Curating Makes a Difference

I have always been a big believer in displaying student work. First, there’s just nothing else that really communicates what is going on in the classroom or with student learning to those who are not in your classroom each day like seeing visual representations of the work that has been recently accomplished. Second, you get instant parent buy-in to your teaching and classroom when they see their kid’s work displayed publicly. And third, and most important, the twinkle of pride that you see in a student’s face when they recognize that their work is being displayed… well, there’s no substitution for that. The delight is obvious with younger students, that is true. However, upon displaying student work at the high school, I always noticed a palpable shift in attitude and behavior from those students who had their work up on display. It’s such a simple way to boost student morale and get a “buy in bump” from students.

In recent years, the display of student art has emerged as an art form in and of itself. I know that during a recent visit of many innovative schools, we saw student art formally “curated” around the school community. It was incredible! I also know that as we looked on this incredible and impressive displays of student art, that many in my group felt like it would be truly impossible to undertake “curation” of student work; it was just too complicated, required too much time, and would require tools and items that weren’t readily available at the school.

Well, I am here to say that is definitely not the case. Student work can be curated very simply and very easily. Some basic guidelines on curating student work include:

1. Symmetry. Find 2 or 3 projects or visual items that are the same size and/or same proportion, and display them together in a group of 3-5 items. Be sure they are hung evenly with good spacing between individual pieces. Voila!

2. Pattern. You can take differently shaped items and “frame” them within a given size on a wall. Have the outside edges of a few of the items create the “corners” and “edges” of the large area and place items of different sizes within the bigger space.

3. Get kids involved. Students love owning creative process and love having their work displayed. Give them a space and a few guidelines, and you will soon find that they will transform the area into a gallery. This could even be incorporated as part of the overall exhibition of learning or project: demonstrate your learning with visual representations in this designated space using these guidelines. As a part of their learning process, students could visit or research curating works so that they understand basic design principles themselves. Kid involvement can be a very teachable moment when it comes to curating their own work. 

4. Make it interactive. There are no rules that say curated work must only be looked upon and not interacted with by the viewer. The interactive component could again be used as a design challenge for students.

5. Make it elevated. Take a look at how several museums (especially modern art museums) display visual pieces and emulate their approach. It is clean, well organized and arranged, and interesting. Simple pre-cut frames add an element of sophistication. Proper arranging makes student work look like treasured art. Having small information cards that are printed on cardstock, of identical size and formatting, for each piece again lends to the feel of museum quality student display.

In short, you don’t have to spend hours of time curating student work. This two-minute “how to” video walks you through some of the basics on how to curate student work effectively. There are many low-cost, low-time ways in which student work can be shared with the greater school community in a meaningful, classy, and empowering way. And remember, no construction paper backers unless your last name is Matisse! 🙂

Go on, give it a try. And please share your results!