Process vs Product

In a PYP school, the culmination of primary school learning is the exhibition unit, in which students carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry. The exhibition synthesizes the essential elements of the program: knowledge, trans-disciplinary skills, concepts, attitudes and action. It’s an opportunity to celebrate their learning and share it with the whole school community.

As leader of a PYP workshop on the exhibition recently, I wanted to ensure that participants thought deeply about the purpose of the exhibition, to support them in formulating their opinions and developing concrete plans for how it would look in their own schools.

Participants shared their what, how and why questions in groups and we set these aside to be addressed during the coming three days, including this one:

‘What should we avoid?’

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Simon Sinek’s golden circle served as a trigger for initial thinking. It’s worth watching his TED talk, if you haven’t seen it, but the essence is that great leaders and organisations (teachers and schools!) start with ‘why’.

The participants expressed their ideas on the purpose of the exhibition, we discussed the IB guidelines and we called on the global community to add their thoughts.

I shared my school’s journey: Our first PYP exhibition three years ago, focused on the ‘what’ (forms, sheets, protocols and guides to support us)… and we thought it was wonderful! Our most recent exhibition started from the ‘why’ and was all about the learning.  The process became much more important than the product. The exhibition itself was an opportunity for students to really talk about their learning, with a choice of one means of presentation (a painting, a poster, a movie, an artifact…) replacing the mass of paper we used to have on display and discard the following day.

Then and Now

Keeping the ‘why in mind throughout the workshop, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ fell into place and the three days flew by. We explored possibilities, deepened understandings, aired concerns, shared experiences, discussed issues and made plans…

On the last day, I asked the participants to answer their own question-

What should we avoid?

  • over complicating
  • anything that isn’t purposeful
  • teachers controlling the learning
  • focusing on product and polish at the expense of learning

While it’s clear that the teachers will have to deal with the demands and expectations of their specific school contexts, I could see that my dual messages of ‘keep it simple‘ and ‘start from why‘ had been internalised.

Back at my own school, the Year 6 Learning Team Leader and I have prepared a proposal to move our own exhibition to the end of the school year as a trial. We would like to replace the traditional, contrived graduation ceremony with a celebration of authentic learning. Graduation would consist of a simple student-created opening ceremony, followed by the exhibition: our students presenting all that they have learned, displaying the attributes of the learner profile, demonstrating their skills and sharing their knowledge with pride.

Are the powers that be ready to shift the graduation focus away from product and polish?

15 thoughts on “Process vs Product

  1. It’s a bold, brilliant and totally logical idea. I see a few storm clouds on the horizon. I know you’re not fond if my ‘meme’ theory beliefs; but the dusty old meme of a Graduation Ceremony that praises the academic, sporty, popular kids for doing what comes naturally needed to be challenged! I love the idea of every child being given the opportunity to celebrate the very individual learning journey they have made through Primary School!


  2. Hi Ed, thanks for the post and sharing Simon Sinek’s TEDx talk. I wound up getting the Kindle ebook. I agree that the Why is essential not only in how we conduct student learning events like Exhibition, but also in the less public tasks of approaching learning in a school: curriculum development and articulation. Believing in why we use the inquiry approach, why we allow students to own the lines of inquiry…lots of beliefs energize the time and work that goes into the products. Without the belief in the pedagogy, practice doesn’t go over that gap between the early adopters and the rest. Looking forward to more thoughts from you.


  3. We are doing our Exhibition right now as our last Unit and we are finding many pros and cons with it being the last unit (managing end of year reviews, MAP testing, school celebrations etc.), but one of the positives is that as teachers we have given students a chance to end their Primary Years independently and what a way to move into Middle School! In our team meetings we’ve already discussed the transition of having our parent Exhibition night into a graduation celebration. Great post confirming what we, the Grade 5 team, are thinking and talking about here at AISDhaka!


  4. Keeping the ‘why’ in mind and “avoiding over complicating, anything that isn’t purposeful, teachers controlling the learning, focusing on product and polish at the expense of learning.” That is all good advice for us when we are planning learning experiences at any time of the year in any part of the school.

    Thanks for writing about the impact it has!


  5. Great timing. We have a mid year and end of year Celebration of Learning with our Yr 9s – first year of high school. Our learners focus on three questions, what have I learnt, how did I learn, what would I like to learn next. I banned powerpoints a couple of years ago for oral presentations with props. Our challenge is getting above 50% family buy in.


  6. Hi Edna,
    This certainly helped me understand the “avoids” as a first time Principal beginning exhibition this year. Thanks so much for sharing. We need to always keep the focus on Learning and on Students.


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