Process or Product

We used to have a saying here in our school, “Learning is a process, not a product.” It was based on a quote about art, actually.

“Art is a process, not a product.”

We used to display student art as it was being created, not only when it was complete.  We displayed all of it; not only the best ones.  We didn’t let children throw away art and start over; we encouraged them to talk about the parts that didn’t go as planned, and to problem solve ways to make them better.

Back in the days of yore, we used to consider writing to be a process, too. We didn’t believe that the purpose of writing a story in the second grade was to generate a polished piece of work; we thought that the goal of writing was to learn how to write and to fall in love with the power of self expression.

I recently had two conversations that have left me yearning for those innocent days.

Both were discussions with young, talented, dedicated teachers who have a burning desire to do this job to the best of their ability. They are the products of current practices in teacher education.

One conversation was about a math unit.  We are moving very quickly through some very complex math concepts.  The state tests are looming and so we fly by the ideas, pushing the kids to master everything on the first or second go round.  My colleague had completed a unit on multiplying fractions, and had been working with her students for several days.  When she felt that they were ready, she gave them the unit test.

They did terribly, and she was really distressed. She was almost angry at them.  “What do I do?”, she asked me.  “What does it mean? Do you think they just didn’t take it seriously?  Should I make them retake it?”

“Why?” was my response.

“Well, because I KNOW that they can do this!”

“So what’s the point of testing again? Isn’t the point of testing supposed to be to show who still needs work and who has mastered it?”

We’ve lost our focus on the process, and are all about the product.

The second conversation was about reader’s notebooks.  I have used these notebooks for years, as a way for kids to jot down their reactions to books, to share thoughts, to start little stories themselves.  Kids used to draw in them to help them visualize and remember the characters.

My young colleague was upset that her students were producing journal entries that were not organized, long enough, grammatical enough or as polished as she expected.  She was planning to attach a writing rubric to the journals, with specific expectations about the number of lines required in each entry.

Her intentions were great!  We want to be teaching children to write well.

But here’s the question that I asked her: “What is the purpose of the reader’s notebooks?”

She wasn’t sure how to answer that, which was pretty telling.

“See, to me,” I began, “The purpose of the notebook is not to produce a notebook.  The purpose is to learn how to think deeply about books.  The purpose is to learn how to share your interesting questions and ideas and predictions about those books.”

She nodded her head.  “I get that.”

I smiled at her.  “You know what they say, right?  Education is a process, not a product.”



9 responses to this post.

  1. I used to have a sign in my room that said, “Grade 4 is a journey, not a destination.” (Yes, I stole that Aerosmith and tweaked it a bit.) It’s what the children do and learn and discover everyday that matters, not what they get on the test. That matters too…just not as much.


    • I wonder why the damn tests matter at all. If they only serve to show us what we already know, then I have to ask, “why?”
      Love you sign!


  2. That should have said, “I stole that FROM Aerosmith.” I blame my bad grammar on my pneumonia.


  3. Daddy Bear keeps correcting my grammer by saying “You can’t ‘learn’ nobody nuttin’.” And darn it if the politicians ain’t gone and proved him right…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: