When students share their work, it deepens the learning

Lessons from an exhibition

These days, I’ve been thinking about the reasons we ask students to share their work. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the connection that a public exhibition provides for parents and community. But as I wrote that piece, some other ideas were percolating in my brain about what happens when we share our work with others.

And then I got to experience those ideas for myself.

The Deeper Learning Exhibition

Last week I traveled to the famed High Tech High campus, where student work is the focal point of all spaces. I was there to attend the Deeper Learning conference, and part of the schedule included a Deep Dive session. Participants chose a topic to learn about, explore and then transfer into practical application. Instead of attending a traditional 60-90 minute presentation, workshop attendees spent multiple hours in this Deep Dive session.

Diving in

For me, I chose the Deep Dive titled “Project Based Learning + Systems Thinking = Deeper Learning”. I was fortunate to be attending the workshop along with teachers from Flood Brook School that I regularly collaborate with back in Vermont and we could work together on our “project”. The day was filled with interesting and applicable teamwork.

And then at the end of our Deep Dive, Deeper Learning held a full conference Exhibition.

I was like the student at an Exhibition Night

I was like the student at an Exhibition Night, and I think I felt some of the same emotions shared by our students. For one, it’s a bit uncomfortable.

When I first found my group a place to put our poster paper in the noisy and crowded gymnasium, I was stressed and nervous. I wasn’t sure what to do. Explain my work? Okay, sounds easy enough. But my poster paper doesn’t look that pretty and colorful, so what if no one comes to me? Do I just stand here? This feels awkward.

Deeper Learning exhibition
Rutland-based educator Brian Crane’s Deeper Learning exhibition poster.

Gradually, a few kind souls drifted over to my poster paper. I greeted them, introduced myself, and launched into a rapid explanation of our process and our work from the day. They thanked me for my time, made a few obligatory comments, and moved on. I started to breathe easier.

Over the course of the next hour, some of my colleagues and friends came to learn about my work from the day.

In turn, I was led over to their project displays and listened to them speak about their work and learning from the day. Like a true self-critic, I thought that their final projects were prettier than mine (or maybe they just used more colorful sticky notes).

Deeper Learning exhibition.
The Tarrant Institute’s Katy Farber and Emily Hoyler’s project work for the Deeper Learning exhibition. (click to enlarge)


But unexpectedly, I started to get excited about sharing my work with them.

A few of my colleagues were seriously intrigued about the process and protocol that I’d learned and wanted me to teach them more about it when we returned to Vermont.

Their curiosity led me to see more of the value and merit from my day and envision ways that I could transfer this day of work into other contexts. Their interest and excitement was flattering and validating.

But here’s the outcome that’s arguably more important than just feeling good about my work: during that one hour exhibition, the wheels in my head were turning.

When you share your work, it deepens the learning

Because when you share your work and explain your thinking to others, you are continuing to learn and process your interpretation.

Deeper Learning exhibition poster
Our group’s Deep Dive poster, which we shared at the full conference exhibition.

As I explained my work and my thinking to person after person, I began to clarify my own grasp of what I had learned. Each time that I summarized the project, I got clearer and more concise about the true objectives. After several rounds of reflection to others, I began to narrow in on the precise nuggets of understanding and next steps for my group.

The iteration of the reflective and communicative process actually deepened my comprehension of my own work.

Deep understanding of content and process is what we’re all after. Right?

So, join the growing movement of teachers who promote and encourage their students to share their work.

The Share Your Learning organization believes that we can “increase student engagement by making learning public”. It shares their free tools and resources for exhibitions of learning, student-led conferences, and presentations of learning.

Deeper Learning exhibition

As we move towards the end of the year and go into heavy exhibition season, we need to consider the benefits of students sharing learning.

I learned that value first-hand, and I believe it’s completely worthwhile for students to go through the awkwardness and nervousness of exhibitions —  because at the end is this deepened and richer awareness.

How will you ask students to share their learning? And deepen their understanding?


What do you think?