Tag Archives: author’s note

How To Put The Learning To Work Part 4: Transform The Classroom Into A Gallery

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art gallery

Over the past week, I’ve been sharing some ideas for how to end the year meaningfully with your students. The goal has been to design interesting ways for students to resee and remember the learning that happened. The first post suggested having students remix their work to see it again in an interesting way. The second post focused on creating a self-assessment that pushes students back into the work from the year. The third post offered up several different kinds of end of year letters that teachers and students could write to look back on the work as well as look forward to next year. In this post, I explore the idea of transforming the classroom into a gallery of student work as a way to culminate the year.

Idea #4 – Create a Gallery of Your Students’ Work

When I say gallery, I’m thinking of an art gallery, a place where fine art is hung, and in this case, the fine art will be student work from the year. Imagine redesigning your classroom to resemble an art space, clearing all of the walls, making tables available for display. Ask your students, “If you had one piece of work that you did this year that you would like to share with others, what would it be?” This question will prime the pump for the piece of work that the students will eventually hang in the gallery. This gallery should be a collaborative effort. Everyone should get involved in how the gallery will look. What pieces would look good next to one another? Who needs a table or a particular place in the room? One of the things that makes this particular kind of culmination meaningful is having students take ownership of it. They should clear the walls, reorder the space, figure out a way to know what works are going where, etc. This will take a bit of time, but it will be well worth it. Plus, the whole time they are planning for the gallery, they are reminding themselves of the work that they have done over the year.

Once the students have selected what pieces they are going to display, to deepen the learning of the gallery, have your students write the equivalent of an artist statement that will accompany the work. To begin, share a model of an artist statement, maybe something like this:

artists statement


There are others online that are more appropriate for elementary and middle school students. To prepare the students to be able to write their own, talk about the moves the artist makes in the statement and how the students could use those moves in their own statements about the work they are displaying. Basically, a good artist’s statement does the following:

  • Shares a bit about where the piece came from. What inspired it?
  • Talks about how the piece was made. How did the person create it?
  • Discusses what the piece means to the creator and how it has affected his/her practice.

Depending on the time you have, you could have your students work on a draft of this statement and workshop it in class to really polish it up. Again, the dedication of time to this is well worth it because students will be reseeing and discussing the work that they did over the year, reinforcing the learning that happened. The day of the gallery, have your students hang their pieces of work with the statements right next to them, and a blank sheet of paper next to that for viewers to respond to the different pieces.

When the gallery is hung, prepare your students by first talking a bit about what it is like to walk through an art gallery. How do people act? I tend to highlight the fact that it is not entirely quiet in a gallery. People talk with one another in hushed tones as a way of deepening the appreciation of the work. Encourage your students to have those kinds of conversations. I would also stress that the goal is not to make it around to all of the work. That would be impossible. It is much better for students to spend the time really looking at a few pieces than trying to look at all of them superficially. When it comes to the comment page, coach your students to leave a comment about something that surprises or interests them about the piece. Point out something specific in the piece that stands out to them. Most importantly, do not repeat something that has already been written, and do not leave a comment like “this is really good.” Depending on where your students are with this kind of commenting work, you may want to develop a few examples of strong comments with them and put them up on the board for reference.

Then, let them go to town! Walk around with them. Get involved in real work conversations. Enjoy reliving all of the great work that happened throughout the year. Oh, and by all means invite others! Invite last year’s teachers, next year’s teacher, administrators, parents, friends. The more the merrier! The added benefit of the gallery is welcoming others into the fantastic work that you are doing with your students.

The hope is that you have time after the gallery walk to be able to get back together as a group and debrief a bit. Ideally, you would get into a circle with your students and seed the conversation with a few questions: What does this gallery/work make you think about? What stuck out to you? What do you want to make sure I, as the teacher, don’t leave out next year? If you were to give some advice to my students next year, what would you say? You get the idea.

Take pictures of this event. It will be worth it. And send a few to me if you get the chance. I would love to see them.

