Displays – an effective tool for teaching and learning.

School displays say so much about the school. For me, they reflect the school culture, values and often the philosophy of  teaching and learning. What you celebrate is what’s important to you, isn’t it? Think about it. What aspects of learning do you celebrate in your school?

I was lucky to start my teaching career with colleagues who were extremely passionate about displays. A highly accomplished veteran, Kusum Kohli, who now lives in Dehra Dun, introduced some of us novices, many years ago, to the beauty of displays. I remember the art work displayed in her class and outside, in the corridors. She was able to inspire students to achieve and create visual treats. With the help of other colleagues in school, she got art work framed and put up an exhibition too! She would always refer to books like the ones below, to brainstorm and develop her ideas. Our school still has these amazing resources for reference.

Other amazing colleagues like Neelam Saigal, Rashmi Wanchoo, Komal Kochhar and Kavita Chandhok who created the most beautiful displays in school, taught me about the importance of student centred work. I learned that creativity is appreciating, valuing and encouraging the difference generated by each child. I remember giant displays of Ram, Sita and Ravan (during Diwali) made by students of Reception class, I remember children modelling their own diyas and then waiting eagerly to paint and decorate them, I remember fondly, displays of cats, witches and pumpkins during Halloween, the stunning work of Vincent Van Gogh and Matisse on the boards of our corridors and so much more.

Displays, other than making a school look beautiful and attractive, are a powerful tool for learning and can be an enriching stimulus in a classroom. Use of anchor charts, learning walls and student work play different roles in supporting teaching and learning activities.

For one, student work on display, demonstrates the importance we give to students. Children swell with pride when they see their hard work celebrated, they swell with even greater pride when they get to choose the work they want displayed!

I remember displaying my students work in class and one child, who visibly, had not written much, was keen that I removed that piece of work and instead display the one he wanted up on the wall. The one I had displayed was not really reflective of his capability and he was clear about communicating it to me! The power of choice.

There was a time when I would dedicate a square /rectangular space for each child, labelled with his / her name on a display board. They were in charge of that block and they had to choose what would go there, to reflect what they were proud of or what they had learned. I remember photocopying a great piece of writing and displaying it because they felt proud of what they had achieved.

Displays are an insight into classroom learning. Parents and visitors get an opportunity to experience and witness learning.

A print – rich environment is always valuable as a learning tool. Children can take help from the print they see around them. If they get stuck on spelling thematic vocabulary, they might just be able to locate it on a display, thus enabling them to become independent. They may be able to find a formula to help workout a maths problem. They may be able to identify an odd or even number by referring to a prompt which explicitly states that it is the units / ones place that decides whether or not the number is odd or even. They may be able to identify the steps needed to complete a long narrative. They may have the necessary success criteria displayed, to enable them to complete a project successfully.

Displays make learning visible. There is so much research out there to support visible thinking routines. One way of making learning and thinking routines explicit in the classroom, is through meaningful displays.

Interactive displays go a step further. They aren’t just displays, but are invitations to engage more deeply with the matter. I recently saw a lovely display on meanings of names of students; a lift – the – flap display. Another great one with question prompts to support mathematical development and reasoning.

Responding to prompts on a display.
Children helping with the layout and planning of the display.
Seaside display by Year 2, using a range of recycled materials, created and developed by students.

Another wonderful display I recently looked at closely, was in one of the year 5 classes in our school, on rivers. The children had painted the river, there were topic vocabulary words all around with explanations to support learners in understanding key words. There was a poster on one edge about rivers and there were also question prompts to encourage thinking. The display is such that, it immediately attracts.

Involving children in displays is a great way to have them participate and engage in meaningful learning. From a very early age, children can support displays by helping teachers brainstorm and create the lettering for captions. An explanation of the learning intention and the journey undertaken to create the display can be very useful and aid the understanding of the process behind the scenes.

Pictogram – created by children, including the lettering.

In a recent workshop, I was exposed to the different kinds of evidence. A display is evidence of work. But sometimes, not all work can be displayed. A play, collaborative work or interaction are hard to capture or represent. However, these can also be displayed through photographs or speech bubbles.

A display does not necessarily have to be on a wall. It could be on a table which could be based on interest, it could be a role play corner (supermarket, clinic, research centre), it could be a project or a model.

Brainstorming sessions / activities, if erased or wiped from a board are a waste of a useful resource, whereas when recorded on the page of an interactive flipchart or on a sheet of chart paper (old calendars come in very handy) become material for reference and building on. Take for example a brainstorm on Monday on the different uses of fabric. What children share and the teacher scribes could be saved for Tuesday, when there may be an opportunity to revisit or recall previously discussed ideas and build on them with new learning.

I was recently at an international school  in Thailand and during the tour of the primary school, I was drawn towards their walls. Learning appeared to be everywhere! The walls were, for the most part, chalk painted, to support scribing when necessary. There was almost no use of typed, printed or laminated material. Most work was hand-written, either by the teacher or by the students as deemed fit for the learning process.

Bangkok 4
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 7
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 2
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.
Bangkok 5
Photo taken in the Primary department of the Bangkok Patana School.

Isn’t this what learning is about? Shouldn’t every shared, common space in school be a tool for learning? In an age where we are over-reliant on technology, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have hand – written displays which are genuinely used to enable and engage students in their learning?

Do respond with pictures of displays that you have been proud of.

I’m hoping to create a blog post, with the variety of displays I see in my workspace. A space for sharing great displays and ideas.

Some links for further reading: