What Does Top-Quality Grade-Level Work Look Like?


   
 
     Every classroom in every grade revolves around content work. The work can be discussions, games, projects, research, technology, art-work, and other formats, but a great deal of it results in written products. Students and parents can often be confused and even stressed about just what that final product should be or look like. Of course, we want the content to be mastered and correct, but there are conventions to "top-quality" work. There is always showing ownership (Lord, how many times in a career do we say, "Put your name on your paper"?), neatness, and legibility. As teachers, we don't expound on these conventions because it's fun to fuss or because we don't have enough to do. We are trying to instill proper work habits that will transfer into our students' adult lives. We want them to be able to navigate their own careers and work goals with the tools they need to be successful.
     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.
     Then, I settled on the old tried-and-tried 3-ring binder (I'm a fool for binders!). I gathered multiple examples of 5th grade work that showed these elements and put them in the binder. Keep in mind that I was not looking only for the A+, 100, "perfect" papers that some students can consistently create. I wasn't looking for perfect. I don't believe that "top-quality" means perfect. After all, we're working with young humans, here. I wanted to display age- and grade-level appropriate work samples that students could reasonably emulate and learn to produce on their own.
     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.


                      

     Could you try this in your classroom? I believe it would be appropriate for any grade level, any subject(s). Give this method a try and let me know how it works for you. Or, I'd love to hear another method that works for you!
     We're all in this together!
 
Pat McFadyen
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[name=Pat McFadyen] [img=http://i1064.photobucket.com/albums/u378/designbychristi/blogs/Pat.jpg] [description=My purpose is to support YOU and your students with practical solutions and curriculum materials that teach, play, practice, and assess.] (facebook=https://www.facebook.com/GrowingIn5thGrade/)

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