Guest Author: Tracy Williams – Follow her on Twitter: @trawill14
She’s an elementary teacher who has a passion for developing student writers, and empowering their voice through quality feedback. She has developed a related resource to help other teachers in their thinking to support their students: Feedback Screencast. Here is what she has to say, inspired by an important education thinker, Ron Berger:
Review of Beautiful Work
In the article Beautiful Work, author and educator Ron Berger paints the picture of his classroom where beautiful, quality work is expected. Berger gives readers many examples of how he encourages his students to create important, aesthetic work for real audiences. Regardless of subject area, his students learn they must strive for quality and beauty through class culture, crafting, and authentic critiquing. No matter how simple the assignment, the quest for valuable work is the goal.
Right away, Berger confronts the main perceived obstacle of teachers when they envision a classroom such as his. “The new national focus on ‘standards’ seems to be less about high standards than about covering required material, and there is little time left in most schools for the quest for real quality.” Today’s teachers face rigorous curriculums where they feel little time for elements such as aesthetics. They are foregoing quality for the sake of quantity. One consequence of this is students feel more and more like there isn’t time for mistakes or revisions, or editing. They are often in a rush to complete assignments and they are missing the value of the work. And when one doesn’t understand the value of the work, maintaining true pride in successes and a growth mindset in failures are difficult to own.
In order to experience real growth, students must know what it feels like to recognize their own mistakes, and want to improve upon them. This implies that a growth mindset should be fostered within the classroom and through the work. One cannot achieve real beauty without struggle, or quality without mistakes. So students must be made to believe that these things are not only accepted, but valued. In the past, one of my struggles as a writing teacher was trying to get kids to revise and edit. They much prefer the idea of one and done. I can now see that my challenge – my job – is to help students see the value in the process, as well as the work itself. This means assigning less work, but more valuable pieces. It also means providing positive yet authentic goals and feedback, which allow student room improve and grow. In addition, creating a classroom culture is critical. Berger refers to working with professionals, daily discussions, multiple drafts, a classroom gallery, as well as formal and informal critique sessions. All of these ideas would be excellent implementations to help students understand and value high expectations.
Berger touched on another important piece in regards to creating valuable work. He presents his students with models of the type of work he wants them to create. “We use models of excellence to set the standards for our work – models from former students in our school or other schools, and models from the professional world. What in many schools might be called cheating is considered wise practice in our classroom: studying great work to learn what we can borrow and what strategies we can learn.” This really struck a chord with me. Several years ago, I started following Study Driven (2006) by Katie Wood Ray. In this writing program, one of the first steps of writing meaningful pieces involved immersing children with models of the kind of work we wanted them to emulate. Students were then able to analyze the elements of those pieces and then put them to practice. I saw growth in my student writers using this program, and I strongly believe in the value of modeling. This is a practice that I plan to continue. Presenting students with several high-quality models is key.
In conclusion, Beautiful Work is a reminder of the expectations we should hold students and ourselves accountable. It is a reminder to keep the work we assign meaningful, so that students can set meaningful goals. It is a reminder to strive for quality, instead of quantity. It is a reminder to create the classroom culture you envision. And finally, it is a reminder to both teachers and students to value the thinking and the process, as well as the work itself.
Berger, R. (Date Unknown). Beautiful Work. Buck Institute for Education. Retrieved from https://www.bie.org/object/document/beautiful_work
Ray, K.W. (2006). Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann