At BSM we schedule 2-3 ‘Learning Exhibitions’ per year. These are based on the model described by Ron Berger in his book ‘The Ethic of Excellence’ and underpinned by Carrol Dweck’s work on developing Growth Mindsets – which also, in this case, provided much of the content of this unit of work.
We recognise that when students know that they will share their work with an audience they are motivated to make it high quality, are more willing to solicit feedback and engage in the refinement of their final product. They must also reflect upon what they have learnt in preparation to explain it to someone else, which helps cement their learning and ensures a fuller understanding of the topic. Exhibitions put students at the centre of the learning, as they describe their learning processes and their final products. Exhibitions also support students to apply what they have learnt, provide a platform for sharing, develop confidence in speaking and presenting, and be creative.
Ron Berger (2003) recalls his school days saying, “I had no audience while doing my work when I was a student and no sense that my work meant something to someone”(p.98). As a teacher, he ensures that his students have an audience. He says, “When students know that their finished work will be displayed, presented, appreciated and judged – whether by the whole class, other classes, families, or the community – work takes on a different meaning” (p.100).
At BSM we would advocate that focusing on learning in this way also supports perseverance, accepting mistakes are part of learning, independence and self confidence. These all link with the development of personal well-being, a central part of this topic. On Tuesday 30th October Year 6 students presented their learning about Mindset(s) and Mindfulness to their audience – in this case their parents. This unit of work is designed to focus on skills that support both learning and personal well-being.
Students, paired up with their parents, took comfortable positions on bean bags, yoga mats or chairs to share their first unit of work: Mind(set)fulness.
Mind(set)fulness, as its name suggests, is a unit of work that covers an understanding of mindsets, along with mindfulness. The unit of work focused on neuroscience and the idea of neuroplasticity (the understanding that the brain can change) aiming to answer the following essential questions:
- Who and what influences my state of mind?
- How much control do I have over my intelligence and talents?
- How much control, if any, do I have over my happiness and emotional state?
The students learnt that through perseverance, challenge and making mistakes they can develop a growth mindset and can make themselves ‘smarter’. They also worked on developing their abilities to regulate their emotions and control their state of mind through intentional activities. It was so important that this understanding was learnt at the start of the school year and shared with their parents so that they too could see the benefits of a growth mindset and practising mindfulness.
The learning exhibition consisted of each child preparing a presentation and some tasks for their parents. They began by defining, in their own words, the term perseverance. In connection with this, they then created a task that tested their parents perseverance: this was a riddle or mathematical puzzle in most cases. This is an activity that they themselves had done in class; they seemed to really enjoy seeing their parents struggling! In mindfulness, the connection between thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and actions is often referred to. Therefore the students created a questionnaire to ask their parents to reflect on this connection with regard to the challenging task they had been given.
Following this the students had a conversation with their parents to talk about what they had learnt about their own mindset, whether they felt they had a growth mindset or a fixed mindset and what their parents could do to help them with this. The presentation then discussed what mindfulness is, its benefits and how it is connected to the study of mindsets.
The students spent a lot of time working on the final part of the presentation – their sleep stories. Having listened to many of these from the ‘Calm’ website and app, they spent several weeks in English lessons working on writing their own. A sleep story uses lots of calming figurative language to take the listener on a journey as they lie in bed, ready to fall asleep. The students redrafted their work many times and refined their techniques for reading their stories aloud. They practised using calm and soothing voices so that, during the exhibition, they could ask their parents to lie down and enjoy their final product. As teachers, we were so proud of this writing and it was some of the best we have seen yet! Audio recordings of their sleep stories can be found here; please feel free to listen to them before you go to bed.
The exhibition was run at the student’s own pace, and some spent as much as an hour explaining their learning to their parents. At the end of the presentation, parents were asked to complete a reflection sheet showing what they had learnt from their child. This acted as an assessment of the student’s presentation.
One of the reflection questions asked to parents was, “How will you change the way in which you talk to your child about their learning?” It was fantastic to read these responses and to know that the exhibition has had an impact on this.
One parent said, “I will try to step back and let him come to me if he needs help. I will offer different solutions to a problem, let him think about those and will follow up why he has chosen a specific solution, asking him where he can apply this.”
Another said, “I will put an emphasis on the learning, the effort and the journey – not so much on results or scores.”
And this one really made it evident that what we have been teaching will affect the well-being of the students: “Remind him everyday that he is in control of his destiny and can achieve anything he wants, with passion and hard work!”
The parents found it a very valuable experience:
“I found the Y6 Learning Exhibition last week very enlightening. It was a very good and timely reminder that everyday should be be a learning experience, no matter the age! Because of the hurried pace of life and easy access to information, it is tempting to do “shortcuts”, give up when the task is difficult and choose an easier route. But my son, Matthew, taught me the value of perseverance – that one should never give up easily and should continue to accept challenges as part of having a growth mindset. Thank you for this valuable reminder! – Anne Von Behr
“We enjoyed learning about mindfulness and developing a growth mindset, especially how these concepts can be used in everyday life. We are still having fun with riddles that tested our own perseverance!” – Martin and Mokky Lemoine
The students reflected on the exhibition, what it taught them and how it might change their relationships with their parents.
Ritasha Nandwani, from 6AD, said, “The best part of sharing my learning was that my parents got to learn something and at the same time find out about what we are learning.”
Melia Lemoine, from 6RS said, “I liked teaching them about things they hadn’t learnt about before and presenting my learning to them. I felt very proud to show them what I had learnt.”
Anvi Puthran, from 6AD,reflected on her presentation skills saying, “I learned that when I present my slides I need to be louder and not get nervous. I need to be more confident when I speak.”
We hoped that through sharing their learning that the parent-child relationship may change with regards to school work.
Audrey Pu, from 6RS said, “I think when I’m saying ‘It’s too hard!’ my parents are going to encourage me to not give up and remind me of the exhibition.” Reese Ng (6AC) also thinks it has had a positive impact and said, “I think it will make our relationship stronger if we do mindfulness together.”
Overall, it proved to be a very valuable experience. Year 6 will be having several more learning exhibitions and continuing their focus on developing well-being skills this year. We hope that they are equally as successful!
Athena Douglas (Head of Y6)
Ref: Berger, R ‘The Ethic of Excellence’ (2003)