Disclaimer: I am looking to clarify my thinking. Feedback is appreciated.

Earlier this week we had our final Assessment and Evaluation team meeting at Cameron and I left the meeting feeling a bit perplexed. In my opinion, historically, teachers focus on having a “product” (ie test or project) to measure learning and in Growing Success as well as our WRDSB AER document, our assessment is supposed to be triangulated with conversations and observations. I think the conversations and observations are challenging for us on a whole as they are based more on anecdotal evidence rather than a mathematical calculation. In many of the professional development sessions I’ve been at over the last year, we have been discussing how it’s important to focus on the process and less on the finished product. This idea resounds with me as I feel this is where the majority of learning occurs and at the end of the day, I am more focused on the learning as opposed to grades. I want to see growth in my students. I want to see deeper critical thinking skills. I want to see confidence in abilities. I want to see love of learning. I think these ideals are achieved through the process.

Where I’m perplexed is that the feeling I walked away from the meeting with is that we need to focus on the products. I understand that it’s important to have students completing products (and the majority of students do) but to me, completion is a learning skill and not what we should be grading. My students do most of their work in class and I spend my class time working with them while they are at various different stages of their process. I give feedback along the way and most of them incorporate it fairly readily. With this model, what I find is that even though a student might not work until completion, I have observed skills along the way and will have evidence of their abilities. English is a skills based curriculum and I struggle with the idea that if a student doesn’t complete a task then their overall grade suffers. I am also cognizant that many other disciplines are very content heavy and I would love to learn if and how those areas can consider the process over the finished product.

I have also taken advantage of our GAFE accounts and each student has shared an English folder with me that they put all their work into which I check at various times of the week. With all the face to face conversations and asynchronous observations of writing, I have a really strong understanding of the abilities my students possess and I think it’s my duty to give them what their abilities dictate rather than what Markbook spits out after levels are inputted. This may sound like I don’t think it’s important to complete projects, and that is absolutely not true. I want students to complete their projects as I feel there are so many other benefits to finishing work (ie the feeling of completion, confidence, intrinsic motivation, etc.) and that hopefully, the rich task I assigned was more meaningful than just a means to a grade. My point is that I think we really need to be trusting our professional judgement and thinking about the real skills the students possess rather than if they can finish a project or ace a test.

In all honesty, I would love to see more of a focus on the process of learning (or metacognition in all four strands of the English curriculum) as well as on the triangulation of assessment data. Conversations and observations have so much to tell us about our students and I think we need to trust that anecdotal data can be as valid as a numeric calculation. I think it’s also important that we are as educators are working with the students and providing feedback along the way rather than just at the end of a project. I have seen the term “feed forward” on Twitter and I really feel that is how we should be thinking in terms of helping our students improve their skills.

As always, please feel free to push my thinking. In the words of Dean Shareski, “feedback is good.”

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One thought on “Process versus Product

  1. Terrific post Jamie. This is one of my ongoing conversations-with others and myself. I agree with everything you have said from the lens of the English teacher. I conference with students daily, they share their work via a Google Form, which allows me to readily find, read, and potentially print their work. Students produce multiple drafts for portfolios based on the conversations we have. Some students don’t get all the writing done for their portfolios. That’s ok. As you have explained, the observations and conversations help to ‘fill in the gaps’ and enable me to provide a fair assessment of the student’s learning.

    But, many students are cherry-picking what work they do, and when this happens there can be little conversation beyond motivation. This leaves gaps in student learning…in their skills…that impede their progress. I see this in writing, in particular. Students need to write all day, in every subject, in order to have enough practice to get better at it. When they side-step writing tasks in content area courses, for example, they can still be successful in those courses, but they have not had the practice to grow their writing skills. Certainly, in my situation, this translates to less writing in English class.

    I guess I would say that it’s not that the focus be on “product completion” generally, but that if teachers, in all subjects, are carefully designing their courses to meet the needs of the students and the expectations of the curriculum, then students should not be able to side-step any of the work entirely. If a Chemistry teacher has three writing tasks built into the course, and the student does none of them, then the mark should reflect that fact, not just the learning skill.

    I keep returning to Will Richardson’s notion of students leaving high school “learning ready”. I think this means that they need to be ready to adapt to whatever comes their way. Reading, writing, critically thinking, creating, speaking…well are the skills that learning ready people have. And I think that we need to ensure that students are developing these skills in every subject area.

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