Saturday, April 11, 2015

Authentic Learning ~ Beautiful Work


This year at SxSw EDU I had the privilege of listening to Ron Berger speak about the importance of beautiful work.   Today I saw a post on Scott Mcleod's blog Dangerously Irrelevant   asking how often our students do beautiful work and referencing the Edutopia article  Deeper Learning - Hightlight Student Work by Ron Berger, which started me thinking.


As I listened to Ron speak, I thought of the projects I did in my classroom scaffolding students to create authentic projects at a quality that was beyond their expectations and the expectations of others, like our annual entry into Global School House's Cyberfair which eventually yielded  a Platinum  award.






At one point someone in the audience asked a similar question to the one Scott Mcleod asked  "How often do you aspire for the standard of beautiful work with students."    Ron did admit that it would not be sustainable for every piece of work that students produce to meet the standard of beautiful work,  but suggested a ratio  ( at least every ?th piece.. not sure I remember the exact ratio).    That makes sense,  not every 'draft' of writing will be worthy of turning into a masterpiece,  but each draft will contribute to the learning that results in the next masterpiece in some way.

As I thought about this, I realized that part of the scaffolding is to help students build the skills they need to be able to produce a beautiful piece of work that they are proud of.   We wouldn't expect a child to be able to start off "coloring inside the lines"  or being able to draw a butterfly.   But if our end goal (think backward design)  is to have students produce beautiful work, then each of our learning tasks will be meaningful in that it raises the understanding of students about what "beautiful work" looks like and also their skill level preparing them to be a  meaningful contributor to a collaborative piece of beautiful work,  or even create their own individual piece of beautiful work.

This one minute video that I created for the Google Teachers Academy summarizes my philosophy that Audience Matters in instructional design.





Naturally, some of our student work will not be ready to be showcased or highlighted;  it will be one of the steps along the learning journey towards beautiful work.  Some of it might even be 'drill work'  that builds fluency skills,  but the end goal is to be well equipped to produce a beautiful work piece in the not so distance future.

As educators, the first step for us towards this goal is to produce our own beautiful work that we are proud of.  What if we published the meaningful learning tasks we design for our students publicly in a way that helped others and communicated with our community "This is what I do in my classroom
with your students".   When I ask educators  in my class to do a final project, I strongly encourage that it be published for an authentic audience (other educators who could benefit from your beautiful work).  This absolutely increases the quality of the final project.  It helps educators see how publishing for an authentic audience helps raise their standard of quality and also contributes to a greater good.  That is exactly what our student's projects should be.  The rubric we use with quality indicators, should be to guide the process towards beautiful work that you are proud to share,  not the end in itself.


One of the barriers towards this vision that I have come across from educators is a 'fear that showcasing student work' is not safe.
Recently I showed a group of teachers an easy post by email feature of blogger that they could use to easily collect student work effortlessly.  One teacher expressed that she had no interest in using a blogging tool because of her concern for student safety.   Even after I assured her that the use of this  feature does  not have to be to  create a blog of student work, but  that she could use this   feature of the blogger tool that yielded a collection of a photos of student work in a photo album that was easy for her to access.  From there, she could pull out the images to put in student portfolios, or showcase in a more public way.  After hearing the response "I just don't see the learning value",  I realized that we still have work to do to in helping some educators understand the pedagogical value of showcasing student work.

So the challenge to me is to do more reflecting on the barriers that teachers face to keep them from aspiring to showcase their student's beautiful work  and find new ways to scaffold reluctant educators who still don't see the value of showcasing student beautiful work.







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