I’ve written a lot about student-created exhibitions on my blog. One of the most challenging components of a student-created exhibition is the process of writing labels. It’s challenging for museum curators too. Getting the gist of an object or exhibition theme into 50-100 words is difficult. In a school setting label writing integrates literacy and critical thinking. Even if you can’t incorporate student-led exhibitions into your classrooms, label writing is a worthwhile exercise for students. Lots of museums have tapped into this idea with education programming. I frequently visit museums to look for ideas to integrate into classrooms and I do the same by browsing museum websites. There is plenty to learn from museums on how to engage students and provide authentic audiences for student work.
Here are a few of my favorite projects from museums around the country.
MOCA Jacksonville Voice of the People:
I learned about this project while working with MOCA at the museum school. Over the course of a school year fourth grade students practice visual thinking strategies and write label copy for a piece of artwork from the MOCA collections. It is the perfect exercise in writing, and ties in listening and speaking skills. The project also brings students from a low income school into the museum setting. Student labels are recorded and available to museum visitors. Check out the website to hear some of the examples. The museum has the data to back up the effectiveness of this program too. Students who participated showed an increase in standardized test scores.
Brooklyn Historical Society Young Scholars and Young Curators:
The Brookyln Historical Society partners with area elementary and middle school students. Their focus is on historical research and this research culminates in student-created books or exhibit label copy related to their neighborhood. This content becomes the property of the school. Here is a sample of the type of writing that results from these 4-6 month projects.
Smithsonian Writing Label Text for a Museum Portrait:
This is a great lesson from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery that incorporates label writing. Sudents read portraits and research the individuals depicted in the artwork. Then create label copy, taking into account audience.
All of these museum examples integrate visual thinking and research skills, the kind of research skills the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards include. In most instances students are also working around a Big Idea or enduring understanding.. Focusing work around a theme ensures students use inferences and seek patterns in their work, making the learning more concrete and long-lasting.