Warping the Traditional Author’s Note

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A great ending to writing a piece is crafting a clever author’s note to go along with it. I tend to have my students write these whenever they are going to publish a piece of their writing. Author’s notes can sometimes be rather dull and formulaic, but there are some interesting and fun ways to write author’s notes that students enjoy and that push them to be strategic and artful with their writing. Here are a few ways to write author’s notes.

Idea # 1: Author’s Note as Cento

The Cento is a form of poetry where the writer pulls lines and phrases from other poems and puts them together to create a new poem. Have your students do this with their own writing! Have them go in and pull great lines and surprising phrases and have them think strategically about how they may want to put them together in the form of a wild author’s note. When you do this, you get something like this:

Delight I invoke, Run down, between ocean and gorge to myriads of transcendence in the star-flash of the underbellies of blue cars and other worlds that float off like foam Into the sea.

Or this:

Girl in water

bottle section(better

suited for light

around the edges)

developing a tendency

 to make the

unbearable tedium of

 regular writing. As

specified in Tour

Guide, this is

her second workshop.

An equation for

this exists: 15 + 240 =

this girl(me) at

Cliveden. The figures

change from year to year.

These two Centos were built out of lines and phrases that the students pulled from the stories that they had been writing over the course of a short story unit.

Idea #2: Author’s Note as Remix

Another way to create an interesting author’s note is to dig through the writing and find quirky and funny things that it says about the writer. Remix that material into an author’s note, like this:

Leah is someone with no rhythm. She hates Remax commercials. She has never traveled to Missouri and wishes never to go there…EVER. She likes jet planes, especially when flying to Europe (where, I forgot to mention, she also has never lived). She has heard the “then there was light” story too many times to count, but wonders when there was water. Maybe her next novel will analyze that. Leah did not write “The History of Anonymity.” She has, however, written the defunct book, “Swimming for Dummies.” She is furious that the publishers did not consider it. She currently has “writers not,” a mentality similar to “writers block.” We hope (or do not hope) to see her work again soon.

Or something like this:

Nick feels like croaking on in the morning on the way to school. His mother tries to play the Dixie Chicks and roll down the window. This makes Nick’s eyes go cross.

Good author’s notes can be short and sweet.

Idea #3: Author’s Note as Collaborative Writing

Get students and teachers together in groups of three or so and have them build author’s notes for each other collaboratively. Each writer gets out a piece of paper. Make the constraint three words and pass, meaning that each writer puts down three words and then passes the paper to the next writer. That writer picks up the author’s note from where it left off. Keep passing the papers around, writing three words at a time until you get something like this:

Eli envies the deaf, wears chucks, and hates Axe body spray. Currently he is adrift in a jar, buried under a rock, with the glass painted black. He’d love to talk about his family dynamic, but thinks it might be a bit of a personal subject at this juncture.

Or this:

This long wage of vast palette, which builds its range by adoption of hues in Tijuana of futuristic squirrels. Holy hell’s bells avenge Baltic buffoons. Eyes like saucers let me go! Tattooed tramp! My Mom’s got nothing but leaky boots.

Idea #4: Author’s Note as Identity Theft

Have your students go online and Google themselves. Have them jot down all kinds of interesting things that they learn about people that have their same name. Then have them write an author’s note using all of that information. You’ll get something like this:

Leif Gustavson sometimes lives in Massachusetts. He actively uses his Dropbox to collect electronic music under the artistic name Leify-Greenz. When not in Massachusetts, he returns to Kyle, Saskatchewan. While pursuing his Master’s Thesis in Cognitive Science, he won the Children’s Wish Foundation Home Lottery and secretly wished that his first name was Thor.  He has a propensity to take pictures with his shirt off. Leif often eats lunch at a shelter set up by the Spencer Emergency Management Agency at Knox Trail Junior High School.

The point of all of these forms is to warp the conventional author’s note, to push students to think and act divergently and convergently about the form. I would start this experiment by sharing a traditional author’s note or two with the students. Talk about the craft: what makes them tick? What are the moves that the writer is making in them? Then I would say, “For our author’s note, let’s warp the form a bit” and share these other ways of creating interesting, artful author’s notes. This way, they get the conventions of a traditional author’s note and then can twist it in fun and challenging ways.

All of the examples, with the exception of the identity theft one, are real author’s notes crafted by middle and high school students.