Showing off your students’ work can be one of the most rewarding experiences you have as a teacher. Not only do you get to share the hard work of your students with a wider audience (parents included!), but the recognition that comes from spotlighting burgeoning talents and creativity can inspire students to greater achievements.
Sharing can be as simple as adorning the halls outside your classroom with student projects as second-grade teacher Amanda Downing does.
“We have displayed our projects proudly in the hallway so that all of the children and adults that walk through see what our second-graders are passionate about. They linger in front of the projects and learn! I hear kids outside my door saying, ‘Cool! Wow. Look at this one!’ It has been a wonderfully motivating assignment for my students over the years.”
Or sharing can reach a broader audience via technology, service learning projects, or contests. To get started, check out these ideas from educators around the country on how they showcase exemplary and innovative student work.
Blogging students’ writing
Lisa Mims, an elementary school teacher for the last 29 years who teaches fifth grade, uses Kidblog, which she calls a great outlet for sharing student work.
“I tell teachers all the time to use Kidblog, because even if you’re not tech savvy, it’s just so simple to use,” says Mims.
The website allows K-12 teachers to set up online blogs for their classrooms where students can share their work and insights with other students across the country and around the world. Teachers control the activity of their students and determine what can be made public and private. The site is free for a class of 50 students or fewer.
“They love having their own space,” Mims says of her students, who enjoy when other students and teachers comment on their posts. “They love having an authentic audience. We always talk about making that real world connection. Well, here it is.”
Mims has her students share fun in-class assignments, whether it’s free writing or discussing how they approached a completed a math assignment. They upload them to Kidblog, where Mims will then read through their submissions before publishing them to the site.
“I usually do something that’s related to what we’re doing,” says Mims. “So when we first started school, I did these poems called ‘Where I’m From,’ and they really came out nice. They gave me a chance to get to know my kids, and I posted them on Kidblog.”
Mims uses Twitter to connect with other teachers who use Kidblog.
“I find out the names of the other teachers and we put their blog in our blogroll,” Mims says. “So then we’ll get on Twitter and say, ‘Hey my kids posted something. Could your kids get on and leave comments?’”
Real world applications for classroom learning
Berne, Indiana, high school science teacher Michael Baer has found a rewarding way to connect classroom learning with real world civic engagement.
After a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Baer and his students discussed the disaster and its impact on the country’s clean water access. One student raised her hand and asked what the students could do to help. Baer, who had never considered the question before, approached his school’s principal with an idea for a student-led project to help bring clean water to Haiti. The “Dots in Blue Water” project was born.
Students worked together to research water filtration systems, raise funds, and learn about Haitian life. They were put in contact with a patent holder who had invented a purifier system that could be easily used in Haiti. Instead of reinventing the wheel, students worked together and used their academic skills in a meaningful way.
“I don’t want to give off the idea that we invented this, because we did not,” Baer says. “We simply took a need and took a resource and brought those together using the student’s knowledge, what they researched, and also their problem-solving skills. And as a science teacher, that was my favorite part.”
Over the past several years, groups of students and teachers from Baer’s school have traveled down to Haiti to work with NGOs and the Haitian people in implementing their purifier systems. Thus far, the students have built and implemented eight community-sized filters from the patented model, as well as over 100 family-sized filtered purifiers. Their efforts have helped provide clean drinking water to almost 5,000 Haitians.
“The kids continue to develop how they can have faster flow rates and test the water quality,” says Baer.
While Berne is a community of only 5,000 people, the majority of funds raised for the project come from local businesses and supporters, as well as fundraising efforts on the part of the students. The entire school district is now involved. Elementary, middle, and high school students all participate in efforts to support the project, as well as having global competency, hygiene and health, and Haitian cultural studies incorporated into their lessons.
“It really gives us, whether it’s science classes or music or language arts, an opportunity to tie in the experience with our lessons,” Baer says. “It’s really redefined our school’s character.”
“We want to be known for kids who are getting an authentic education and then immediately putting it into practice,” Baer adds.
Submitting student work to contests and publications
There are a number of national contests, magazines, and awards that celebrate student creativity. Most of them are free to enter and provide a ready and prominent platform to showcase the work of budding artists, thespians, and writers.
“I submit work to contests and exhibitions at the local, statewide, and national levels,” says art teacher Amanda Koonlaba. “I submit work to arts education publications. I also share work with arts education entities using social media. I've had great success with this—all within the parameters of school policy of course.”
Students who are recognized for their scholastic achievements often receive awards, publication of their work, and scholarship money—not to mention the positive reinforcement that comes from being honored. And even if students don’t win, the fact a teacher thought their work was worthy of such an honor can help a student further pursue their talents and realize their maximum potential.
While many contests rely on the inclusion of teachers in the process (see the sidebar for a list of national contests), students can and should pursue their own recognition as well. Teachers can encourage students to show off their work to a wider audience and serve as advisors and mentors to their students. If you do suggest that your students submit their writing to literary journals, remember to tell them to research the market first before submitting their work.
Hold Your Own ‘Museum’ Exhibition
Twice a year, the students at fifth-grade teacher Stacie Lorraine’s magnet school have their work displayed in a school-wide museum called “Dream. Think. Do!” that’s designed to showcase student creativity. The museum’s exhibits, which are aligned to Common Core standards and include project-based learning, is described as “collaboratively designed by preK-8 teachers and students.”
“We invite our partners and community members, including elected officials,” says Lorraine. “It is very successful!”
Showing it off
From sharing student work with the school community, to showing it off in your town, state, or even nationally, there are plenty of outlets to get noteworthy projects noticed by others. Just remember to follow school policy and obtain permission from parents and students before sharing their work outside the school.
Your students are doing amazing things every day in the classroom; now it’s time to let others see the efforts of all their hard work!