Culminating Exhibitions and Real-life Learning

December 19, 2010 at 2:45 pm 1 comment

posted by Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school

The important outcomes of schooling include not only the acquisition of new conceptual tools, refined sensibilities, a developed imagination, and new routines and techniques, but also new attitudes and dispositions.  The disposition to continue to learn throughout life is perhaps one of the most important contributions that schools can make to an individual’s development.  ~ Elliot W. Eisner (emeritus professor of Art & Education at Stanford, former president of the John Dewey Society)

Our whole school is crazy for birds.  All of our kids and teachers are deeply engaged in learning about the birds that appear on our window feeders, the birds that appear in the stories and books we read and in the songs we sing, and the bird we chose to make into our annual piñata (yes, it truly is a blue-footed booby that we will smash next week at our All-Family Winter Celebration).  And we are crazy for gardening, too – the plants we grew in the garden that were cultivated and harvested by the 567s, the food we made from the plants we grew, and all we learn about plants (and animals!) from our trips to Common Ground Farm, a local CSA.

At the school where I work, kids learn by doing.  And an important part of that learning and doing involves pausing once in awhile.  To reflect, to share, to celebrate.  In the past few weeks we have paused for two important moments of celebration.  Just before Thanksgiving, the Authors (that’s the name our 567s chose for themselves) invited their parents to an exhibition and sharing of their two-month-long harvest work.  And what an outstanding exhibition it was…  The Authors sang the Charlotte’s Web song that they had written, taught their parents their Turkey in the Straw dance, and then toured their families through a variety of activities – scooping pumpkins, looking at photo slideshows of farm trips and garden work and our all-school Harvest Feast, counting pumpkin seeds, designing recipe pages, eating pumpkin bread, drawing spiders and webs.  They ended the hour together by listening to a reading of the long long loooong story of the corn they grew and ground and cooked.  And that was only some of the in-depth gardening, reading, baking, writing, singing, harvesting, measuring, and creating they had engaged in since September.

Last week, the Emperor Penguins (the name the 81910s gave to themselves) presented an amazing Birds Museum to their families.  Each Penguin gave a presentation about one of the many birds they had studied.  The “docents” then stood by their stations and explained to their visitors all they had learned and accomplished during the past few months.  They are writing “life lists,” books in which they document the birds they see.  They have conducted single- and multi-variable experiments, recorded data, and created graphs that represent the number and kinds of birds that have visited different feeders.  They completed a substantive author study in which they read many different books by Jean Craighead George, and then deepened the experience with letters they sent her, book reviews they wrote, poetry they composed, and an experience-of-a-lifetime visit to the 91-year-old author’s own home.  They studied geography by mapping out states and capital cities and state birds.  They designed birdhouses to raise money for the Audubon Sanctuary at Constitution Marsh.  And so much more, all of it connected to and building upon what they had done before.

But even more important than all the work our K-5th grade kids have done so far this year is what they have learned from these integrated studies of birds and harvest.  When our 8910s group reflected together about the entire birds study, every child adamantly expressed how much they love birds.  When their teacher asked if they had been interested in birds before, almost all the kids responded with an “eh” or a “so-so.”  Our kids have learned to observe, to research, to ask questions, to share ideas and information, to participate in community, to be absolutely passionate about what they experience in the world around them.  It is all woven together – the connections are real because the learning is about living.  And, no surprise, these two culminating exhibitions were such perfectly authentic ways of bringing children, parents, and teachers together in real-life celebration of the learning our kids have been doing.  Hooray hurrah for The Authors and the Emperor Penguins and for all their teachers!  They make me want to fly.  After I help put some mulch on the garden, of course.

Alisa Algava graduated from Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program in 2008. For the past 15 years, she has taught and learned in public, private, and charter schools in NY, NJ, and RI. She has posted on the Alumni Blog about her experiences leading and learning in a small progressive school. Alisa loves learning. She loves moderating The Alumni Blog. And she really loves her nephew.

Entry filed under: assessment, classrooms, constructivism, curriculum, integrated curricula.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Allison Warren  |  January 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    What a great way to infuse excitement into the families, children, and teachers.

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