The Exhibition is the culminating experience that is undertaken by students in the final year of the PYP where they demonstrate their ability to take responsibility for their own learning. As a result, students collaboratively demonstrate their understanding of an issue they have chosen to explore. This inquiry is both individual and with their peers, and is guided by a mentor who is member of the learning community (for example a teacher, a parent or an administrator). The Exhibition is a demonstration of agency, so students plan, present and assess their learning and they also demonstrate their capacity to take action. They may select the key and related concepts, develop their own central ideas, come up with the lines of inquiry, and decide what skills they need to develop. They design their own learning goals and decide on the criteria for success.
The Exhibition may be one of the six transdisciplinary units studied during the final year of the PYP, or it may explore a global issue that crosses many transdisciplinary themes. It may happen within a specific time frame, or it may run alongside other units. In one school I know the Exhibition was a year-long inquiry. However it looks, the important thing is that the Exhibition is collaborative, involving working with peers, teachers and mentors, and that time given for regular sharing and feedback. Throughout the process students will be demonstrating the attributes of the learner profile, exploring multiple perspectives, reflecting and taking action as a result of their learning. The Exhibition is also often used by schools as a celebration of the PYP and marks a transition to the next stage of their education.
Since student agency is at the heart of the Exhibition, I'm often asked by schools that I consult with about how much guidance teachers should be providing. For schools in the consultancy phase, there is actually no requirement that they complete the Exhibition before authorisation. Schools that are less experienced with the Exhibition may prefer to have more of a guided exhibition. However as schools become more experienced, the Exhibition should move much more towards a student-led one.
In a guided exhibition students are probably all using the same central idea, though they can develop their own lines of inquiry. As schools become more experienced they can involve the students in writing this central idea - a great process I've used for this is the consensus protocol developed by Adaptive Schools. Again, with a guided exhibition I have seen schools decide on a particular way that students would communicate their learning - one school I worked at did this as a TED-talk by groups of students. As schools become more experienced, students can have more choice about how they want to communicate and what action they want to take.
With a student-led exhibition students will develop their own central ideas and lines of inquiry. They take full responsibility for planning their inquiries, deciding how to communicate their understandings, and they are capable of assessing their own learning against success criteria and giving feedback to others to improve their learning. Students will also be initiating collaborative actions that have local, national and/or global significance.
While students are agents of their own learning, they are supported by their teachers and mentors. Mentors can be drawn from all members of the learning community and they meet with students regularly to help students set and meet their goals. Students are responsible for setting up the meetings with their mentors, and the mentors are responsible for asking questions, suggesting resources, helping to interpret the information that students find, and facilitating interviews or trips outside the school.
Perhaps one of the early challenges in the Exhibition process is to identify globally significant issues or opportunities from which students can develop their central ideas. Right at the start of the Exhibition process, students and teachers need to be discussing local and global issues that have meaning to them. At this point some students want to narrow down their inquiries, but I've always found it important to keep these inquiries quite broad so that there are possibilities for detailed investigations by all students over a long period of time. The inquiries need to be accessible to all students with differing abilities, interests and strengths. Often I've found that from these initial discussions it's possible to put students into collaborative groups that match the passions of all group members - these groups are generally across the whole year group, not just in each class, though it is possible that different classes may each develop their own central ideas based on the interests of the students. It's important though that each of these groups is contributing to the collaborative inquiry - each group perhaps looking at a different facet of it.
The Exhibition process is what is important - but in every PYP school where I've worked there has always been a culminating product or experience. This does not have to be large, but it is one that is shared with the whole learning community in various ways. Students explain the process and their inquiry journey, as well as their final understandings, so they will share journals, feedback, reflections and so on, as well as the product which could be a speech, dramatic performance, song, poem, film or something that they have built.
In over 20 years of working with students on the PYP Exhibition, I've taken on many roles. I've been a homeroom teacher, a PYP Coordinator, a technology coach and a mentor. I love the Exhibition process and I am always amazed at the growth I see in students during the process and what they eventually come up with as their products. The Exhibition brings together the entire PYP: students show how they have developed as learners and as internationally minded young people who know how to make a difference in their own lives and how to enhance the lives of others.
Photo Credit: Ars Electronica Flickr via Compfight cc