I used to think that an exemplar was an exemplary example of student work. I was very proud of the numerous dusty projects looking down from above my bookshelves. Each one exhibited perfection in several different ways. Exemplar discussions in my classroom used to consist of me pulling down a dusty sample of student work to describe the big fat A on the top of it. I didn’t know it then but I was totally missing the point.
An exemplar is not an example of perfect work. An exemplar should be part of a collection of projects each representing different strengths. The purpose of a good exemplar collection is to generate conversation.
Myth-An exemplar collection contains only the best projects.
Reality-An exemplar collection contains all types of work students have produced (and agreed to donate to teacher) in the past. All strengths and next steps can be discussed if exemplars are varied.
Myth-An exemplar collection stays the same over the years
Reality- An exemplar collection should evolve. Always be on the lookout for new exemplars to add replacing some that are not as effective for conversation starters.
Myth-Students know how to discuss exemplars.
Reality-Teachers need to model discussions about exemplars. Don’t just expect students to have a thoughtful discussion about an exemplar without first modeling the discussion yourself.
Tips from a Mentor-Collecting exemplars can be tricky. Explain that the act of donating work to your collection will help future students to grow. Always remove student names and identifiable marks from exemplars to make sure that no lunchroom conversations result. Respect students who would rather not donate their work to your collection. There will always be others.
Exemplars are powerful tools that can enable students to discuss a work before attempting to do it themselves. Whether it is a writing form, media creation, science project, or mathematical solution, conversations about exemplars can shift thinking and raise the bar for everyone involved.
Did you have an aha moment here? How can exemplar discussions change the tone of your classroom?