Classroom Display: Wallpaper or A Learning Resource? (Part 1)

Over the next few days, I will be publishing a series of blog posts about classroom display.  In May 2012, I wrote a Masters essay about classroom display entitled ‘Classroom Display: An alternative to wallpaper or a valuable learning resource?’  These blog posts will serialise my essay and this is part one: the introduction.

If you were to enter any primary school in the country, you would undoubtedly be faced with a colourful display of children’s work on most wall spaces throughout the building.  You may also encounter reminders of rules.  Some displays might be a reminder of what children have recently been learning, others might be an evolving display of what is currently being learned.  Times tables posters and laminated A3 sheets reminding children what an adjective is often feature prominently.  There are many different types of classroom display and their purpose is variable.  Yet, do these displays help children to learn?  If they do not, why are they there?

My own practice and observation of others’ practice has led me to come to the conclusion that many classroom displays are used solely to make classrooms attractive, rather than serving any particular purpose.  In addition, due to the time it takes to put up a display and the intricacies involved, they are changed irregularly, often on a half-termly, termly, or even annual basis.  Bennett (2005, p. 124) informs teachers that their Headteacher will frantically tell them to change their display boards in the run-up to an OFSTED inspection, but recommends that they use this as bargaining tool to avoid having to change displays for the rest of the school year.  When this overriding negative attitude is coupled with the legal right of teachers to refuse to put up classroom displays (Great Britain. Department for Education, 2010), it is to be expected that the erection and maintenance of classroom displays should become an issue in many schools.

Whilst carrying out a detailed shadow observation of an underperforming child in my school (henceforth given the pseudonym Tommy), I was amazed to discover that he paid a huge amount of attention to a poster on the wall, which listed all the multiplication facts from the two times table to the twelve times table.  Tommy, who is in Year 3, had been identified by his teacher as not making expected progress, yet when I spoke to him one-on-one, his recollection of multiplication facts was more advanced than the level expected of an underperforming Year 3 child.  By paying attention to the poster on the wall, Tommy had taught himself times tables that his peers had not yet encountered.  Despite the fact that Tommy was doing this whilst he should have been listening to his teacher, it made me think about the role of displays in the classroom.  Through my own practice, I wanted to emulate Tommy’s learning style by providing the children in my Year 5 class with the opportunity to learn without being directly taught by me.  I also wanted to use classroom display as a means for promoting independence and collaboration in my classroom.  This blog post will present how I carried this out.

In this series of blog posts, I will be presenting the answers to the following questions, which I aimed to address through daily work as a classroom teacher:

Can learning be incidental? Does a teacher have to teach everything, or can children learn through subtle exposure to information?  I will report on how I used a small classroom display to teach the children in my class the vocabulary of a scientific theory.
Are children more enthusiastic about their learning when they are involved in classroom display? I will report on how I allowed the children in my class to have full responsibility for the design, erection and maintenance of a classroom display, and how this affected their attitude to learning.
Are interactive displays more conducive to learning than traditional displays of good practice?  I will report on how I use an ever-changing display – with which the children can interact – to collaboratively develop the vocabulary and literacy skills of the children in my class.

Part 2 >>

References

Bennett, H. (2005) The Ultimate Teachers’ Handbook. London: Continuum.

Great Britain. Department for Education (2010) School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document 2010 and Guidance on School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions [Online]. Available here. (Accessed: 19th May 2012).

11 Replies to “Classroom Display: Wallpaper or A Learning Resource? (Part 1)”

  1. I will look forward to this series of blog posts. This is an area over which I have changed my views over the years. In the early 2000s I worked as a literacy consultant and produced a great series of printable display resources for teachers to ensure that pupils had “100 words on view from wherever they sat in the room” and a vibrant environment to sit in.
    This was in reaction to a sense that display in the late 90s and early 00s were often huge works of art which didn’t move learning on.

