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.
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).