What Is Exhibition And Why We Do It?

Julia Jacobsen

Every year, I notice a really big shift in students’ seriousness about their work as exhibition approaches.  Right now, my class is working with a new intensity.  When I was celebrating them, and asking them where this new energy came from, they told me that it’s because everyone will see their work!  The knowledge that their work will be seen by an audience (who matter) increases the amount that kids care about what they are doing.

The second reason we hold exhibitions is that they are affirming for kids. After sharing their work at exhibition, my students feel elevated as scholars.  They have worked hard, felt proud and been recognized for that hard work.  It’s beautiful to see.

For me, the best exhibitions are ones in which the exhibition itself serves a purpose.  It it the moment that kids get to test out or reveal what they have created! A few years ago, my team and I did a project about boats with our fourth graders.  In order to build boats, students learned about buoyancy and the science of boat design.  Exhibition was the moment when students got to see whether their designs worked–each group paddled their boat out into the bay!  It was authentically high stakes, and the kids felt incredible when their creations worked.  This year’s exhibition will be the grand reveal of the first graders’ school beautification project. Last year a fifth grade class held an exhibition which was a presentation of their proposals on city design to a panel of experts who they had worked with. That was really powerful too.

Lastly, exhibition is great because it’s a chance for us to communicate what we are all about.  We have a different approach to learning than most parents experienced when they went to school.  Sharing learning at exhibition is a great opportunity for families to see what learning looks like at our school.

Exhibition can be stressful. Some children definitely find exhibition stressful, and as a teacher I recognize this.  To help keep things feeling normal, I try to build in as much routine as possible in the time leading up to exhibition.  We have been working on our math and reading workshops since the beginning of the year, so right now these feel really stabilizing for kids and I still make sure to do them everyday.  Although exhibition can feel stressful, I can see the ways in which it helps students to grow as presenters and communicators.  I worked with one fourth grader who had been too worried about exhibition to participate in the past–he had either not come, or hid when exhibition started.  That year, we worked together to write up a script of what he wanted to say so that he could practice in advance.  He built up his confidence and presented his work for the first time at exhibition.  He was so proud of his work, and of his ability to share, he couldn’t wait for more “customers” to come to his station!  He had built an enthusiasm for sharing his work–presentation skills which can be terrifying for adults!

(From the High Tech Elementary Explorer series, What is…and Why do we do it?)