Posting student work

I got a question from a friend (and parent) about student work on the hallway walls of a school building and told her that original student work should be all over the place – as long as what is posted abides by the school district’s fire code. See this August 2010 article about Leander Independent School District in Leander, TX; local fire code states that no more than 20 percent of any classroom or hallway wall may be covered with teaching materials or student work.

What’s posted should not be just random work or Xeroxed sheets. In June I visited an elementary school in another state where the students had all filled out the same Xeroxed worksheet, the teacher had marked them, and then these sheets got plastered on the wall outside the classroom – just slightly different iterations of the same work, over and over and over again. See our student work, this display seemed to say. To me it said, See my lazy attempt at displaying student work. (I’d even suggest that it said, See my lazy teaching. But I will give this teacher the benefit of the doubt, since I spent no time in that classroom.)

For the posting of student work to have any value, that student work needs to be original – those poems on which the kids were working, their photographic essays, the flags that they created for their imaginary countries, with an explanation of each part of that flag – and the kids need to know that the work will be posted before they start on the project. Ideally it would be great to have drafts of that work with the final, so that its progression can be viewed. Post the rubric used to measure the work (more on rubrics later), the state standards to which the work corresponds, and all work, not just the best. Yes, a classroom culture needs to be created so that students are OK with posting their less-than-stellar work, but it has huge value.

For me the posting of original student work makes public the learning that is happening in the classroom. Students know that there will be more eyes on that work than just those of the teacher, and as a classroom gets into the habit of posting and discussing that work, I have seen the quality of it improve and, more importantly to me, the conversation around just what makes for quality student work increase and become increasingly sophisticated – yes, even for elementary school kids.

And, anyway, I love being in a school where students from other grade levels, as they walk down the hall, stop to look at a project from another grade level. Oh, they say, that’s what we get to do next year. Or: Hey, we did that project last year – cool!

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