The Importance of Sharing: Feature pieces, gallery walks, spotlights and more…

I’ll begin today by opening myself up and sharing an embarrassing memory from my first year of teaching. I’m warning you, this one is pretty bad, but here is my personal opinion… We all have embarrassing moments and if we can’t reflect on how we used to be and how it impacts who we are now, we have no business being in the field of educating others.

It was around the holidays and everything seemed to be getting out of hand. Piles of paperwork flooded my desk, my curriculum binders were a mess, I could not keep up with grading homework, and I was constantly being scheduled for meetings on my preps. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but this overwhelming feeling made me begin assigning work that was not necessarily the most important. This was not like me. I cared so much about teaching meaningful lessons, but I guess somehow my values got lost in the chaos for a moment. I will never forget when one of my most beloved students, we’ll call him “Captain” to maintain anonymity, came up to me with a worksheet in his hand. I looked at him and said “Thanks, Captain, you can leave that on my desk.” He said to me, “I already handed it in. I just found it in the trash.” I was mortified. In that moment I flashed back to the previous afternoon when I went on a cleaning spree and tried to clear off my desk…obviously his work was on it. There was nothing I could say to Captain in that moment to make up for what I had done. The only thing I can do now, years later, is to say thank you. Captain changed the way I teach and think, and that one moment has impacted the countless students I worked with after him.

Today in education, teachers are responsible for plowing through a ton of material. I always fear that this idea of “fitting everything in” can blur the lines of what is most important. The worst thing we can do is give work that comes across to our students as “busy work.” We need to be careful. While there is a lot that must get done, our work must be meaningful. We need to make time to stop and celebrate the work that is being done or else our children will not realize the importance of their work nor will they have a visual representation of the progress they have achieved. This concept is small but it has a great impact on work ethic. This idea is important both in school and at home. Classrooms and home work-spaces should have student work on display.

Why Share Student Work?

  • To instill that the work being done is valuable
  • To instill pride for the work that is being accomplished
  • To allow students to get feedback including both compliments and constructive ideas for ways to make their work stronger next time
  • To allow students to review work from different points in the year, so they may have a visual marker for progress

How to Share Student Work?

We can share work in a variety of ways including:

  • Publishing party: Have student families come into the classroom so children can share their writing
  • Bulletin Boards: Display student work and art (see below)
  • Library: Put student writing in your library so other students may read their work (see below)
  • Gallery Walk: Tape student work all around the room and have the class walk around to admire the work. Take it one step further and give students post-its to write compliments for the pieces they like.
  • Theme Day Celebration: Invite families or other classes to come in and see your students’ work. Last year, I worked with a fabulous teacher who held a math carnival to share math games built by students. (See below)
  • Principal Boards: Ask the principal of your school to make a bulletin board in his/her office that has displays exemplar student work each month.

Bulletin Board: Community Heroes

Student's stories are bound and headed for the library to be shared.

Theme Day Celebration: Arctic Study Share

Spotlights: Here is my favorite way to share work. This strategy can easily be modified to fit your needs. I will give an example to help you understand how this works.
Download Spotlight Sheet
Monday: We do a writing lesson on how to include more details in our writing.
Monday night: I take home student work, read through each piece and write feedback. I choose a few lines from student work that I deem to be exemplar. I fill out my spotlights sheet including  a short excerpt that demonstrates the skill (or for younger students, i’ve used a spotlights chart on large chart paper.)
Tuesday: I begin our writing lesson by reviewing the spotlights with the class. We discuss the student writing and why these particular lines were chosen.
With this strategy, students become motivated through examining the strong work that is being done by their peers. They are more likely to work hard when they know that their teacher is looking through there work with care. I always make sure to include a variety of writing levels. It is easy to choose a struggling writer if you are just focused on the one line! This can boost confidence, especially for writers that do not receive compliments frequently. Download “Spotlights” sheet by clicking on the blue link above.

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