Gallery walks for middle school

I participated in a “gallery walk” during a session at an NSTA conference. Would this be appropriate for middle school students?
—Carolyn from Pennsylvania
A gallery walk would be an excellent tool to add to your collection! In a nutshell, a gallery walk is a discussion strategy that engages groups of participants as they examine and respond to a document or artifact. Often these items are displayed on a wall and the participants move as a group from one to the next, hence the name. I suspect electronic tools can be used to display work and accept comments, but I like to get middle-schoolers up and moving!
In one version, groups of students display their work (e.g., a project, poster, graphic, lab results, or a response to a prompt on a large sheet of paper). Then the student groups rotate around the room providing feedback. Each group then reviews and reflects on the comments made on its work. Groups can then make modifications or prepare a summary/presentation.
Another version has groups of students responding to questions or graphics provided by the teacher and adding to the work of others. This can be used as formative assessment or a way to uncover misconceptions
I’ve found several excellent resources on preparing for and conducting gallery walks in the science classroom:

I’ve used gallery walks with students and in professional development sessions with teachers, and I’ve learned a few things:

  • For students who have never done a gallery walk before, be sure to model the kinds of feedback and group behaviors you expect. If students are asking questions or responding to a teacher prompt in the gallery, add a few of your own as examples of appropriate responses. Show comments that are helpful and lead to good discussions. For example, instead of saying “I like this” or “You did a good job” it’s more helpful to say “This is effective because…” Other constructive comments could start with “We wonder…” or “Did you consider…”
  • I had a major blunder with markers bleeding through poster paper onto the classroom wall, so I switched to having students post their comments with sticky notes. This actually worked out well—we used different colors of notes for questions, commendations, and suggestions. This helped the students focus on their comments and helped me to see at a glance the kinds of responses being made.
  • Be sure to monitor the students as they participate. You can learn a lot by eavesdropping on their conversations, and you can discourage any “ditto” remarks or inappropriate comments.
  • My classes were large (7-8 groups of students). I found that if time was an issue, responding to 3-4 gallery entries provided enough information. I usually gave no more than 3-5 minutes to respond. I numbered the entries so that students could follow them in order to prevent (or at least tone down) the chaos.
  • In classrooms where we didn’t have enough wall space, the students put their papers or posters on the desks.

If at first this is not successful, don’t give up. It may take a few times before students understand the purpose and see the value of the activity. Your examples and modeling are important to the success of any new strategy.

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