Friday, January 17, 2014

5 Reasons to Exhibit Student Work

“Remember that you are the someone in the phrase ‘Somebody ought to do something about that.’ Each of you. Me too. We are all the someone who needs to take action.” (Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret)
What can we do to change the lives of animals? Teams of sixth grade students at Tabb Middle School had just a few minutes to make their pitch regarding which animal-related causes the sixth grade should select as a focus. As parents and community members circulated in the gym and cafeteria, each group of students articulated a critical issue involving animals and proposed a plan of action. The animal related causes included puppy mills, dog fighting, a shortage of service dogs and a variety of other topics. These and other causes were pitched to visitors who each cast multiple votes for which cause should be selected as a focus for the entire sixth grade.
The students of Cindy Evans (cindyevans66), Nancy Hehir (HehirNancy), Rebecca Karatsikis (BeckyKaratsikis), and Kelley Payne (@grayfin77) each read Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret. The novel focuses on a boy who wants to rescue a dog that is being abused while his class at school focuses on helping dogs rescued from a puppy mill. After reading the novel, students investigated animal-related causes of their choice. They researched the issues, relevant laws, measures being taken to address the issues, and developed proposed action plans.
Check out this video created by Jennifer Thomas (@JennThomas75) inviting parents and other community members to the Action for Animal Awareness Community Night.
This event illustrates four reasons to exhibit student work.
1.     Increase Student Engagement
Students felt great ownership of their work because they wanted to make a difference and they knew their work would have an audience beyond their teachers. One student explained, “I liked this project because I knew I was actually helping and not just doing it for a grade.” Another student commented, “I like making a difference.
I worked hard because I wanted my project to be chosen as one that all of 6th grade will work on.” As one teacher tweeted, “I loved that students were so involved and invested in it.”
2.     Increase Student Learning of Significant Content
This was not a fluff project. Significant content and skills were at the heart of this project-based learning. Students learned skills required by state standards, such as “the student will read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of fictional texts, narrative nonfiction, and poetry” and “the student will find, evaluate, and select appropriate resources for a research project.”
Students experienced great success in meeting these standards because they were compelled to prepare for the exhibition and to work to address an authentic problem. Their academic success was obvious at the exhibition. As one community member observed in an e-mail, “I cannot believe that these were sixth grade students. . . I asked many questions and could not believe that they answered with no hesitation. These students sounded as if they had studied animal laws for years. . . I was totally blown away that these young students are now so knowledgeable of the animal laws and problems. . . This is the type of project that these students will remember for years to come.”
3.     Promote a Shared Instructional Vision Among Staff Members
The energy level was through the roof at the exhibition. Not only were students and parents energetic, but teachers and administrators were incredibly enthusiastic. They were appropriately proud of their students. They already were speaking of changes they would make next year so that the project would be even more successful.
Given the positive experience of the exhibition, the 6th grade teachers are more committed to our instructional vision of providing students transformative learning experiences in which they learn the content and skills of the curriculum while making a difference locally, nationally, or globally. Because of the high profile success of this exhibition, our vision of transformative learning is more likely to be embraced by other teachers in our district. Exhibitions can help schools and districts scale up effective instructional practices by showcasing these practices.
4.     Develop Parent-Ownership of an Instructional Vision
Exhibitions provide parents with insight into the instructional vision of a school or district. This expanded understanding is crucial for generating support for initiatives. Too often parents view projects as fluff. John Larmer and John Mergendoller of the Buck Institute for Education emphasize the importance of distinguishing main course “project based learning (PBL) from the short duration and intellectually lightweight activities and projects to many classrooms.” Exhibitions of substantive student projects help parents make this distinction. Furthermore, because of this exhibition, parents are more likely to support our School Board’s call for changes in state assessments and accountability.
5.     Experience the Joy of Teaching and Learning
Exhibitions are hard work, but they are also joyful. In an era of high-stakes testing, exhibitions provide teachers and students with the joy of teaching and learning.

The votes are in! The parents and community members at the student exhibition selected elephant poaching as the cause on which students will focus. The students are narrowing down their fundraising ideas and plan to hold several small events this semester with a culminating awareness and fundraising event in May. The team of sixth grade students that made the successful pitch for this cause included Gracie Cannon, Kaylyn Rivera and Gracie Roberts. These students understand the phrase from Ghost Dog Secrets that one group of students displayed at the exhibition: “We are the someone!”
Here is the project overview that Cindy Evans created with assistance from her colleagues after attending a PBL101 workshop presented by the Buck Institute for Education.
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