Saturday, 14 May 2011 17:45

Tip #35: The Quality Certification Project (Part 3 of 3)

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The Teaching Tips will focus on the topic of The Quality Certification Project for the next three weeks.

Week 1: Introducing the Quality Certification Project
Week 2: Specific Portfolio Requirements
Week 3: The Benefits of the Quality Certification Project

The Benefits of the Quality Certification Project
 

The most obvious benefit of the Quality Certification Project is that it keeps children focused on their learning at a time of year when student attention can easily drift from academic matters. Once state testing concludes and summer vacation approaches, it is understandable that many kids think that the last few weeks of the school year are less important than the ones that led up to the testing.  With this project, students know that every day counts if they are to complete all six parts of the project portfolio.  The Quality Certification Project keeps kids engaged, provides worthwhile goals, and encourages students to dig deep, embrace challenges, and go the extra mile to achieve high levels of academic work.

For many students the project also provides a second chance.  If students didn’t learn the knowledge, master the skills, and achieve proficiency with content standards the first time the material was presented, the project offers a fresh opportunity, largely because the six parts of the portfolio are no longer seen as six individual, unattached entities, but as connected parts of an important year-end project that the class comes to value.  

For example, if students have yet to master their multiplication facts (a 3rd California math standard), they have time to practice so they can satisfy that part of the certification project.  Even if students don’t always show how much they care about doing well in school, they definitely do care, and motivation often grows during this project when it appears that they have a fresh chance to meet academic expectations.

In addition, this project helps students build an achievement orientation and become more goal-directed.  I never want my students to be competitive with one another, but it’s great when they compete with themselves and try to achieve personal bests.  This project builds the competitive fire that we all have within us and channels it in a positive direction.

As I mentioned in Week 1 of this Teaching Tip, the certification project shines a spotlight on some important habits of mind and habits of character.  At the outset of the project, I strongly emphasize to my students that whether you satisfy all six requirements to earn full certification or satisfy four or five requirements to earn partial certification, the project is really all about effort, attitude, perseverance, dedication, and determination.  If you give your best effort and satisfy four of the six requirements, then be proud of that.  There is no such thing as failure when you care about something and give it your very best shot.

I also have a special fondness for this project because it enables me to bring to life important concepts I first learned at the beginning of my career from the writings of two authors whose work has influenced me greatly.  The first of these authors is noted educator Theodore Sizer.  In his work to reform America’s schools, Sizer describes how our schools have traditionally operated.  Lecture was the dominant teaching method (especially at the middle and high school levels), and students would spend a majority of their class time sitting and listening.  In this setting students were passive learners who could produce minimal work and still move ahead from grade-to-grade.  

Sizer recommended transforming America’s classrooms to places where students would be active learners and where they would graduate not by accruing “seat time” and enduring lecture after lecture but by taking charge of their learning, demonstrating mastery, and completing meaningful work.  Sizer is perhaps best known for his work with the Coalition of Essential Schools, and in his books Sizer describes many schools that have adopted this “active learning” approach.  In order to graduate from many of these schools, students must complete a portfolio of high-level work that demands subject-matter mastery and requires sustained effort and commitment.

With the Quality Certification Project, there is a similar emphasis on mastery, active learning, taking charge of one’s learning, and putting forth sustained effort to achieve meaningful goals.  

The second of these authors is William Glasser.  In his books Glasser helps teachers create and sustain a culture of quality and high expectations.  All too often students are happy simply to complete their work and be finished.  Glasser describes an approach, rooted in the idea of continuous improvement, in which teachers would, as a matter of routine, ask students to go back and improve pieces of work that did not yet meet class standards.  The emphasis, then, is not on being done: it’s on a job well done.

Under this approach, students wouldn’t feel singled out or punished for having to go back and spend time revising their work.  It would be a natural part of the way a quality classroom conducts its business.  Over time, the expectation is that students would not settle for less than their best, they would take greater pride in their work, and they would learn more.

I created several parts of the Quality Certification Project Portfolio with Glasser’s improvement-oriented approach in mind, most notably the Author Study Literary Essay and the “Edge-of-Seat” fiction story, two items that require students to improve any aspect of their writing that did not earn high enough scores on our class rubrics the first time around.

In short, the Quality Certification Project encourages my third graders to finish out the school year in a way in which they can be proud.  Successfully completing their portfolios builds confidence and gives them significant momentum as they head into next year.  To help their fourth grade teachers learn more about these incoming students, I pass along the kids’ portfolios.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.