Monday, January 2, 2012

What's Worth Keeping?

I've had some free time over the holiday and so I've spent time de-cluttering and cleaning the house. I keep "portfolios" for each of my two children, which consist of art, writing, and other creations that are worth saving. I sorted through a huge pile of papers to decide what should be kept. I got a little depressed and pensive because most of the items that I deemed worthy to put in the portfolio were not things that the kids had created in school.

What was my "criteria" (to use a big education term) for selecting portfolio-worthy items? I've never formally written it down but I suspect most parents that save (or hoard) their children's work use similar items for consideration.
  • Is the item significant? Does it show some insightful learning? 
  • Is the item unique? Does it show some creativity?
  • Is the item meaningful? Does it show some effort?
Many of the papers I examined from school were worksheets or tests. The few I did keep were projects - such as my son's research notes and final product comic on the discovery of gold and silver in Ontario and my daughter's newscast script on the Hope Diamond for her gifted class. A few were creations from art class.  

Despite this, my children's portfolio binders are full. What's in them? Here's a sample:

This is an imaginary movie poster for a series of books that my kids and I read together - the Guinea P.I. books by Colleen A.F. Venable. Did I make them do this? No. They were inspired to draw this because we read the books and liked them and talked about the possibility of making our own YouTube video film using their Littlest Pet Shop toys as the characters. (Like it is in real-life Hollywood, this project is delayed due to pre-production negotiations.)

I commented on the lack of school-related items in the kids' portfolio to my husband and he replied that things hadn't changed much in 150 years in education. This bothered me - that in spite of all the technology at our fingertips and all the resources available to us, our students aren't often asked to produce things that are worth keeping. This is not a criticism of my children's school or their teachers - not at all. However, I think that I need to make myself hyper-vigilant and ensure that the things my students do in school are "worth keeping". This notion should apply to both the final products students produce as well as the ideas that inhabit their minds. Are these artifacts / thoughts creative? Are they the result of effort? Are they evidence of true learning? If we can stay away from cookie-cutter projects that can be whipped together in a night by reluctant, procrastinating workers who only persevere to get a grade on the report card or a nagging teacher off their back and are immediately forgotten the minute they are handed in, then I think that 2012 will be a good year for education.


  1. Wow. Great post. Having two of our three girls in the school system right now, my wife and I are faced with the exact same dilemma of keep / throw away. But when you linked that question to education, I have to admit I was thrown for a loop. As a high school English teacher, I have to further admit that I have never looked at my assignments through the lens of "Is it worth keeping?" Very powerful question...
    -- mistercooke

  2. Thanks Mr. Cooke for the comment! I know learning isn't always pretty or doesn't always result in something pretty, but there are things you keep not just for the esthetics.

    Since you are a high school English teacher, I can tell you about one thing that I felt was worth keeping from my Grade 12 or Grade 13 English class - at least, I kept it in my head.

    I had to write a response to the poem that begins "Had we but world enough and time". Mine was a poem as well and I memorized most of it. It went:

    Had we but world enough and time
    Each man would give a girl this line ...
    (I forget the middle part)
    Words are wind. 'Though you protest
    Your vow can't be put to the test.
    So woo away. I'll stay as chaste
    And worms can have what you would waste.

    I never thought I was a poet or had any poetic inklings until I wrote that assignment.