Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Anatomy of an Exhibition, by Jody Brown Podl

Anatomy of an Exhibition, by Jody Brown Podl from the Coalition of Essential Schools' online resources

Podl, J.B. (1992). Anatomy of an exhibition. Coalition of Essential Schools, Retrieved from


This article is a resource provided by the Coalition of Essential Schools' website. Podl chronicles and reflects upon the efforts of veteran teacher, Margaret Metzer, as she conducts her first exhibition with her high school senior English class. Metzer's students read and study Dante's Inferno. Frustrated by consistently poor performance on the traditional, multiple choice final exam (especially in comparison with the knowledge students were exhibiting in class), Metzer decided to try exhibition as a means of assessment. Metzer's exhibition project b after her classes have read half of the Cantos together and she has modeled many comprehension skills. Then, she has student pairs read a Canto on their own, write a paper, and present the paper and a lesson on the main concept of their Canto to their peers and three outside judges. Podl details Metzer's motives for transitioning from a final exam to a final exhibition; explains Metzer's planning and preparation for the exhibition; how she involved and managed her students; the timing and logistics; and the impact of the exhibition on students, teachers, and the school community.


Podl is detailed and honest in her report on Metzer's work. She uses headings to organize the different phases of the project: Vision, The Plan, Teacher Preparation, Student Preparation, The Exhibitions, The Papers, The Judges, Grading, Student Reflections, Unexpected Problems, Keys to Success, and References. Each section gives a detailed description of the project, including honest thoughts and reactions from Metzer as a teacher trying something new and some quotes from students and other community members. Podl is clearly in favor of exhibitions and underscores the positive effects of the project, but also highlights areas of challenge and aspects Metzer would improve upon next time. The inclusion of resources, including the works of Ted Sizer (who inspired Metzer's interest in exhibitions) are particularly helpful.


I appreciated this article's honesty: Metzer's traditional lesson plan for teaching Dante's Inferno was a stark contrast to the level of freedom and flexibility she gave students during their exhibition work and Podl is honest about the concerns this raised for Metzer. As a teacher thinking about my own first attempt at exhibition, I also appreciated the detailed descriptions of how Metzer thought about and organized her assignment. For example, she explicitly shared with students the rationale behind doing an exhibition and was upfront about this being her first exhibition too. The timelines of planning and classwork helped me visualize what it is like to prepare for an exhibition and the commentary on unexpected problems (like the reaction from other staff or the students' struggle to think of good teaching pedagogy for their presentations) will hopefully help me avoid problems and also prepare for those that I can't predict. This article's positive tone makes me feel excited and optimistic for my own exhibition idea and I truly admire Margaret Metzer for branching out after 22 years of teaching and, most critically, for willingly opening her practice to “dissection.”

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