One year, I finally realized that showing was better than telling my 5th grade students. Instead of once again lecturing them about the quality of their work - a lecture they obviously weren't listening to - I decided to create a portfolio of sorts, an exemplar that students could reference when they needed to.
I first decided what guidelines I was looking for in my students' work. What exactly DOES top-quality 5th grade work look like? I chose these parameters to start with:
- It is reasonably neat.
- Math work shows your thinking.
- It is complete.
- It is checked for accuracy.
- It is turned in on time.
I had a few older samples stuck back from earlier years, but I had to choose many pieces from the classes I had that year. I chose teacher-created and student-created work, long-term projects and quickies, tests, quizzes, and writing samples. If I had it to do again with our current technology, I would take photos of larger things such as 3-D projects and posters and put them into the notebook. To preserve privacy, I put a label over student names and, sometimes, the grade. Again, I didn't want students to wrongly assume that the only good work was beautiful and mistake-free.
When my portfolio was complete, I discussed its purpose with my students. I housed it on the tray of our whiteboard where all could see it and use it during the day. I have to tell you here that students often browsed through it during their breaks and down time. I loved seeing them use it in such a leisurely way! I knew that they would steadily process what they were seeing and that those elements would eventually show up in their own work.
A wonderful, but unintended, consequence of our notebook was that I was able to share it with parents, too. During conferences or casual drop-by visits, I could point to some great work samples for specific activities. It really seemed to help my parents when they saw that 5th grade work could actually look like it was done by children and didn't need that adult "touch" added to it.
We're all in this together!