Reopening: Moving Toward More Equitable Schools
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Learning can't be done in one draft

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    Jessica Lander

Seven-year-old Austin’s drawing of a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly was exquisite, but he was no child prodigy. Rather, Austin’s butterfly came to life over six successive drafts, nurtured by suggestions and critiques from his classmates and teacher.

Computer-coders, chefs, writers, are seldom satisfied with a first draft. They write reams of code or bake dozens of éclairs, continually tinkering before they are satisfied. Ernest Hemingway famously penned 47 different endings to his novel “A Farewell to Arms.”

Yet students are rarely given the time and tools to turn good work into great work. Ambitious curriculums race from the Romans to the Romanovs, from genetics to global warming, in a flurry of assignments. Tests often emphasize breadth over depth. Students aim to complete assignments rather than master craftsmanship.

Revising is often considered synonymous with failure rather than as an integral component of true success.

But not at the Renaissance School in Springfield, where revision is one of four core values. As eighth-graders preparing for high schools, students are asked to reflect on their work — compiling, editing, and revising a portfolio they believe captures their academic growth. Before graduation, in front of faculty, family, and friends, each student presents the portfolio, speaking and answering questions about the skills gained and the craftsmanship learned.

Craftsmanship is fundamental to the EL Education network of schools, which includes Renaissance. The network supports 160 district and charter schools nation-wide, including 13 in Massachusetts, with professional development and coaching. Why does EL consider revision important? Ron Berger, a veteran teacher, and chief program officer, believes that developing excellent papers simultaneously develops student confidence. “A student knows they are capable of great things when they see themselves create great work,” Berger says.

Read the full Boston Globe piece here.