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Our society applauds, respects, values, and compensates the final product of successful effort. We might think that preparing students for the “real world” means focusing attention on perfection and the final products students submit. While time allows for this focus, we must consider that our primary work is in helping students learn. For example, when new employees undergo training, often emerging ideas are refined and new products or services result. True ability focuses on learning growth, best processes, and progress toward success.


Excellent processes create quality products.


When preoccupied with students’ final products, we risk students losing perception, appreciation, and value for the learning process. Not surprisingly, copying someone else’s work and other graceless actions that fail to generate learning and build learning paths become the unimaginative and desperate options students consider.


When focused on processes rather than preoccupied with results, learning accelerates, and students become more invested. Unless we help them to become aware of learning processes and how they lead to success, we risk students thinking that what matters most is the grade, not the learning journey. Here are four reasons to help students focus on the process as much as the destination.


A focus on process:

  • Gives students permission to reflect on and learn from mistakes. Risks present less scary when students see them as part of the learning path.
  • Helps students see that learning emerges as the result of a journey. The destination may be a beacon for direction, but the journey to learning is what matters most.
  • Provides greater focus on what leads to learning rather external rewards. Approval and other symbols of success become a reflection of rather than the purpose for learning.
  • Offers students greater control over decisions, steps, and strategies that lead to learning. Students gain greater ownership of and gain increased sense of efficacy about their learning.


So, how can we help students increase focus on the processes of learning and be less preoccupied by grades and other symbols of accomplishment? Here are four strategies to consider.


First, break down major assignments and projects when introducing them to students. For example, begin with students contemplating potential topics, generating questions worth exploring, or engaging in other generative processes. Students might develop draft outlines for the learning work they want to do and seek feedback from classmates and you to refine and clarify their work. Next, students might develop portions or drafts of their work to share for further feedback and suggestions. As the work unfolds, the learning journey can be captured in successive decisions, drafts, and other documents that tell the story from initial exploration to final presentation.


Second, have students keep a log of their thinking, initial attempts, mistakes made, learning gained, and how what they have learned is applied to and integrated with their evolving work. This level of reflection helps students become more aware of their thinking and learning as the work unfolds. Their learning reflections also will fill with meaning and likely will be remembered long after the work is finished.


Third, focus guidance, support, and feedback on the process of learning. When you focus engagement on what and how the student learns, you reduce preoccupation with grades, while valuing the learning journey. Your questions and observations about what students notice, how they adjust, and the difference their thinking makes in their learning provide powerful stimuli and foster focused influence for learning.


Fourth, display learning journey evidence. Students might create bulletin boards, write blogs, or create graphic images with artifacts to document their learning journey. Posting, sharing, and documenting their learning journey sends a powerful message about the purpose and value of what they have accomplished without distraction from artificial symbols, such as grades.


There’s no question that quality learning outcomes are integral to the long-term success of our students. However, learning outcomes result from decisions, strategies, and other processes that lead to the success our students deserve. Attention to the processes of learning inevitably leads to learning products that reflect the quality we seek.


Thought for the Week

In response to the uncertainty and disruption in which we find ourselves, researchers and experts say that the number one skill for survival and success in today’s environment is adaptability.

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