Looking at selected samples of student work through a systematic, reflective process is a way to inform instructional decisions and school improvement efforts. The use of a protocol to guide conversations about the work helps to keep a particular, agreed-upon focus.


I. Suggested Uses of Student Work:

  • To monitor student progress
  • To reflect on student learning and development
  • To determine the effectiveness of curricula and instruction
  • To develop shared standards

II. Limitations of Student Work:

  • Teachers may be defensive about student work or assignments generated from their classrooms.
  • Teachers may only want to share their best student work.
  • Looking at student work requires blocks of time for collaboration and is most effective when sustained over time.

III. Selecting Student Work:

While every teacher spends a great deal of time grading and reading student work, many schools use a process of analyzing student work for a different purpose. These schools choose samples of student work to analyze collaboratively as a way of raising questions about teaching and learning. This collaborative analysis often follows explicit, agreed-upon guidelines, called protocols.

If participating in such an analysis of student work, these are the steps in this process:

1. Identify the purpose, focus, or goal for looking at student work. Examples include:

  • Collaboratively developing standards
  • Reflecting on evidence of student learning or purpose of assignments
  • Examining evidence of effective teaching
  • Developing shared knowledge bank amongst teachers

2. There are many different ways to select samples of student work, each dependent upon the goal of the analysis process. Some possibilities include choosing:

  • Several samples from different students
  • Samples from one student over time
  • Randomly selected samples
  • Representative samples of low-medium-high quality work
  • Representative samples of specific student misconception
  • Samples that represent an area of confusion or question for the teacher

3. Sometimes teachers are tempted to only provide their best student work. This challenge can be overcome by providing guidelines about which work to provide from students. Examples of guidelines include:

  • Two samples that show the student gets it
  • Two samples that show the student does not get it
  • Two confusing samples
  • Two interesting or unusual samples

4. Analyze the student work by engaging in facilitated discussion (using protocols) of participants' interpretations and understanding of the student work samples. See the protocols section on the Looking at Student Work website for many examples: http://www.lasw.org/index.html

  • Select a protocol related to the goal or purpose of looking at student work.
  • Participate in the process through an "inquiry stance;" be open to learning.
  • Reflect on the implications and applications of what is learned to teaching.


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