A few years ago, I was the advisor for my school’s student-run art gallery. My district converted an old garage used for storage space into a sprawling art gallery. It’s about the size of a basketball court.
Over the years, we hosted many student shows like The Green Show, Freshman Odyssey Projects, The Dream Show, Portrait Show, The Art of Cooking, Political Art, The Photography Show and a district wide show titled Blooming Collaboration.
We also curated shows like Glass and Light, Selected Works from Sara Schneckloth (yes, that is my untucked shirt and red pants in the photograph), Princeton Black History: A Pictorial Retrospective, Community Artists Show, Princeton Community Housing Show, and The Life of Sergio Bonotto, World War II Veteran and Princeton Artist.
My favorite part was getting on a ladder and pointing the track lights in the right direction right before we opened on a Friday night. We had poetry readings, music, and even a political debate, but I discovered the conversation about the art was the most important thing. I loved asking my students about their artistic choices, what moved them to pick a certain color or image. I loved complimenting them on a skill that I don’t have. Their parents and friends would admire their work and take pictures.
The experience made me realize that my students rarely write for anything but a grade. When anyone writes for an audience of more than one, they must write for everyone. So now I try to think of creative ways to not just display student work, but to create assignments that will be fun for others to view and discuss.
I ask my students to create one-pagers or any kind of graphic organizer that I display in the hallway or around my classroom. My students will work in groups to create mind maps or sketchnotes on large paper posters. In the spirit of William Blake, I will also ask students to create a visual of a poem they write or give them the option of creating a visual of their favorite poem using canva.com or PowerPoint.
Displays don’t always have to contain visuals. I’ll ask them to quote their favorite part of their essay and print it out to display in the hallway. Word walls are another great way to make literary techniques and terms less intimidating. It’s always important to show model thesis statements, body paragraphs, topic sentences, introductions, conclusion and the interpretation of evidence. This is easy with online submissions but can also be fun with index cards displayed under a document camera onto the projector.
I love that my school still has large blackboards (most rooms have two) because it gives my students the opportunity to get out of their seat and walk around. I might organize the board with spaces for each student to write or allow students to create a graphic organizer with topics and quotes. After we read “Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth, I write various topics on the board like nature, sense, beauty, feelings, thoughts, language, self, meaning, and spirituality and ask students to find quotes related to the topics. My college professor, Thomas Sayers Ellis, would write the things he said on the board, like songs, poems, movies, topics, phrases, names, places, and dates. It was like physics or jazz, with letters, sounds, and symbols that were all connected. Everyone should be like my professor, writing whatever great things they say on the board. Every day should be collaborative art.
Then there are the ways we show student work using technology like podcasts, short films, and video essays. Students put more effort into thinking and writing when they know that more than one person will hear their words. Displaying student work builds confidence and allows students to start conversations with their ideas instead of letting them wither out on the paper.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers