Looking at Student Work
Looking at Student Work

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is student work?
Student work takes many forms, including essays, drawings, projects, reports, presentations, portfolios, etc. It is usually in response to a teacher's assignment for classwork or homework. It may be completed by an individual, for example, a child's drawing, or collaboratively, for example, a group presentation. Worksheets and tests are also examples of student work, though they may not provide as rich a basis for collaborative discussion and reflection as pieces that call for more student creativity and choice.

How do teachers look at student work now?
Looking at student work is a big part of every teacher's job. Teachers score, grade, and comment on their students' classwork and homework. They may also use samples of student work as models or for diagnostic purposes. Typically, though, teachers look at their students' work on their own rather than with colleagues. They usually try to review all the work, to mark or grade, rather than focus on small samples.

Who is involved in alternative ways of looking at student work?
Teachers are the most common participants in processes for looking at student work. They may come from the same grade level or from several, from one subject area or from across the curriculum. Administrators and curriculum coordinators often join teachers in looking at student work. Some groups include teachers from several schools. Some schools have begun to involve parents and community members in looking at student work.

What does looking at student work look like?
A typical "protocol" for looking at student work might look like this: A group of eight teachers sit around a table in the school library. One of the teachers (the presenter) has brought samples of his or her students' work to present. The student work, in this case three students' portfolios, is spread out on the table. Another teacher, the facilitator, gets the discussion going and makes sure that the guidelines and agenda for the protocol are followed. The other teachers (the participants) offer questions, descriptive comments, and feedback during appropriate points in the protocol. The protocol lasts about an hour and ten minutes. When it's over, the group thanks the presenter and makes plans for the next meeting: who will bring work?, who will facilitate?

Why use a protocol for looking at student work?
Teachers rarely have time -- or practice -- in their professional lives for meeting with colleagues about important questions about teaching and learning. Protocols for looking at student work provide a safe environment for teachers to share their students' work with colleagues, reflect on their own practice, ask questions, and give and receive feedback. The protocol structure helps keep teachers focused for a significant period on what's actually in the student work -- the most important evidence of teaching and learning.

A protocol creates a structure that makes it safe to ask challenging questions of each other; it also ensures that there is some equity and parity in terms of how each person's issues are attended to. The presenter has the opportunity not only to reflect on and describe an issue or a dilemma, but also to have interesting questions asked of him or her, AND to gain differing perspectives and new insights. Protocols build in a space for listening, and often give people a license to listen, without having to continuously respond.

In schools, many people say that time is of the essence, and time is the one resource that no one seems to have enough of. We have been experimenting with protocols as a way to make the most of the time people do have. (Have you ever been to a meeting where you have a burning issue you want to discuss, and what happens is that everyone "dumps" his or her issue, and feeds off each other, but then you walk away from the meeting feeling unsatisfied, not really having learned anything new of significance that will help you with your issue? A protocol guards against this.) It is important to remember that the point is not to do the protocol well, but to have an in-depth, insightful, conversation about teaching and learning.

Why are there different protocols for looking at student work?
Different protocols have different structures, which reflect their unique purposes and orientations. For example, some emphasize description (Descriptive Review processes, Collaborative Assessment Conference), others emphasize evaluative feedback (Tuning Protocol). In addition, teachers and administrators adapt protocols and develop protocols for their own purposes and school contexts.

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