Sunday, August 13, 2006

Student Exhibitions

The following was what Brian Eddelson, Social Studies Teacher QHST: Freire Small Learning Community shared with us during Summer PD on 8/8/06. I thought Brian's reflection on how to create a student exhibition was fantastic and wanted to share it with everyone.

Student Exhibition Assessment:

A forum where students showcase an understanding of content through exhibiting a creative piece of work. A student exhibition is a grand finale of many arduous hours of group research, preparation, resolved conflicts, and discovery learning. The rules and shape of an exhibition change from teacher to teacher. Class to class. But the objective remains consistent across the board –that students learn by “doing” and “showing”.

How To Create A Student Exhibition

I: Think Backwards

It’s always best to visualize what your end product is going to look like. Ask yourself - What will my students be creating? Will the end product be something tangible or abstract? How will my students be graded? What timelines will I set? How will I ensure everyone is learning?

These are all tough questions, but each is necessary to perform a successful exhibition. Surely the unexpectedwill arise from time to time, but the more you can visualize the details of your exhibition and what the endresult will look like, the more likely you will avoid glitches that take away from the overall experience.

II: Make It An Event

Students need to feel that the project is important. By promoting the exhibition as a big event students will buy into the idea of showcasing their work and their nervous anticipation will fuel their learning. Making the exhibition feel like a special event makes students feel they need to be more accountable for their work. A good technique is to keep reminding students how many days are left, etc. You might even want to have a countdown board. This is just one example; there are plenty of ways to make students feel how special the exhibition will be. But remember try your best to not disappoint. If you plan to invite judges - then do so. If you tell your students that the exhibition will be held in a certain place - then try your best to arrange it. However in the end, if the exhibition somehow does not turn out to be the big event you envisioned, your students still need to sense your enthusiasm. The more pride and enthusiasm you show for their work the more special the event will be for your students. Ultimately you make the event special. Everything else is icing on the cake.

III: Preparation & Organization

You don’t want to be putting out fires all the time. Being prepared and organized is vital to the success of your exhibition. Not only will you rely on your own notes, rules, etc.but also more importantly, the students will immediately sense the professionalism you display. The more professional your project is, meaning the moretime and thought you put into it, the more positive students will react and take your exhibition seriously. In fact, the less questions and concerns your students have, the more likely they get it!

For our exhibition, students created Civil War Newspapers. I asked the students to write from either the Northern (Union) or Southern (Confederate) perspective. I stressed how this was the main objective. I handed each of them a kit. Notice how prepared and detailed it is. This took me quite some time but it also saved me a lot of headaches. Students could refer to the kit to answer many of their questions freeing me up to facilitate the project (ensuring teams are progressing in research, etc.)

· A Title Page and Table of Contents

· Objective, Rules & Roles

· Grading Policy, Reward & Calendar

· Graphic Organizer

· Team Lists

· Reminders

· Student Accountability Sheets

· Progress Report

· Checklist

· Judge’s Rubric

***This is just one way of organizing your project. Handouts can look like anything. In fact, handouts might not be something you wish to include. Whatever works - works. However, one thing is for sure – students should feel from the onset that they have “some” grasp on demanding and challenging projects that require exhibitions.***

IV: Choose Wisely

It took me half a year before I even began to really figure out who my students were. Not just academically, but also as people outside the classroom. That is why that I suggest that if you are teaching students you are not familiar with that you only attempt exhibitions after at least a couple of months of the school year have passed. This is when I decided to do so and it was one of the best decisions I made.

There’s no doubt that group work is difficult but certainly has its rewards. When the time came to conduct my student exhibition project I was confident that random group selection would not be best for my students. So I chose 12 group leaders (4 in each class) as Chief Editors of the newspapers. These people were chosen not only on their prior academic achievements but also because they demonstrated leadership qualities that can rise up to such a challenge. I cannot stress the importance of choosing students who work well with others, learn from their mistakes and who know how to turnkey constructive criticism to their group members.

Each leader chosen got together and confidentially chose their members. At no time did the rest of the class ever know who was chosen when. In the end, the teams were very balanced and team leaders expressed that they were glad they were in control of group development. Our end product in such a short period of time illustrates how well teams worked together.

V: Don’t Teach. Guide.

It’s very easy to put on our teacher hats and do what comes naturally but in essence being a teacher during an exhibition pretty much conflicts will your objective of students learning by doing and showing. This is not to say teachers do not teach during student exhibition projects. Quite the contrary. Teachers actually do more work. When you take into account all the preparation a teacher puts into such a project and the depth of learning that comes out of a successful exhibition it is safe to say that teachers truly teach their hearts out. Yet to an observer this might be hard to see since the teacher’s role is best as facilitator and guide and not necessarily an all-knowing answer bank. I would argue that the teacher that is hard to find in the classroom is the teacher whose class is doing the most work. So be confident in guiding your students through exhibitions. Your preparation and set rules provide the necessary framework for student success, they will fill in the rest.

VI: Trust

This brings us to trust. It is key that you put trust in your project and in your students. It is easy to find yourself worrying day and night if your students can pull an exhibition off. Worrying about students is a sign of a caring teacher. More often than not students have a knack to surprise and usually surpass our expectations. As long as you continue to guide students and listen to their concerns, they will find a way to succeed. Placing trust in exhibition assessments will demonstrate a confidence that students will pick up on.

VII: Stick To Your Guns

Never change anything unless it is absolutely necessary. If you completely put trust in your project then you shouldn’t have to modify it. For example, avoid extending deadlines or altering rules during the project. Those are things you should change, if needed, after reflecting on the project in preparation for making improvements for the following year. Changing the project during the process might be the kiss of death. Students will feel that your flexibility equates to poor management and lack of confidence that the exhibition will be a success. Only you define what success means. If you stick to your guns, believe in the project, and demonstrate enthusiasm no matter the output, then students will feel it was a success.

VIII: The Judging Process

Students are the real judges in an exhibition. If you succeed in making them feel the exhibition is a special event and that their work is important and meaningful then you pretty much hit a homerun. A part of making an exhibition so special is having visitors critiquing student work. Knowing outsiders will judge them; students will hold themselves accountable for their work and do their best to standout.

Your rubric should be simple for both student and judge. Judges should stick to the rubric and try not to assess students on outside material.

Your communication with the judges before the event also must be consistently followed through. Several emails, phone calls, flyers, etc. should be presented to remind your busy judges of the big event.

And lastly, if possible, your judges should be an enthusiastic bunch. This is not to say they should grade similarly, but it is certainly an added bonus if judges, for the most part, are energized to see student work. For students, judge who wishes to be elsewhere stands out like a sore thumb.

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