Using Exhibitions to Demonstrate Mastery: Lessons from The MET School

By Keesa McKoy
May 5, 2017

This was adapted from a post by Michelle Portilla published on the Center for Collaborative Education blog.

Imagine a student walking into your classroom and telling you they had found a way to turn their binge watching of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation into a project that could meet the national Career and Technical Education (CTE) standards. This scenario is similar to what happened when Yesenia Franco, an 11th grader at MET School, in Providence, R.I., proposed an idea to her advisor, Michelle Portilla, to replicate a crime scene for her CTE project that focused on criminology.

In sharing this creative solution to “show” her mastery of criminology, Yesenia says she decided that “instead of standing in front of a PowerPoint, Prezi, or poster board, I would create a crime scene and teach my panel [a group of students and teachers] how to evaluate it properly.” Michelle, her advisor, loved the idea: “Yesenia was interested in law enforcement and wanted to explore crime scene investigation with more depth this school year. She wrote a paper on it, learned all about it at her Providence Police Explorers after-school program, and spent her free time watching documentaries and videos about this topic. She told me she wanted to use her exhibition as a space to show her panel what she learned, but to do so in a way that was ‘less talking and more doing.’”

At the beginning of the project, Michelle identified the CTE standards Yesenia needed to demonstrate mastery. Once complete, Yesenia’s project showed proficiency in the following standards:

  • Explain the basic steps of crime scene investigation (e.g., protecting crime scenes, preserving physical evidence, collecting and submitting evidence)
  • Identify factors that determine if a crime has occurred
  • Explain procedures to collect and process DNA and micro-level evidence
  • Explain the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel at a crime scene

Yesenia had her panel walk through the crime scene while teaching them about the process, roles, and results of CSI work. She created a very realistic crime scene filled with fake blood, flipped chairs, special effects make-up, broken glass, and all the important details any police officer or detective might actually come across. As with any successful project, Yesenia shared that she learned a lot during the process: “One thing I found challenging was planning out how I was going to position the bodies and the background story behind my crime scene. I also learned a lot myself, such as there are fifteen different types of evidence and that the lack of evidence is evidence itself.”

This project falls under the performance assessment practice, known as exhibitions. Student-centered exhibitions are often high-stakes demonstrations of mastery that occur at a culminating academic moment, such as the end of a school year or at graduation. Exhibitions are summative assessments, but the process of building up to a final exhibition includes ongoing assessment, feedback, and revision.[1]

As Yesenia’s experience illustrates, when given guidance and empowered to be creative, she naturally wanted to share and show her learning in an interactive, performative way. Assessment can bolster learning, personalize it, and drive student voice and choice. Yesenia’s project is a proof point of this impact and how it can be motivating to others. Michelle noted that Yesenia’s project caused “a noticeable buzz” and inspired other students to present their own projects as an extension of Yesenia’s project. Students made presentations on special effects makeup, domestic violence, and how to correctly cut a fade hairstyle. She adds, “I am pretty excited to see how this amazing project influences the next round of exhibitions.”

[1] See Jill Davidson. 2009. “Exhibitions: Connecting Classroom Assessments with Culminating Demonstrations of Mastery.” Theory Into Practice. Vol. 48, No. 1, 36-43.

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