Take a look around you. I don't mean around the school, as suggested on Day 4, but around you. What are the walls of your classroom like? If your school has computer labs, what's on the walls? How about the walls in the general area itself, outside the rooms?
Walls are not there simply to separate rooms or hold the roof up. Well, they are, but you can use them for so much more. And if you're not allowed to put anything on the walls then investigate the possibility of having digital displays, in the form of mobile 'walls', plasma screens or, if it comes down to it, a computer station or two at the back of the room running an automated PowerPoint show. I'm not saying that's ideal, and I recognise there may be practical drawbacks, but I am just trying to convey the idea that there is no need to, and nothing to be gained by, taking a defeatist attitude in that kind of situation.
What's it all for?
Before we go any further we need to stand back and ask the big question “why?”. To put it another way: what is going to be the impact on teaching and, especially, learning, of your classroom display? If the answer is “not much”, then there’s little point in bothering.
That may seem a little uncompromising, but schools are about learning. Anything which does not contribute to that goal, whether directly or, perhaps by creating a safe, stimulating and pleasant environment, indirectly, is simply a waste of time and energy.
The same goes for notices in a computer lab. All too often they are full of what you must not do. After three minutes you start to feel as though you've entered a prison. What's on the walls should enhance your desire to learn and do stuff, not make you wish the end of the lesson had arrived.
How effective is the display in your classroom? Try this as an experiment to find out how much notice your class takes of the wall displays. Ask them to tell you, without turning round to look, what country is shown on the map at the back of the classroom. The best situation in which to do this is one in which there is no map, nor ever has been, in the back of the classroom. The pupils will almost certainly come up with all sorts of answers except the correct one.
If that happens then you will know that your display has been less than successful!
Types of display
Nothing, nada, zilch
The most basic type of display is no display at all. In other words, there are just plain walls and doors. You may think it is frivolous to count this as a display at all, but bear in mind that the environment the pupils have to work in conveys a message to them. In this case, the silent message could be that they are not important enough to worry about. Even if this is stretching the significance of the so-called ‘hidden curriculum’ a little too far, it has to be admitted that the complete absence of anything at all on the walls cannot exactly produce a stimulating learning environment.
It may be, of course, that the school has been built, and is being maintained, through a private finance initiative (PFI) or similar arrangement, and that one of the conditions of use is that nothing is put on the walls, or other restrictions. That is something that should have been spotted, and negotiated out of the contract altogether, at the planning stage, so it is too late to do anything about it immediately - although it may be possible to find ways to work around it, as suggested earlier.
Another type of display is created by putting posters on the walls. These can be obtained from companies, in which case they contain advertising, or educational periodicals. The main function these serve in practice appears to be to brighten up the room. In some cases they serve a second function as well: that of covering up unsightly marks or cracks. Ideally, they should help to provide information or points for discussion that can be brought into lessons.
A third type of display is intended to showcase children’s work. The walls are festooned with print-outs - sometimes annotated in colourful felt tip - and extracts from pupils’ folders. If you have someone on your team who is great at putting things on walls in a way that makes people burst with pride at seeing their work on them, ask them if they'd be kind enough to be in charge of all that sort of thing.
Perhaps in return you could negotiate some sort of quid pro quo with the powers-that-be, something useful like having one or two guaranteed free periods a week in which to manage it. If that's not an option or not applicable, then take away some aspect of administration, or even try to obtain a small salary increase for them, although that is both unlikely to happen and is not without its difficulties if it does happen. If the person is a teaching or classroom assistant, then build in display duties as part of their timetable if you can.
The point is simply that although many staff in school do extra things and go above and beyond the call of duty, that's no reason to expect it and take it for granted.
Another type of display consists of sets of instructions. Information on the walls tells users how to achieve something, like printing to the colour printer.
… and Guidance
A related type of display is sets of rules, intended as guidance on how to behave near the computers or how to make sure the equipment stays working. I have always applied Freedman's 5 Minute Rule: Someone should be able to come into my computer suite, log on, do some work, print it out and save it and log off, all in the space of 5 minutes even if they had never set foot in the school before. See 7 Rules For Teachers and ICT Co-ordinators for more on this plus six other great rules.
Finally, the display may consist of sets of technical terms, or key words, which the pupils are expected to learn. These can and ought to change to some extent to reflect the topics currently being considered.
There are a number of important issues to bear in mind:
- All of these types of display may be important, but possibly not equally important.
- The different types of display are not mutually exclusive.
- You, the teacher, don’t have to actually do the work for the display necessarily - but you do have to manage it.
So, how might you improve your immediate learning environment by addressing the wall displays? Could this be another 'quick win', as discussed on Day 6?
I am currently in the process of updating and expanding my book about the importance of display. Look out for announcements about that.