The Value of Focusing on the Process Rather than the Product

“Is this for a grade?” Does that question make anyone else’s skin crawl like it does mine? I tend to respond with, “Well, does it matter? Shouldn’t we put the same amount of effort and time into everything we do no matter if it is for a grade or not?” I realized why our student’s ask that question CONSTANTLY. To put it simply, we, as a society, focus on product over process. We focus on the grade and how to earn that grade as opposed to focusing on the learning that occurs throughout the process. We should be focusing on things like, “Did we allow room for failure and resolution to occur? Did we allow time to test out their presentation in order to allow room for editing and growth? Did we provide time for teaching the soft skills?” We should be asking ourselves, “Did my students realize the importance of being a part of a team and sharing roles equally?” Now, don’t get me wrong, the product is an important piece of the puzzle and usually what the rest of the world sees. But, sometimes I focus so much on the product, that I miss the small learning moments that are occurring right in front of my eyes.

I was asked by one of our amazing 5th grade English teachers at our school to partner with her and create a cross-divisional project between our lower school and 5th grade students. Last week, our 6th-8th grade students were gone most of the week on overnight class trips which left our 5th graders at school, all alone. Womp womp! The 5th grade teacher wanted to expose her students to a project that would not only help tie two of our divisions together, but also put the 5th graders in the driver seat of their learning and truly hit on a lot of those soft skills that are sometimes, unfortunately, missed. Her idea was to ask the lower school teacher’s for a topic that our 5th graders could teach to their 1st-4th grade students. The 5th graders would spend 2 days creating the lesson and the 3rd day presenting the lesson to the lower school students. Man were we exhausted after those 3 days! What most people saw was the end product – the 5th graders’ messy presentations that were delivered to the lower school students. What they missed was seeing the learning and failure that took place in the classrooms over those 2 days as they prepared to be the teachers. The presentations were truly just that – messy. There were many hiccups during the actual presentations themselves- technology wasn’t working in some cases, teammates weren’t getting along during the presentation, the facts were missing, grammatical errors… After having the students reflect on the process daily, the other teacher and I quickly started to see the huge benefits of the project. Students were having to deal with conflict resolution, choosing roles, finding a way to successfully collaborate, create and execute.

One of my favorite outcomes of this process was the growth that I saw from a former student, let’s call him Joe, whom I taught the previous year in 4th grade. Joe was diagnosed with ADHD, has a very difficult time collaborating with others, and even has some anger challenges. As Joe and I entered the 2nd grade art classroom in preparation for him and his group to present, I was not expecting to see and experience what occurred. Joe, a normally hyperactive, challenging student, was exceptional. Joe was helping a 2nd grader draw a sketch of a horse.
Joe: “Now, what color are the horse’s legs towards the top?”
Student: “Umm looks like a dark brown.”
Joe: “Great! Now pick up the color brown and lightly shade the horse’s leg. Now, what color do the horse’s legs become as they get closer to the hooves?”
Student: “Kinda a light brown color?”
Joe: “Yes, and how are we going to make his legs lighter brown if we only have one color brown?”
Student: “Hmm maybe we could lightly shade with the brown and then lightly color over the brown with the white?”
Joe: “Yes! You’re doing a great job. I can tell that your horse is going to be great because you are putting a lot of effort into it!”

A normally unfocused, challenging student acted as the perfect, encouraging mentor to a younger student all because of this project.

Other outcomes of this project:

  • failure (Student’s realized by testing out their original plans that certain plans were not going to work and failure was okay. They had to figure out a plan b since plan a didn’t work. For example, one group created a quizlet that they planned to use with the lower school students and when they were teaching, the quizlet live feature, which is what they wanted to use, would not work. They realized quizlet live is only a feature that teachers can use and spur of the moment had to create a plan.) Too often we don’t see the value in allowing our students to fail and want to save them every chance we get.
  • the power of reflection (I learned by observing the 5th grade teacher guide the student’s through a series of reflection that I must pencil in time throughout a project, not just at the end, for my students to reflect. Reflection allows for growth.)
  • collaboration (The 5th grade teacher did an amazing job of not simply telling them the outcome of the project. She started out explaining the project as a whole, but then placed mini lessons every hour or so to teach specific skills. For example, they had to take part in brain teasers and riddles in order to learn how to work together as a group. Too often teachers say, “I want you to create a presentation to teach your audience about Veteran’s Day. Go!” But they don’t take the time to explicitly teach creativity, teamwork, leadership, listening, reflection, affective communication skills…) 
The reason this project was so successful, even though the products were messy, was because of the organization, time, and reflection that the 5th grade teacher implemented. She took the time to explicitly teach the soft skills, allow room for failure, problem solving and reflection time.  The students have already begged for another project similar to this one. 

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