Graduation by Exhibition: Metacognition at Work

Yvonne Domings

Graduation by Exhibition: Metacognition at Work

By Yvonne Domings, Ed.M. | Sparhawk Upper School Director

Graduation by Exhibition or GBE is the culminating reflection that every Sparhawk senior goes through before graduation. It is a process of mentally and physically going through all of the work they have done during their time at Sparhawk, then thinking about what they have learned and felt and thought about in hindsight. As the name implies, this process culminates in an exhibition in which adult mentors bear witness to this process and hear how our students plan to apply what they have learned to the next phase of their lives. As a progressive school, we believe that this process and product sends two important messages: 1) that we value your expertise in your own life and experiences  2) that the goal of education is for you to become an expert and master of yourself as a learner.

GBE, and reflection in general, provides a capstone to learning well. When learners take the time to reflect upon a learning experience, they pause and take a deep look at their own learning process. They think about what worked and what didn’t work in how they approached a project or problem. They set goals for the future and courses of action to move toward those goals. Doing this is called metacognition by researchers or “thinking about thinking.”

Metacognition is a way of metaphorically zooming out and analyzing what has been learned to set a course of action for the future. It helps students develop a toolbox of skills and strategies that they can draw on and transfer to other areas of learning and life. Without metacognition, learning is haphazard rather than deliberate. Without reflection, that which is learned stays isolated and is not transferable to new challenges.

At Sparhawk High School, students reflect regularly on problems in math, experiments in science, discussions, projects and readings in the humanities and process and projects in the arts and design. During the second semester of senior year, seniors begin to work on their GBE. GBE portfolios include a resume, a 5-year plan, a critical thinking reflection, an annotated list of PBLs to which they contributed and reflections from each domain (math, science, literature, history, world language and the arts). At every step of the way, they are prompted to reflect: What did I learn about myself as a _________ learner? What worked for me? What challenged me? How will I use this in the future? What did this experience teach me about myself as a human? How has this experience changed me?

GBE is an academic exercise, but it is also an emotional exercise that serves as a rite of passage. And as a school that values the “whole” child, we seek to honor the emotional life of our students. GBE, then, also becomes the beginning of a process of saying goodbye to the place and people who have supported you as you have transitioned from a child to a young adult.

Although it comes at a most hectic time of the year, I feel very fortunate to be able to bear witness to this process. GBE presentations force me to stop, be present, hear about their experience at Sparhawk and take the time to begin to say goodbye to each student individually. Each student’s exhibition confirms the development that I have seen in them and that they now see in themselves. It is most rewarding to see them emerge as strong and capable experts about themselves: good humans who are ready to apply what they have learned to the next phase of their lives. GBE presentations remind me of why I choose to do the work that I do. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to help shape the beginning and bear witness to the end of this academic and emotional journey for some incredible young humans. “Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.” -Ritu Ghatourey

For more information on metacognition, this article gives a brief overview on the role of metacognition in learning: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/46038/the-role-of-metacognition-in-learning-and-achievement