Planning Student Learning Experiences Using Library of Congress Online Exhibitions: Entrance Narratives

This post was written by Stacie Moats of the Library of Congress.

Exhibitions page from the Library of CongressThis is the second of a three-part series of blog posts featuring tips for preparing students to connect personally and to engage collaboratively with primary sources through more than 140 Library of Congress online exhibitions. I’ll use the Library’s exhibition, Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words, as a case study for planning these virtual student learning experiences.

Take time to reflect on everyone’s entrance narrative, including your own

“Entrance narrative” refers to each visitor’s framework for constructing meaning, combined with personal knowledge, learning preferences, emotions, and worldview. All of this and more can inform how a visitor experiences an exhibition and interprets its content. Understanding your students’ individual and collective entrance narratives can be critical when determining if an exhibition’s theme or specific content is accessible, appropriate, and relevant. Equally important is reflecting often on how your own entrance narrative may influence your choices when designing and facilitating exhibition learning experiences.

Classroom teachers are already familiar with their audience, both as a group and as individual learners. Even so, pre-visit activities or discussions can help you to identify any gaps in your understanding of students’ content knowledge and help students relate a potentially unfamiliar concept to their own backgrounds. For instance, you might try asking students to pair and share about their prior knowledge and experience with exhibitions in general. Possible questions include:

  • Have you ever visited an exhibition, in person or online?
  • If so, what words best describe your experience?
  • If not, what might you expect to experience?
  • Why do you think people create exhibitions? Visit exhibitions?

    Explore Rosa Parks Exhibit

Before introducing students to “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words,” consider exploring the concept of an entrance narrative. Begin by inviting everyone to imagine how they might experience this exhibition if visiting in person as a concrete way to think about themselves as learners. Possible questions include:

  • Would you read text labels explaining items on display? Why or why not?
  • Would you prefer to look closely at a few items or just glance at everything? Why?
  • Would you prefer to explore on your own or to be guided by someone? Why?

Consider inviting older students to reflect on–and perhaps share–how they might further influence or control their learning in an exhibition, whether in person or online. Possible questions include:

  • What unique perspective do you bring into an exhibition?
  • Why might you interpret the same exhibition differently from your classmates?

For example, if your students think they know Rosa Parks as the tired seamstress who refused to give up her bus seat, consider both activating and challenging their prior knowledge by analyzing together as a class Parks’ Reflections on her arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger.

You might also demonstrate how students’ interests differ (or align) just by looking at a selection of the Library’s online exhibitions. For instance, consider presenting students with all exhibitions listed under the letters “A, B, C.” Provide 5-10 minutes for silent browsing of the titles and descriptions (without clicking through), followed by polling (anonymously, if possible) of students’ top three exhibitions of interest. Which ones resonated with students? Any surprises? How might students’ interests change after learning about others’ interests or more about a topic?

Have you explored the Library’s online exhibitions with your students? Share your experiences in the comments!


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