students and their families?
Why routinely share student work with families?
Just as student work can change the vision for teachers and educators, student work can change the vision that families have for schools and for their students. They need to see student work that can show families both what can happen and what actually does happen in schools.
In the absence of student work, you know what gives families a vision of what happens in schools? Test scores. That “student work” is widely available. Is that the only vision we want to give them?
So where do we start?
To learn more about sharing student work, I turned to my colleague Jill Clark. She is a middle school teacher at Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, DC and has been sharing student work with families for many years.
We agreed the best place to start may be a capstone project, portfolio presentation, a science fair or some other cumulative project. Families love seeing authentic student work and students create better projects when they know their families will see it. Over time the quality of work will grow as you shine the light of day on what’s happening in the classroom.
However, Clark explains, if you want these nights to go beyond the glitter on a nicely lettered poster, do more than just showcase the final product.
Document and share the process of creating the product. This way you lift up the learning and hard work that went into the product and send a clear message that these are important, too. If the road to the final product wasn’t very interesting and didn’t require new learning and hard work--well, you may want to re-examine the work that you have students do. Is it work worth doing? Want an example of some work that will blow you away?
Let students collect their own work and decide what to present. It’s the student’s work. Why not let them decide what’s in their portfolio and present it to their families? If you have not yet tried student-led conferences, here are some resources to help you. (There are videos of elementary, middle, and high school students leading a conference)