Can exhibition amplify Learning Power?

I’ve recently had the privilege of visiting Silicon Valley International School (INTL)- A surprise visit that manifested because of the amazing opportunities for connection created at the recent Kaleidoscope of Inquiry conference in Vancouver. Lucky enough to sit by Liz Evans, head teacher of INTL, during Misty Paterson’s workshop, amongst animated conversations about the power of pedagogy, Liz said, “Hey, our PYP exhibition is in a few weeks. You should come.”

For those of you who might be new to the IB PYP, at the end of Grade 5 (the equivalent of Year 6 in the UK), students run their own inquiry project which culminates in an exhibition of their individual research. Students share their learning with fellow students, teachers and parents. It’s an opportunity to have agency in learning, develop research and lifelong learning skills and then articulate, celebrate and share that learning with a meaningful audience. 

Having taught in a PYP school, I know how much effort and work goes into exhibition from students, teachers and mentors. I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to celebrate and learn from the students’ exhibition in Silicon Valley!

What was I hoping to see?

Chatting with Liz, there were many aspects of Silicon Valley International School’s approach which intrigued and appealed to my own research and pedagogical approach.

Firstly, Liz mentioned how the students learn through their target language (Mandarin Chinese, French and German) and how teachers and students learned from one another and through cultural approaches. For example, each culture has a different approach to learning and solving mathematical problems. Students shared methods and learned from and with one another. 

This really got me reflecting back on my experience of teaching English in Argentina (see here). It occurred to me that learning a language is never “just” about learning a language. As you learn a language, you learn the history, geography and culture associated with that language. Not only that, but you can’t help but “build your learning power” – It’s impossible to learn a language without being prepared to learn from your mistakes, you need strong perseverance skills to learn a language and you inevitably develop your reflection skills as you build your capacity to learn. So, this is another blogpost, but ever since learning Spanish in Argentina, I’ve thought that learning a language builds a 3-fold learning capacity:

  • Learning the language itself
  • Learning culture, history and geography through your target language
  • Developing learning-to-learn skills – unconsciously, or, even better, consciously and purposefully

This brings me onto my next point – the conscious and purposeful development of “Learning Power” through inquiry.

What are the links between inquiry and the LPA?

For those of you new to this blog, Learning Power Kids is dedicated to exploring how educators can develop the Learning Power Approach (the LPA). The LPA has been developed by Professor Guy Claxton and involves:

  • Broadening 
  • Deepening and,
  • Strengthening

Learning habits over time. 

The IB Learner Attributes and, in the UK Early Years curriculum, the Characteristics of Effective Learning, are both examples of highlighting the importance of learning habits. The LPA is the only framework I know of that aims to not only focus on learning habits but, importantly, develop them over time – So that throughout a child’s time in school, they become ever more adept at persevering, paying attention to detail, reflecting and feeding back on learning.

One area I am particularly interested in is what curricula, learning programmes, approaches best compliment the LPA. 

How might STEAM uniquely develop the LPA?

How can play be a fertile ground for learning-to-learn?

What are the links between the reggio emilia approach and the LPA?

How are Expeditionary Learning Schools developing lifelong learning skills?

And, in this case, how might inquiry develop children as lifelong learners?

Here is Kath Murdoch talking about the links between inquiry and the LPA in our recent Learning Pioneers Q and A with Kath and Guy Claxton focusing precisely on this question:

What would it look like to purposefully develop learning power through exhibition?

As with any inquiry project, whether guided by adults or led by children, or somewhere in between, children have to be adept learners and will inevitably “stretch their learning muscles.” Just a few learning habits children will strength through exhibition include:

  • Curiosity. Part of the process of inquiry involves planning an essential or an “ungoogleable question”. Ultimately, this question needs to be something that motivates the learner and they feel curious about finding out about. As inquiries unfold, children can become ever-more curious as new questions and findings emerge.
  • Organisation. To bring an inquiry through to completion and present learning from that inquiry, children will need to plan research, plan how to present research, plan what to do when they hit a dead end. They will need to organise their time and their research throughout. 
  • Reflection. Throughout preparing for exhibition, children need to constantly reflect – What’s going well? What isn’t going so well? What am I missing? How can I find out more? How can I get unstuck? How can I make this accessible to my audience? It is impossible to move forward to a meaningful presentation and outcome without constantly reflecting

So, “Learning Power” is naturally part of preparing for exhibition.

But, what would it look like, if we really looked for opportunities to amplify learning power? To gain a deeper understanding of ourselves as learners and really stretch our capabilities as learners in the process?

Here are a few ways the students at Silicon Valley International School, with the skilled guidance of their teachers did just that.

Developing empathy through exhibition

This was perhaps my favourite way teachers purposefully reframed exhibition. They asked their students:

  • Can you put yourselves in the shoes of your audience? What could really draw them in?
  • How might you make your exhibition a conversation or dialogue rather than a presentation? What might the benefits of that be?

Whilst engaging with students’ exhibitions, I loved seeing examples of  this stretch in empathy come to fruition.

One student engaged me in questions about myself to draw me into the topic (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t love talking about themselves?!)

Other students had planned experiential aspects to their exhibition; for example, by crawling into made-to-measure a box to experience what battery farmed pigs felt like.

Now, the students were only presenting, they were connecting with and engaging their audience. And learning the importance of this at aged 10.

Check out some of the exhibition set ups that were aimed to be eye-catching and informative at the same time:

Engaging parents in the process

One of the huge learnings from lockdown and online learning in our Learning Pioneers community was the importance of building relationships and shared pedagogy WITH parents (see Lou Heard’s blogpost reflection on this and bringing that learning back into her classroom). For the exhibition, teachers and leaders worked with parents, arranging an “introduction evening” exploring the pedagogy of how to be a “research partner”, facilitator and coach for their child during the preparation for exhibition, rather than being a “helicopter parent” and taking over or cutting learning. 

This made a profound impact on the process of learning for the students and warmly supported parents in supporting their child to get the most out of their learning experience – In short, learning wasn’t “cut” and in Mark Finnis’ words, learning was done “with” students rather than “to” or “for” them.

So, not only were children being empowered just through the process of preparing exhibition to conclude their learning in Primary School, teachers and all adults involved in their learning were thinking mindfully about how to support and challenge them best as learners.

Does you school incorporate inquiry projects or conclude inquiries or years with an exhibition based on children’s research?

How do you build your children’s capacity to learn in this process?

I’d love to hear in the comments or on social media by tagging me @beckycarlzon

P.S. If you’re interested in exploring the links between inquiry and learning power, there is a wonderful and rare opportunity coming up in London to learn from and with Professor Guy Claxton and Kath Murdoch. We found their collaborative thinking in Learning Pioneers on the links between inquiry and the LPA to be powerful and impactful on how we organised learning experiences. Find out more here.

P.P.S If you’d like to improve your inquiry practice, check out these powerful texts we have studied in Learning Pioneers to develop our inquiry-led practice. We highly recommend them!


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