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It's the Process, Not the Product

By Brian Smith on December 2, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

It’s the process, not the product. This is one of the phrases that really resonates with me and helps direct my teaching style. For each lesson that we plan, we have to ask ourselves several questions.

  • What is the learning objective for this lesson?

  • What prior knowledge, if any, will my students need to access this lesson?

  • In what ways can I teach this so that all of my learners have a chance to process this information?

  • What outcome do I want to see at the end of this lesson?

This last question is the one that makes me remember that it’s the process, not the product. By this I mean that I want to see what my students can do with what they learned. I always learn more about how I can become a better teacher from observing my student's mistakes. My students also are able to grow academically by being willing to take more chances during the process of learning and not just being so focused on creating the perfect product. If we are going to create global leaders with 21st century problem-solving skills we must honor each student's process as they figure out the product.

The idea of process versus product is a lesson that I’ve had to learn several times during my life. While going to college at night, I worked at a local program for adults with severe and profound mental disabilities. When we worked on a craft, it had to be about them holding the scissors and working the glue bottle. The important part of the activity was the process not the product. If their finished work reflected their skills and view of the world, I felt that was far more important than the need for it to be straight, symmetrical, and “perfect.”

Ella, age 3, with Mickey EarsThis lesson came back to the forefront when Ella, my daughter, was three year old. I constantly had to remind myself to allow her the joy of the process and not to stress about the product. When coloring a set of Mickey Mouse ears, it was about holding the crayon and discovering color, not making her use black and “helping” her stay inside the lines because that’s what Mickey Mouse’s ears really look like.

In a classroom this ideal can get lost amidst the pile of assessments to give, papers to grade, and parent conferences to hold. All of those things and many more focus on the product or what grade or level did the student make, with little focus on why they missed what they missed, or how they answered what they answered.

So, as you write those daily lesson plans think about the activities your students will be involved in and try to incorporate at least one activity where it is all about the process and not about the product. Who knows, they may turn into being the best products you get all year!

I can't wait to see you next week.

Comments (4)

Wow! I love this! I am currently a student studying Early Childhood Education, and while doing some research for a project I came across this article of yours. I am also a mom of two, so I can relate. And you seriously hit it right on the nose. I also do believe that it can be easy to focus on the quantity rather than the quality. I think that a child's craft or project is only truly their own when you allow them to express themselves through their own exploration and knowledge they already have. Thank you for sharing this, can really make a person think.

Thank you so much for the comment and for reading.

Your phrase about the process being priority over the product targets the heart of teaching students, especially in a global society. In today's world, students must be prepared to compete on a global level. Part of this involves preparing them to exercise their creativity, individuality, and leadership capability to name a few. According to Amutabi and others (as cited in Holst, 2006), "The world is currently in transition from one paradigm to another. The dominant paradigm has been that of modernization, and we would suggest that we are shifting to a new paradigm of globalization" (p. 43). The process should be the driving force to educate students in skill application that leads to them expounding on those skills and taking them to another level.

Thank you for reading and for the thoughtful comment.

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