This week I am 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 the final part. Click here to read Part 1, here to read Part 2 and here to read Part 3.
Are interactive displays more conducive to learning than traditional displays of good practice?
So far in this series of blog posts, I have been negative about displays that do not support or extend the learning of children in classrooms. In order to answer the question posed in this post, I used a type of display that reacts with speed to children’s educational needs, addressing their weaknesses, embedding new information and extending already-developed skills.
Using the title ‘Picture of the Day,’ I display an A4 picture on the whiteboard at the front of my classroom each morning before the children arrive. Above it, they are given instructions about how to respond to the picture. Using the whiteboard pens provided, they are free to respond to the picture at any point in the morning. In the afternoon, I sit down with the children and we discuss their responses to the picture.
I decided to introduce this display following a staff meeting, in which the point was raised that the range and level of children’s vocabulary at Key Stage Two was not as wide nor as high as would be expected. In order to address this, I first started using pictures to elicit adjectives from the children in my class. The development of a bank of adjectives meant that their descriptions of the picture quickly became advanced and they continually tried to out-do their peers in having the most adventurous vocabulary. This adventurous vocabulary is always praised by me during our whole-class discussions about the responses to the pictures, with rewards given to children who have demonstrated particular thought and consideration in their word choices.
One morning, one child in my class was unwilling to use the word ‘nice’ as an adjective to describe a beach setting. He had learned from previous photos that a word such as this would not be praised by me or his peers. Therefore, without prompt, he went to his Assertive Mentoring file, where there are help sheets to up-level adjectives and found a word that was of a much higher level. For this independence and willingness to improve, he received a lot of praise and started a trend of children up-levelling their work without my aid. This growing level of independence and accountability has led to a higher quality of responses from many children in the class.
I regularly use the Picture of the Day display to embed and practise skills, techniques and writing tools that were discussed the previous day. For example, having looked at speech marks one day, the next day’s picture involved the children writing what the person in the picture was saying. This helped them to think carefully about the punctuation required, but also to peer-assess, as they always correct each other before I have the opportunity to do so.
The outcome of this display has been extremely positive and the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this section is most certainly affirmative: interactive displays are more conducive to learning than traditional displays of good practice. If I had displayed a wall of exemplary Level 4 or Level 5 pieces of writing, which I have done in the past, I know that the children would not have been as engaged. I know of classrooms that have such a display, but I have not noticed any children flocking around it each morning to read, write and learn from it, right from the moment they arrive in school. Long pieces of model, neat writing on the wall idealise the notion that everyone should be a Level 5 writer and vilifies those who do not meet that standard. This display involves every single child, regardless of their ability, as they respond according to their individual level. They make progress primarily through instant feedback and discussion with their peers, and secondarily through feedback and development of their ideas during the whole-class discussion with me. This daily feedback would not happen if this were a display of exemplary work.
By investigating whether learning can be incidental, I discovered that children are able to learn and retain knowledge that is displayed in the classroom without any reference being made to it. This is a technique I will continue to use.
When I involved the children in my class in erecting a display in our classroom, they became a lot more enthusiastic about their learning. They took pride in the display and paid a lot more attention to its content. I learned that involving the children can lead to them learning more by admiring their own work.
An ever-changing display requiring a daily response from children sounds like a lot of work, but once it became part of the daily routine in my class, the learning that occurred as a result has been phenomenal. I have learned that children are excited to take part in a display and enjoy responding to challenges, as they don’t realise that they are learning.
Through this project, I have truly learned the important role that display can play in a child’s learning. It is now clear to me that classroom display is not just for decorating a room and making it colourful. Classroom display is a valuable resource that must be fully utilised by every practitioner to fully advance and consolidate the learning of the children in their care.
Planning and undertaking this project has made me realise the importance of a purposeful classroom display.
The main implication for my own practice in the classroom is that in future, I will be very much aware of the purpose of what I display on the classroom walls. I will also ensure that they are interactive and constantly updated, be that daily or on a half-termly basis. In my classroom from now on, there will be no major display that remains in the same place for an extended period of time. In addition to this, I will endeavour to plan displays into the day-to-day work in my classroom, particularly as a stimulus for learning or an extension of learning.
Undertaking this project has been a fascinating insight into a process that takes place in every classroom in the country, yet the value of classroom display is often underestimated. My conclusions from this project are:
• Displays do not have to be all-singing-all-dancing. Subtlety can be very effective, as seen in the Mrs Nerg display.
• When children are involved in the decision-making process and erection of displays, their enthusiasm for the attached learning increases, as seen in the Titanic display.
• Displays do not have to be static. Ever-changing, short-term displays are effective, as seen in the ‘Picture of the Day’ display.
My classroom practice will forever feel the impact of this project and I look forward to developing the ideas further in the future.