Each year I’ve been a teacher I have had a motto or a theme that I would say throughout the year and repeat again and again to get it stuck permanently in the minds of my students. At times I went into the year with it planned out, like my theme from a few years back practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. Other years it has come about more organically, like last year’s you get out what you put in. By the 1,000,000th time of me repeating it, the class usually reacts with the typical student groans of “we know already.” But for how much groaning they give out I know it is something that they will take with them. This brings me to my 2015-2016 theme and my new favorite motto: It’s about the process not the product.
This year’s theme just happened. The class was making drawings to represent some new vocabulary words I was introducing. I was drawing on my iPad, which was being mirrored onto the whiteboard, and the students were between their works of art and my work of…well work of something. Like usual, my drawings came with a few self-deprecating, and a few student led, jokes about how I am no art teacher. And that is when it happened:
“Listen, this is about the process, not the product. We don’t care how our pictures turn out, it’s about the process of thinking and making sense of these new words.”
As soon as it came out of my mouth I knew I found this year’s theme. Since that fateful morning I have repeated it again and again. Remember, this graphic organizer is about the process not the product…It doesn’t matter how your sketch looks, its about the process not the product….Don’t worry if your answer is correct right now, its about the thinking process not the final product…I have repeated it so many times that the class can finish the sentence for me and on occasion I have students saying it aloud themselves.
Now, there are times it has been about the product. There have been assignments and projects this year where the final product was important and I wanted my students taking their time to polish and refine their work into something shiny and finished, and there will continue to be more of these as the year moves forward. But I have found that stressing to my students that so much of our work at school is about the process, what we do and how we go about doing it, that it has taken a little bit of the focus off of the assignment and placed more of it onto the learning. When I tell my students this work is about the process not the product I can see a little relief in their faces and some looser and more open learning taking place.
My Hi5 partner, Jason, just finished a course on brain-based instruction with Dr. Joan Della Valle, co-author of Synergy and Synthesis for Teaching in the 21st Century and a member of Core 21 Educational Services. One of the ideas that came up in the class is supported the idea of students feeling looser and more open to learning. Positive emotions, according to Dr. Joan, help the brain facilitate learning. Fear, on the other hand, sends the brain into survival mode, inhibiting learning from taking place. So, removing the stress of high-stakes grades from student work makes students feel more relaxed, which leads to deeper understanding.
In the end, process over product is simply good middle school practice. While high school students, in order to gain college acceptance, are strongly focused on grades and outcomes, middle school students should prepare for the challenges to come by strengthening their process skills. Middle school should be more about the how and less about the what. My theme, which came about seemingly by serendipity, is more likely just good middle school practice in a nifty alliterative product.
Please feel free to bring this theme into your class and comment below about some of the mottos you use with your students.