The art room is a busy place with projects, supplies, and students everywhere. As artists, we are all so invested in the art-making process that many times we don’t leave enough time to stop, appreciate, and reflect on all that we have accomplished and learned along the way.
My students’ absolute favorite day is our “Gallery Wall” day. During gallery wall time, every student gets to display their artwork to the class. We discuss and critique each piece in a safe and respectful environment. This time is spent focusing on the positive and calling attention to the detail, uniqueness, and hard work of the students’ work.
Near the front of my room, I have set aside an entire white board filled with magnets that is specifically used for gallery wall critique. The proximity of the display area shows students how much value I place on this activity. I believe it is more important to set aside time for reflection and discussion than to squeeze one more project into my curriculum. Reflection gives us a chance to look back and learn from what we just did, and time to pause before embarking on that next artistic journey.
Students know that during the last fifteen minutes of class on the last work day of the week, they are to place their artwork on the gallery wall. This is a routine that the students are familiar with and look forward to. No one is ever forced to share their work with the class, but I am always amazed by how everyone wants to participate.
Students want to express themselves and display and share their artwork, especially at the elementary level. By promoting this kind of interaction when students are young and less inhibited, it helps them continue to share their talents as they grow and become less hesitant. Students have such a sense of pride, excitement, and anticipation from sharing what they have accomplished. Students are also in awe of each other, they learn from each other, they come to understand one another in a different way, and they are better able to appreciate other students’ perspectives.
During the gallery wall critique, students are able to ask questions, express opinions, explain, and give further information about why they decided to complete their project in a particular way. Students respond and connect to another classmates’ interpretation of the same project they themselves have done. As a whole, the class gets to learn from one another, recognize how we all have differences, and also notice how very similar we all are.
As an educator, the gallery wall practice allows me a chance to teach my students tolerance, unity, kindness, understanding, critical thinking, and art appreciation all in one setting. Students have a better work ethic when they know their art will be on display with their peers. They are more invested and want to do their very best, be as creative as they can, and stand out. It is extremely rewarding to hear the students discuss what struggles they had, how they overcame them, and to discover the creative art-making process that went into their work.
When school went online in the spring, I continued to display student work on social media, and on our school’s website. The response was amazing! The incredible outpouring of positive comments and appreciation for the arts was awe-inspiring. Students, parents, and teachers alike were involved in a virtual gallery wall critique.
During these uncertain times, it has never been more important for our students to be able to express themselves and let their creativity shine. Due to COVID-19, I am teaching from a cart this year; the students don’t have an art room. After we finished our first project, the first question I got was, “Are we still going to do the gallery wall?” Yes!! The gallery wall is wherever you need it to be, and wherever you make it. Whether that’s in a classroom, online, or on a cart, developing a gallery wall practice creates a safe place to display, connect, respond, and learn from each other.
Rachel Henderson is an arts educator at Westvale Elementary in West Jordan, Utah. She is a member of the Jordan District Arts Planning Committee for classroom teachers and mother of three. Rachel strives to infuse art and fun into everyday teaching curriculum and her after-school art club.