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Quality Work Protocol

Format(s): EL Document

Topic(s): Spark Discussion

Audience: Educators


EL Education is distinguished in the educational landscape by an explicit focus on high- quality student work as an essential part of student achievement. One reason that others avoid this topic is that it is messy. Quality cannot be easily defined and quantified. EL believes, however, that when schools regularly engage in the difficult process of working together to define, recognize, and analyze quality work (and even quantify when possible), the results are positive and powerful. When a student is done with schooling, she is judged for the rest of her life not primarily by her ability to perform on tests, but by the quality of person she is and the quality of work she does. Developing an ethic of quality in students is vital.

EL has worked closely with Harvard’s Steve Seidel, who is an international expert in the field of quality in general and quality student work in particular. After over a decade of work as a part of Harvard’s Qualities of Quality Project, Steve shares with us two key points:

  1. Quality is best viewed not as an end-state, but as a discussion. A stellar symphony orchestra or sports team can only keep quality high by constantly analyzing and critiquing – discussing quality during rehearsals and practices and after performances. If the analysis and discussion stops, quality will deteriorate. EL schools engage in this discussion about quality through a variety of routines and structures by looking at student work together, planning curriculum that addresses issues of quality, engaging in regular critique with students, etc.
  2. It is not possible to create an effective single rubric for “high-quality work”. Rubrics are useful when they name concrete, specific features that students and teachers can recognize in work. A useful rubric for a first grade Haiku will look very different from a rubric for a high school physics lab report. Across grade levels, disciplines and formats (e.g., geometry proof; book review), specifics differ and matter. We can, however, generalize attributes of quality students can aspire toward in any piece of work, which can be used to calibrate a general sense of quality and recognize patterns and trends in student work, and for that reason we use EL’s Attributes of High-Quality Work as an anchor document in this protocol. 



  • Engage in discussion to develop a shared vision of quality work characterized by complexity, craftsmanship and authenticity.
  • Identify patterns related to quality across student work to inform goal setting and action steps Like an instructional learning walk, this protocol provides participants with the opportunity to view many examples quickly and search for patterns of strength and areas for growth based on common criteria.
  • Create a “body of evidence” that a school can use to reflect on how student work has changed and improved over time.  This body of evidence is also what schools reference when applying to become a credentialed EL school.  


Quality Work Protocol Overview


Timekeeper and Process Checker


Gallery Walk of Student Work (20-30 minutes)

Identify patterns across work related to the Attributes of Quality in Student Work (Note Catcher, part 1)

Discussion: Attributes of Quality in Student Work  (20 minutes)

Break (10 minutes)

Gallery Walk of Product/Task Descriptors and Scoring Tools (20 minutes)

Identify patterns about how tasks and scoring tools invite an support quality (Note Catcher, part 2)

Discussion: Tasks and Scoring Tools that Invite and Support Quality (15-20 minutes)

Discussion: Goal Setting and Action Steps (20 minutes)

Process Debrief (10 minutes)

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