Making Arts Learning Visible in Stanislaus

The Educationally Interpretative Exhibition: Rethinking the Display of Student Art, Making Arts Learning Visible

By Patty Larrick

A Project of the Stanislaus County Alliance for Arts Education in collaboration with the Stanislaus County Office of Education. 
How do we view and understand a typical student art show?  What do we make of what we see? Do we look for the “best” work?  The blue ribbons?  The “talented” kids?  Maybe we look first at the nametags that identify the student, school and grade level. Do we learn anything about how the work was created? Can we make any assumptions about teaching and learning from the singular examples on display? 
This month, the Stanislaus Alliance for Arts Education, in collaboration with the Stanislaus County Office of Education implemented an educational model for the display of pre-K through high school artwork. Based on a model developed by Elliot Eisner at Stanford University, the Educationally Interpretative Exhibition (EIE) was introduced at the County Office of Education, March 4-14, 2013.

The Alliance Leadership Team saw this kind of display as part of larger arts advocacy goals. Thus, an essential part of the plan was to have the exhibition be part of the agenda for the participants in the Regional Spring Forum. This year, these participants included administrators, teacher and parent leaders and arts and cultural providers. 

The 94 participants were introduced to the aims of the EIE approach before going across the street to see the display as a group. They returned to discuss focused questions relating to the differences between this kind of display and the more typical show of student artwork, and the implications for arts advocacy, authentic assessment, documentation and professional development at their own site.  
From the beginning, the Stanislaus Alliance for Arts Education saw this kind of exhibition as highly effective advocacy for school and district visual arts programs. It also provided the opportunity to feature the difference good teaching makes in what kids understand and know how to do. Because this is new to most of our visual art teachers, the COE provided workshops for those who signed up to submit work for this exhibition. 
The important features of an Educationally Interpretative Exhibition include showing multiple examples of the same lesson, including a statement of lesson or unit objectives and/or VAPA standards addressed and/or rubrics for student evaluation. Typically, EIE displays also include such things as thumbnail or preliminary sketches related to the lesson, student and/or teacher quotes or artist statements about the experience of creating the artwork and/or (at the upper grades) the intent of the work. The display also includes photos of students working on lesson processes as well as selected quotes from the field of arts education that capture important concepts related to the learning associated with the specific work on display.  All of these forms of documentation are intended to make arts learning visible.
The EIE is intended to help viewers understand that the creation of visual images stimulates, develops, and refines particular modes of thought and contributes to the enhancement of the student’s artistic and visual intelligence.  A display of student art in this manner makes it possible for viewers to see the connection between artistic and technical process and the finished product. The work selected illustrates not individual students’ talent, but the forms of thinking that are used in the creation of their artwork.  Our next step is to work through the Alliance, the COE and the Gallo Center to develop a parallel approach for the performing arts.
To learn more about how to set up an Educationally Interpretative Exhibition  at your school or district, download the flyer created for the project in Stanislaus.