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April 19, 2021

Become an Exhibitionist of Student Learning!

“I’m an exhibitionist of student learning”

– Public Presentations of Learning Stimulate Deeper Learning

I loved being a teacher and relished in the futuristic vision of myself.

I’d sport salt and pepper grey hair like my Grandma Lu, thoughtfully sip my decaf coffee from my Wonder Woman traveler mug, and still execute perfectly timed dance moves through lessons, discussions, and projects for the enjoyment of my students. I always knew that if I ever left the classroom it would have to be for something important, and I couldn’t think of anything more important than positively impacting the lives of young people. Then I learned about a career opportunity that would allow me to do just that, but on a national scale, and I was all in.

I was asked to Co-Direct the Share Your Learning Campaign, a national initiative that aims to empower 300,000 teachers to shape the path for five million students to publicly present their learning to an audience beyond the classroom by the year 2020, and I said, “Yes.”

Although I had strong reservations about leaving the security of my classroom and the mutual love and respect of “my babies,” aka my students, I was eager to be a part of a nationwide transformation of student learning.

Public presentations of learning offer a feasible, high-leverage approach to access equitable outcomes for all students through the cultivation of deeper learning competencies. The three practices we’re encouraging educators to explore are:

Exhibitions: Whether it’s getting student work on the walls, showcasing a class project, or hosting a whole-school exhibition with community members and experts, celebrate students’ work and learning by making it visible.

Student-Led Conferences: Flip traditional parent-teacher conferences on their head and put students in charge of the discussion.

Presentations of Learning: Have students present their learning, grounded in artifacts/evidence from their own work, to a panel of peers and adults who can offer feedback and support for next steps.

The practices are the “what,” now let’s talk about the “why.

My public presentations of learning “why” is centered around visibility. When every student has an opportunity to share their learning publicly, it means they’re visible, seen by their parents, peers, teachers, and community members. And, when students are seen and heard, it becomes much easier to respond to their interests, needs, passions, and challenges. It gives students authentic accountability, and it guides teachers toward authentic assessment.

My Co-Director Mari Jones has a different “why.” She believes when students have the chance to do meaningful work and to present that work to people who are important to them or connected to the work, it makes them feel like they matter and that their work has value.

So, when people ask, “Why public presentations of learning?”, I like to turn the question back to them, and the list of “whys” becomes unique and personal to each responder. All of these “whys” add up to increased student engagement and improved deeper learning competencies.

Equally as fascinating as excavating the “why,” is getting to witness the many ways educators engage in the “how.” The Principal of Montgomery Middle Steam Magnet school in San Diego, California, Stephanie Brown, is a true champion of student-centered learning. Last year her students and staff transformed their open house into an all-school exhibition where students courageously shared their learning with parents, peers, and the public.

Moved by the student ownership, teacher motivation, and parent participation during the exhibition, Stephanie realized her school was ready for another Share Your Learning practice, Student-Led Conferences. This year, for the very first time, her middle school students took the lead during their conferences. Each student used supportive evidence to discuss their strengths, areas for growth, and plans for improvement. It was a deeply reflective process that allowed for all stakeholders to invest in lived learning experiences of students and make commitments for future student support. Montgomery Middle Steam Magnet’s success story, among others, are now featured in the award-winning film, “Most Likely to Succeed,” an Innovation Playlist.

Although I’m no longer in the classroom and don’t have students of my own, it’s stories like Stephanie’s that keep me grounded in the significance of this work. The Share Your Learning Campaign is a national campaign with an intimate impact, and I’m honored to help educators across the country become “exhibitionists” of student learning.

Join the movement to help five million students publicly share their learning each year by June 2020. Be one of 300,000 teachers committed and connected across the nation to transform schools into centers of engagement and hope.


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