With only 14.23 days left to Winter Break, I imagine you are busy preparing for Winter Faires, Holiday Shows, School-Wide Performances, and end of the semester wrap-ups.

At least I hope you are.

As learner-centered practitioners, we know that the power these end of term exhibitions have in spotlighting 🔦 our student’s achievements and work. They allow for far greater agency than any end of term exam ever will.

How will you support your students in exhibiting their work? 

Pictured above are Year 10,11, and 12 students at VIS completing a ‘dress rehearsal’ for their big Finale; an exhibition that will feature their semester long projects: One, a radio station they created to amplify student voice and share cultural events around Taiwan; and another, innovative solutions to address local air pollution and develop more green space in the city.

Parents, community stakeholders, college professors, professionals, and teachers will all be in attendance.

Exhibition is a vital component of any learning experience. Here are 5 things to consider in planning yours:

  1. Curating Your Space: Where will students exhibit their work? While the classroom is a great starting point, I reckon with a bit of imagination, you can find a place more public. Do you have a gymnasium? School library? These high traffic areas will allow more eyes to see your student’s work. In curating the space, avoid a series of presentations, and instead, set it up like a museum or gallery walk. This will allow for more authentic interaction.
  2. Exhibit process and product: How do you celebrate a 6-12 week learning journey? You can’t do it justice by sharing only a few small artefacts or student products. Showcasing the learning journey helps tell a story of student’s investigation, critical thinking, depth of exploration, trials, tribulations, failed attempts, and GROWTH. You can easily tell this story with a ‘journey wall,’ rolling slideshow/video, or poster-boards that share the project timeline. You might also consider a narrative story arc to capture this journey. (Exposition) What did students set out to do? (Rising Action) What challenges did they experience along the way? What was their breakthrough? (Climax) What did they learn along the way? (Falling Action) What’s next? (Resolution) This helps visitors gain an appreciation for the depth of knowledge and learning students acquired along the way.
  3. Equity of Presenters: There’s a good chance that if students are exhibiting project work, they were part of multi-person teams. But so often when I visit teams, only 1 or 2 people share. How do you ensure each team member has the opportunity to speak? A simple solution is to have students share according to their roles. Was one the researcher/investigator? Have them share what they uncovered in the process of project completion. Was one the designer? Have them share the progression of their designs. An even more fluid model is to have students share according to the different stages of project development. Phase 1= Student One, Phase 2= Student Two, Etc.
  4. Form an Exhibition Committee: When I was a new teacher at High Tech High, I tried to take on the exhibition all by myself. I set up the room, put together the slideshow, printed out student’s project work. The list goes on. And I absolutely hated it. When I finally ate my pride and accepted help from my student committees in curating it, not only did I fall in love with exhibitions, I also realized that students were FAR more capable in ensuring it was great. There was a committee in charge of layout; scheduling; audience engagement; marketing and communication; depth of knowledge. There was an even a TECH crew to ensure seamless tech on the night of performance. How might student committees support your exhibition? Start with a class brainstorm around the necessary roles, and begin nominating members tomorrow.
  5. Develop a student questionnaire and Feedback Form: Parents are the most common exhibition visitors. And while we would love for them to ask provocative questions to probe student’s depth of knowledge; far too often their only comments are ‘good job.’ Or, ‘wow, this is great.’ Do the hard work for exhibition visitors. Co-create a question sheet with your students prior to the exhibition that exposes deeper level knowledge and skills. Ie. Any community partners support your project? How did they help, and what did you learn from them? How did you use geography to strengthen your work? You can even create little name tags for students that say…”Ask me about (_____________)” This will help foster greater interaction between students and guests, while also allowing your students’ to expose their depths of knowledge. Finally, consider a short feedback form for visitors to fill out at the end. Keep it short and open-ended. It might include simple questions like, “What struck you about the exhibition?” It could include simple sentence stems, “I liked…” and “I wish…” Make a QR code for the form and put it at the exit to make sure it won’t be missed.

Exhibition can oftentimes be a stressful event. We are sharing ourselves and our students with an audience outside of our four walls. This opens us up for scrutiny, evaluation, and judgement.

But exhibition can be incredibly liberating.

By effectively curating our space, exhibiting process and product, ensuring every student has a voice, curating with committees, and developing participation questionnaires and feedback forms, we can CELEBRATE our student’s achievements and stand proud knowing how far we have come.

Here’s to your success with exhibiting student work!