Saturday, March 10, 2012

Transformative Work: Work That Matters

Who owns the work? Giving students the opportunity to a make a difference in the world around them increases student ownership. When students do work that matters, that is valued by others, it affirms that they matter. With transformative work, students literally make a difference in the world.
Six York County teachers recently shared examples of student work that illustrate that students of all ages can do transformative work. Kindergarten students worked in design teams to create a gingerbread house for senior citizens. Third grade students marketed gently used toys to peers in other classes using Skype and an eToys Googledoc modeled after eBay. Middle school students created video presentations to teach peers history. High school students restored oyster life in the Chesapeake Bay. Other high school students created nutritious school menus within fiscal constraints. In each of these cases, the fact that others valued students’ work increased students’ sense of ownership. Because providing students the opportunity to make a difference in the world around them is so instrumental in building student ownership of work, Making a Difference is the title of the first column in a graphic organizer relating to these examples of transformative work. The links in this paragraph take the reader to checklists relating to the transformative work of students.

eToys Web Page

Students in the Field
Oyster Restoration

Transformative work is not just relevant, it is real. As @MarcPrensky explains in Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning,
Relevant means that kids can relate something you are teaching, or something you say, to something they know. . .Relevant is not wrong, of course. People do come to an understanding more easily when context is familiar. The problem with relevant is that it often does not go far enough. Real, on the other hand, means much more and goes much further. Real means that there is a perceived connection by the students . . . between what they are learning and their ability to use that learning to do something useful in the world.  (p.72)
Making it relevant increases student engagement. Making it real boosts student ownership even more. As Prensky observes, “Can you think of a better answer to ‘Why should I learn this?’ than ‘To make your world a better place?” (p.73) It certainly is a better answer, as Prensky notes, than saying that you should learn this because “some day you’ll need it.”
Of course students may be authentically engaged in lessons even when they are not doing work that makes a difference in the world. For example, students may be engaged during lessons in which teachers vary activites, incorporate kinisthetic learning, and provide opportunities for peer interaction. These and other lesson characteristics can boost student engagement. However, these lesson characteristics are less likely to lead to student ownership of work than when students are given the opportunity to do transformative work they personally value. No anticipatory set or cooperative learning activity is as powerful for creating ownership as when students are doing transformative work they value. @Delta_dc recently tweeted a reference to spending less time designing engaging lessons and more time helping students find their spark. Giving students the opportunity to do transformative work certainly helps them find their spark.
When students own the work, they are willing to commit themselves fully, even when the work is difficult. Because they have a strong sense of purpose to learn content and/or skills, they make better connections and ask better questions. This leads to deeper, longer-lasting learning. Besides, when engaged in transformative work, students are also changing the world!
Prezi Presentation regarding Transformative Work