On average, I walk through the halls of five schools a week. Whether supporting an administration team working on their school improvement plan, or helping a teacher orchestrate first-time bloggers in her English 9 class; as soon as I walk through the doors I intentionally pause and notice my surroundings. Greetings by students and adults, displays on the wall, color choices in the rooms, cleanliness in the commons area, and a plethora of other sensory signals unknowingly flood my subconscious creating a snapshot of the climate, culture, and values shared by the adults and students in the building.
Trophies and State Championship Banners adorning the entrance communicate pride in athletics, tradition, achievement. Inspirational quotes, Character Counts Posters, and a birthday calendar promote community and relationships. While many schools have a combination of values on display, the one thing I almost never see is student thinking, or more specifically, the process.
End products commonly adorn the walls of the classroom and the halls of the building. Typically, uniformed in size and color. Poems transferred to white paper, typed in black ink and hanging from the ceiling by equal length fishing line. Unique art work mounted to black paper and systematically lined up on the tack strip with 1 inch between each. As educators, we know displaying student work is important, but as humans, we also want it to look good. What we fail to think about is the signals it sends to our students = work must be pretty to earn a spot on the wall. I, too, am guilty of this. I remember having my student tutor rewrite Shakespeare Quotes that students loved on tan paper so that they would look better, all having the same handwriting and on the same paper. What I didn’t consider was the message that it sent to the students the next day when they walked into class and saw “their” quote replaced by a “prettier” one.
Learning is messy, and as I reflect back, I realize I missed the point of the whole assignment. It is not about the acrostic poem lined in green paper and displayed uniformly across the wall that was cause for celebration; it was the process! Gathering ideas and images, organizing thoughts, painstakingly editing and revising both alone and with a partner to choose that perfect word. The counting of syllables on fingers, referencing rhyming dictionaries and each other for rhythmic purposes. The final poem was not the goal; instead, learning to think and write like a poet was; but nowhere in the classroom did you see those lessons learned and mastered.
Displaying student work is important, but highlighting student thinking is even more so. Include the thinking involved to produce the end product. Show the mistakes, the collaborating, the celebrating, and the creating! Let students witness the value you place in their process, not the student with the best handwriting or most glitter. Show all who enter the doors of your school, whether physically or virtually, that we celebrate learning!