When used by educators, the term student work refers to all of the assignments, products, and projects that students complete to demonstrate what they have learned. Student work could include research papers, essays, lab results, presentations, tests, videos, and portfolios, among many other potential products.
The term student work, and the phrases looking at student work or discussing student work, are commonly used in reference to the collaborative evaluations of academic work products that take place in professional learning communities—groups of educators who meet regularly and work together to improve their professional knowledge and skills. The review and discussion of student work is one of many methods used by educators to evaluate the effectiveness of their curriculum and teaching methods. If the quality of student work is poor, for example, teachers may revisit how they taught the lesson and develop alternative approaches to help students improve their understanding or the quality of their work. Alternatively, high-quality student work may indicate that a lesson is well designed and that students understood both the material and the purpose of the lesson. In addition, teachers will review student work, either individually or collaboratively, to determine whether students have achieved expected learning standards or course objectives—i.e., the specific knowledge, skills, or work habits that educators want students to learn by the end of a lesson, unit, project, or course.
Given that student work results directly from the philosophy, design, and goals of an academic program, from the lessons developed by teachers, and from the type and quality of instruction students receive, the characteristics of student work will inevitably change when schools or instructional strategies change. For example, teachers have historically given all students in a particular course the same series of tests and assignments. Consequently, student work is relatively uniform from student to student, with variations limited largely to quality and correctness. Yet some alternative approaches to teaching students, such as personalized learning, for example, introduce instructional variations that are based on the specific learning needs or interests of individual students. Other strategies, such as project-based learning, require students to produce work products that may be very different from the forms of work historically completed by students. In these settings, student work will be less uniform because different students may study and write about different topics, for example, or they may produce different work products.