Thinking about Process versus Product: Looking Back and Moving Forward

As we approach the end of the year, it’s a great time to think about and ask children to think about the growth they’ve made since the first day of school. In the rush, it’s easy to forget about the importance of slowing down and taking the time to reflect, and yet, reflection is a cornerstone of learning.  John Dewey, an American psychologist and proponent of education, is widely cited for the quote: “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Our curriculum does not always offer explicit and intentional opportunities for reflection, and it’s so important to build reflective experiences into the learning lives of our students.

In their Understanding by Design model (2011) Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe describe stages of learning where learning cycles through the phases of acquiring knowledge, making meaning, and transferring. Ultimately, we want students to be able to transfer what they’ve learned, apply their learning to new skills and tasks, and self-assess. Therefore, by the end of a unit or year of teaching, the more we can encourage reflection and metacognition, the higher the likelihood that our teaching will have long-lasting effects. As we reflect and celebrate the end of units and the ends of years, it’s important to honor process and product.

When I think about the difference between process and product, the ideas around reflection and metacognition help me differentiate between the two. I could give several in-depth definitions, but maybe this is the simplest way to think about it: process requires thinking about the learning, while product presents a final version.

Some ideas for process-based writing celebrations:

  1. Having a celebration that celebrates growth and goals

In A Critical reflection in nursing and the helping professions: a user’s guide, Gary Rolfe and his colleagues offer a three question model for reflective practice that works across many vocations.

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I have created a chart that can be modified and tweaked to highlight any of the tasks within written expression. I would not ask students to think about all of the concepts within the left column, but I would ask them to think about one or two of them. It’s important for them to identify what the skill looks like, how they’re doing on it and what’s the evidence, and then what are the goals moving forward.

What? So What? What next?
Ability to generate ideas
Writing stamina
Production of volume
Quality of writing
Revision
Editing
Ability to function as a writing partner

I could see partnering this chart with this taxonomy of reflection that Peter Pappas, a professor at the University of Portland created.

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Asking students to think about and develop responses to these questions pushes them into the realm of reflective thinking, and develops a stronger learning culture.

2. Using thinking stems that promote reflective and meta-cognitive thinking

Many of us use thinking stems in our classrooms. Just as we design these stems to support writing about reading or including more evidence in writing, we can also design these stems to support reflective thinking. When students use these, they are much more apt to think about their process as opposed to their product.

Reflective thinking stems:

I really didn’t understand that ______

I used to ________

At the beginning of the year (or unit or lesson), _______

Something I have found out about myself is _______

I learn best when___________

Tools or routines or practices that help me learn are _____ because ________

In the future, I would like to___

I’m still working on ________

I’m hoping to improve ______

Celebrations don’t have to consist of noise-makers, party hats, and food. Learning celebrations can be ones where changes and growth are showcased, and these thinking stems are a perfect way to support students in this sort of celebrative work.

3. Developing reflection into a habit

As you think about next year and the power of reflection and goal-setting, consider weaving these important skills so that students practice them more regularly. You might make a point of teaching about intention and providing time for reflection. A powerful phrase to work into a teaching repertoire is “I want you to look over your work and think about what you did well and what you’re still working on. I’m giving you ___ minutes to do that.”

If you teach upper elementary students, grade 3 and up, you might take this even a step further by creating a place for reflection in a notebook. If students have writer’s notebooks, they could have a section with a table that looks something like this:

Date What I am proud of that I did What I will work on the next time I write

This sort of table could work in any content area. I just know that I use something like it in my life as a writer.

Moving into more product-based celebrations

  1. Compliment sheets

Compliment sheets remain one of my favorite ways to manage a writing celebration.

These sheets can be created on cardstock with fancy printing which adds to the formality. They stay at the students’ desks and the rest of the class moves around: Here are the directions I typically give:

  1. Write the name of your piece that you are sharing on your compliment form.
  2. Leave your compliment form on top of your writing piece with everything else off of your desk.
  3. Your job is to go to other people’s desks, read their work, and leave a compliment.
  4. Your compliment:
    1. Should not be the same as anyone else’s. Therefore, make sure you read the compliments that have come before you!
    2. Should be specific! Use the tools in our classroom to help you if you’re stuck—checklists and charts could especially help!
    3. Should be readable to the writer. Do you best with your spelling and conventions since the writer will want to know what you’ve written.
  5. Once you finish a piece, move on to another desk. I will not tell you when to move. Some pieces will take longer than others.

Sometimes in the middle of a “Compliment Celebration,” I have given quick conferences to students who struggle with saying more than good job or its equivalent. For the most part, these celebrations are great, and students love their completed cards.

2. Videos of student readings

We all have so much technology available in our classrooms, and we certainly can leverage it for writing celebrations. So many times, I’ve been to student readings, organized in the name of celebrations, where it’s been hard to hear the student. Or, even when the reading is clear, I’ve found myself drifting as an adult. It’s just hard to listen to piece after piece in the name of celebration. Videoing gives us some important options because it allows students to start over if they make a mistake without the pressure of a live audience. It also allows us to set a time limit on students if need be, and it minimizes the transition time.

Here’s how I’ve done this.

  • I’ve used an iPad for videoing. This is where, depending on the age and functioning levels of your writing partnerships, students could certainly do this part themselves. I’ve administered a 2 minute maximum, but that is flexible and somewhat arbitrary.
    • Note about time constraints: They put some pressure on students to practice reading their work fluently which is a good thing! They also encourage the revision process since more thought must be given to extraneous information or details.
  • Upload the video clips to Google Drive. From there, you can use iMovie to put them together.
  • I published my version on Youtube, using the privacy settings. That way, I could pull up the video from any computer. However, I ran into trouble with the length of the movie, and I had to make two 15 minute movies. Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention; we all enjoyed a quick intermission between the two segments.

The way I’ve described lends itself more to a movie-watching feel for a celebration, but you could also use Flipgrid or Padlet in order to create a series of videos of students reading their pieces.

3. Anthologies

Many teachers create anthologies at the end of units or at the end of the year, and students are excited to submit to them. Anthologies also serve teachers well in subsequent years because they are a convenient way to collect and keep student work that can be used as mentor texts and exemplars for future classes. One way that you can make anthologies have a little bit more of a reflective feel to them is by asking students to write a paragraph of explanation as to why they chose the piece they did, especially if they’ve selected from a number of choices. Some other ideas for reflection about their pieces could be:

  • I chose this piece because______
  • I worked especially hard on the part where_____
  • I’m particularly proud of how I ________
  • Some strategies I used in this piece included ________

Without question, one of the goals of writing is to produce something. As I approach the end of this post, I’m especially aware of that goal! However, powerful learning happens when we are aware of the metacognition and reflective of the process. My challenge is to weave more celebrations of process into the writing lives of learners.

Text for the Giveaway– Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice. Thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book. If you have an international address, then Stenhouse will send you an eBook of Day by Day.)
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