Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Importance of Making Student-Work Public

In my last blog, I highlighted the Hardy Holiday Expo.  It was an incredible event that was student-led and showcased the students' beautiful work. Three other schools held school-wide expos in December: Georgie Tyler Middle School, Smithfield High School and Windsor High School.  All the events provided an opportunity for students to display and discuss their work with a audience beyond their classroom.  Making student work public is a very important component of  project based learning.  Below is an excerpt from the book, An Ethic of Excellence, by Ron Berger that explains why showcasing student work with a wider audience is significant.  At the end of the blog, I have a link to a brief video with highlights from the four school-wide expos.  I am very proud of the students, the teachers and administrators who coordinated these outstanding events.  If you haven't been to an expo yet, please monitor the website calendar for dates, times and locations of future events.  I hope to see you there. 

I had no audience while doing my work when I was a student and no sense that my work meant something to someone.  Actually, I did have a singular audience: my teacher.  I turned in my work to a teacher who returned it with a grade, occasionally a comment.  The importance of the work seemed to singular: pleasing, or at least satisfying, the teacher.  The larger world had no interest in or knowledge of my work.  My friends didn’t care about the quality of my work or even whether it was done.  My family cared simply that the grades on my report card be good.  The work I did was really a private affair.

There were rare occasions when my work was public and these moments carried an entirely different sense of pressure and importance.  Many decades later I still remember the times I worried about doing a good job: the time in second grade when I was chosen to paint a fish on the class ocean mural; the time in fourth grade when my friend and I sang a short solo in a Christmas concert; the times I was at bat in Little League baseball games; the times in high school I wrote articles for the school newspaper, played in soccer games, or acted in school plays. There was a reason to worry about quality in these settings: The world, or at least my world, was watching me. People cared about how well I did. I didn’t want to let them down.

Every final draft my students complete is done for an outside audience. It may be for a small audience of Kindergarten children or for a national audience on educational television.  Either way, my role as teacher is not as the sole judge of their work but rather similar to that of a sports coach or a play director: I am helping them to get their work ready for the public eye. There is a reason to do the work well and it’s not just because the teacher wants it that way.