    Over the 00s there has been a development in the sale of display ready materials on eBay, Sparklebox etc – this has meant that, walking around schools, I often see a homogenous approach to display. This can include working walls which can be a complete gamechanger in classroom learning or pure wallpaper.
    My thinking has shifted over the years and I look to ensure that displays include pupil evaluation of their work, models of good practice but the biggest shift has been the use of toolkits for children to use in their seats. They are often laminated, differentiated cards which give scaffolds for specific areas of learning.
    Part of this comes from working with a Head whose attitude was that if it was important enough to plaster the information all over the wall then it was important enough to put it directly in front of the children.

    1. Hi Bill.

      Thanks for reading and for your very thoughtful comment. I know exactly what you mean about opinions about classroom display changing over time – I’ve been a teacher for two years now and I’ve already completely changed my viewpoint! When I started my NQT year, I viewed displays as simply something that I had to do, as it was an expected task. Therefore, I did the minimum possible and focused on getting colourful displays up that I could change very irregularly. Now, however, I cringe at the thought of that.

      I agree with you that lots of classrooms are now beginning to look the exact same, thanks to the abundance of ready-made resources. I must say that I’m a massive fan of Teacher’s Pet, who produce some excellent resources that really aid children’s learning. However, by no means do I plaster my room with these – I’m not going to allow myself to become another Sparklebox devotee!

      I’d like to know more about your toolkit. Do you have any links to explain it?

      Thanks again!

      Simon

  2. I am very interested in this area and will be delivering an inservice session to primary school teachers about it next term. So I look forward to hearing any evidence based research you have about this in your blog, particularly in terms of the effectiveness of working walls. Also if your masters concluded any does and don’ts that would be really useful.

    1. Hi Liz.

      Thanks for reading and for leaving a comment. I have added a few more blog posts with the tasks that I carried out as part of my work. As this was a work-based project and not necessarily a research project, I don’t have many does and don’ts, but instead have some recommendations for my own practice and for practice in my school. These will be in Part 4.

      Simon

  3. Jenny Greenwood says: Reply

    As an MFL teacher, I’ve always thought that classroom displays are essential. However,at my school we have no wall displays at all and I have to admit that it’s made no difference. I’ve come to the conclusion that pupils on the whole don’t refer to them unless prompted.

    Would be interested to see your conclusions!

    1. Hi Jenny.

      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment.

      I must say that I disagree with you that children won’t look at displays unless they are prompted. I remember the posters on the wall of my GCSE French class very clearly. They were boring and dull posters, but they made sure that I knew all of my verb endings before we’d been taught some of the different tenses! This was one of the experiences I did think about as I started to write my essay. I must admit that I was able to sit and look at these posters because I was bored and not challenged enough, but if you look at the Part 2 blog post, you’ll be able to read about a small display I put up in my classroom. I made no reference to the display and brushed children’s questions off if they asked about it. When I took it down, the children were able to tell me what exactly had been on it, so had therefore learned from it.

      There is, however, a developing theory that no displays anywhere in a school can prompt children to learn. I don’t agree with this at all, but if I remember who it was that’s investigating this, I’ll comment here.

      Thanks again!

      Simon

  4. I hope no one is a ‘Sparklebox devotee’ any more – certainly no one at my school wants anything to do with the products, given that even clicking on the site still generates income for a twice convicted paedophile; the second conviction relating directly to the site.

    1. I agree! I stay well away from it, but unfortunately some people still use the site, despite knowing this.

  5. […] For a great series of blog posts looking at the use of classroom displays, visit Simon McLoughlin’s blog. […]

  6. Dragging this up from the past but came across your blog and its so interesting! I am currently writing my dissertation on classroom displays and there use of helping children develop their phonics awareness. I’m struggling to find any research and this has given me great help! Thank you

    1. Hi Jessica. I’m glad that it’s been of help. Have a look at the references at the bottom of each blog post in the series for the research I used.

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