The way we display student work reflects how we value student effort and achievement. Displays also serve as important tools in developing learning environments that enrich and support student learning.
Valuing a Growth Mindset
Research by Prof Carol Dweck at Stanford University into student psychology demonstrates that students with a growth mindset are more resilient, confident, focused and independent learners. Therefore, when recognising student effort and achievement, it helps to adopt values consistent with a growth mindset. Some ways to foster a growth mindset include (see article):
- Differentiated feedback based on individual effort, not making comparisons between work produced by students in the class; and
- Avoid praising students for their intelligence. Praising intelligence does not improve confidence or motivation. Instead emphasise the processes that have benefited the student and those which will improve learning in the future.
Learning environments as memories of learning
Making learning visible has long been the approach in Reggio Emilia pedagogy and is being championed by the likes of Harvard's Project Zero. It involves using documentation to extend and deepen student learning and to create strong learning cultures in schools.
Making learning visible is about documenting process as well as outcome. The entire learning journey, with its challenges and changes, is part of the documentation. Then reflecting this learning back to students in an engaging, interactive way. That's where displays come in.
Collation versus Curation
When it comes to displaying student work there are two ways to go about it, collation or curation. Collation involves collecting one piece of work from every student for a given task. Curation involves selecting work from a range of students and tasks within a given cohort according to a chosen theme. The distinction is illustrated in the following images:
Curation is a powerful tool for supporting a growth mindset and creating engaging, visible learning environments. Some of the ways curation achieves these outcomes include:
- Emphasis on the process not the product. Selecting work across a range of tasks means that emphasis is not placed solely on what the students did. Work may be curated for a number of reasons that relate instead to achievements consistent with a growth mindset. For example choosing to display work based on the learning story involved, displaying a series of works that demonstrate student resilience and improvement.
- Interesting and engaging environment. In an art gallery one is immersed in an environment that has been specifically designed to induce a particular experience. Works are carefully chosen and arranged to create a habitable environment that is engaging and interesting. The same result can be achieved by careful curation and arrangement of student work. Making looking back on learning an interesting and creative experience in itself. Making space an intentional tool for continues learning and reflection.
- Rewarding effort. The power of acknowledgement by way of having one's work selected for display is acute. Of course not all students will immediately receive the same kind of acknowledgement. In fact a student may have to learn patience and reliance before their leaning forms part of the curated collection. This process is important in developing longer learning cycles and encouraging students to work on improving their learning.
How to do it
Here are three simple ways to start curating student work:
- Turn walls into galleries. The idea of a gallery is that is exhibits work according to particular themes and issues. Treating classroom walls as gallery space promotes intentional displays.
- Turn displays into exhibitions. Give displays a theme that relates to something broader than the task itself. Themes that relate to classroom values or cross-curricular outcomes are a great way to start.
- Record learning stories. Include documentation relating to process in classroom displays. A piece of work could be accompanied by its entire story, images, words and videos. Take up space with process, not product in order to tell a story.
The way we display student work impacts student learning. Whether it is to make learning processes visible or to reflect the value of effort above output, curated displays are an engaging and interactive means of reflecting the goings on in the classroom. In the coming school year I'll be turning walls into galleries, displays into exhibitions and documentation into storytelling. How about you?