"I want my third-grade students to know that the intention and the work ethic you have and the way you think about things and keep working is what builds us to be better, to be great." (Blair Amberly, third-grade teacher)
Both Blair with his third-grade writers and Megan Spofford in her schoolwide art program emphasize the process of working and thinking and modifying as indispensable to achieving a product of excellence. Focusing on stepwise improvements in their work gives students a glimpse into how they learn and improve. It also demonstrates for the group that our individual ideas, whether fashioned as essays or as artistic stamps, rarely spring fully formed but come out of the work of each of us, applying our strengths and talents at our own speed.
Students in both classes practice documenting their growth by using drafts and revisions, as many as needed.
Blair explains: We started the year writing personal narratives - small moment pieces that stand out to us and that we can recall vividly. Students wrote a few different small pieces and then picked one to work on toward "publishing." After a few days of freewriting, they typed them up and labeled them as our first working draft.
Each writing session from then on contained a mini-lesson with some element to expand or push their writing. We used a lot of picture books that we have read as a class to guide the things a good author does. These were our mentor texts to help us see that adding dialogue, using ideas in a list, repeating important words, and zooming in on a key moment are all effective ways to help tell a story. (See The Ohio Visible Learning Project)
For several days we revised our pieces - each day using a different color pen to show that revision takes place over many different efforts. After a few more typed drafts we landed on a final version. It was cool to see the growth from first draft to final copy and to see so many elements from our mini-lessons work their way into student writing.
While the writing process unfolded in third grade, Megan the fourth/fifth graders initiated an art exploration that would link to their study of desert biomes. Each student chose a desert idea or picture and began drawing it, paying attention to texture, line, and composition. Megan as teacher does no preaching but instead is there as a guide, raising a question here and sparking an idea there.
Students then transferred their drawing to a linoleum block for eventual printing. We’ll look here at one student’s rendering of a cactus plant. After several test prints and consideration of a variety of background colors, the student is satisfied.
Students in Megan’s class as well as Blair’s had taken a deep dive into producing their best work through a process of creating, testing, gathering ideas, evaluating, and redoing -- for as many times as necessary.