Gardner's synthesis of "good work" stimulated thought on my part. He talks about work being "good" in at least three possible ways. It may be "excellent in quality", "responsible" meaning it is good for the wider community, or it may "feel good" because it is "engaging and meaningful."
During my career, I have focused most on the first category of high quality. My feedback to students is generally a reflection of my judgment of the quality of their work compared to my standard. In recent years I have become much better at providing rubrics and other descriptions of those standards in advance so students can self assess before turning in the assignment.
This book has made me think especially about Gardner's third category. In what ways can we make school work engaging and meaningful for students? I believe that many teachers, me included, have our students do work that we know from our experience to be useful in understanding our discipline. Does that automatically mean that the activities we assign will be engaging and meaningful to students?
I have long been critical of Math teachers and blamed them for the poor understanding of Math concepts by my students. My opinions have been formed over time based upon my experience in college Math classes and my observations of my colleagues in the Math department. Personally, I loved Math in high school and even decided to be a Math teacher when enrolled in college. It took just 2 semesters of college Math to convince me that I no longer wanted to pursue a Math degree. Upon reflection, I determined that the difference between my teacher in high school (I went to a small high school and had the same Math teacher for my final 3 years) and my college teachers was that my high school teacher always showed me how the things I was learning applied to the world. My college teachers, on the other hand, taught Math as the manipulation of a bunch of symbols that were of little interest to me in a practical sense.
What should we do in our teaching to make our students' learning engaging and meaningful to them? I would be interested in your thoughts.