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What’s in your trash?

Alan November @globalearner tweeted today:
Stephen Heppell to principals in Sydney, “Where is your students’ best work?” Where is your best work as a student? Trasheap?

This made me think – and I guess that’s why Alan November took the time to tweet it – about work that students do in school.

Where IS the best work my students have done?  I can think back and recall some wonderful work by many of my students.  I wonder if they remember any of those pieces?  Have any of them kept any?

When I think about my own work I first have to wonder what would be considered my “best work” as a student.  Was it the work I got the highest marks for?  Was it the work I put the most effort into? Are these two categories necessarily a similar set of work?

When I taught grade 7 my school was at the end of a driveway which placed the school behind homes and apartment buildings on a residential street.  On the last day of June, we knew we’d have calls from homeowners about the mess of their yards as students left school and scattered the contents of their binders on the street.  Aside from the lack of respect for the environment and their community what did this say about their attitude toward, and opinion of, the work they had created?

I recall in lower grades bringing work home from school and demanding my parents’ attention as I explained to them how I created a certain piece of macaroni art, wrote a new story or accomplished a satisfactory mark on a test.  That enthusiasm faded as I moved into higher grades and was pretty much completely gone by the time I reached junior high.

For the most part, I would say the same for the students I’ve taught.  My nephews who are in the early years of elementary school are eager to have their work posted on the refrigerator but it was a battle to get my grade 7 students to engage in conversation with parents about their school work.

Why don’t more students have pride in what they produce in school?  Why does “best work” often end up in the trash?

If students do meaningful work in school, wouldn’t they be proud of it, keep it, show it to parents, family and friends?  How can we change the trend?

For the last two years I’ve been a co-chair of our regional science fair.  In that position I’ve seen about 100 students from grades 7 to 12 gather with their projects. These are not all model students, but they are all students who are excited about their work, happy and proud to show it and talk about it, and almost without exception, these students have chosen projects and research that speaks to them in some way.  It is work to which they have a personal connection and passion.

Perhaps that is the difference.

Some will read this and reflect on theory and best practice and think, “He’s not saying anything new!”  Perhaps that’s correct – it IS my first blog post after all! – but my question to you is this: “Is BEST practice in this case also COMMON practice?”

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