Why Do We Make Classroom Displays? 1

I use this video during the first week of the Classroom Displays Starter course and I’m always interested to see learners responses. Just why do we make all these displays?

Jamie, an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher), challenged Teacher’s TV experts to help him with specific issues in his classroom set up and to explain why we make classroom displays at all.

The Teachers TV team come up with some interesting and some unexpected answers. The programme is well worth watching to the end. I wonder if you agree with one of the experts that plain white walls might be the best learning environment?


First Miranda meets Tim Benson, the headteacher of one of the UK’s largest primary schools. Tim offers some advice on getting the students involved in displays and making sure they reflect the diversity of the school community.

She then goes north to Lancashire to meet the executive headteacher of Alder Grange Technology and Community School and Sean McDougall from the Design Council. They look at different ways of arranging the classroom.

Finally, Miranda calls on Ian Jordan, an orthoscopic researcher, for his views on the impact of the classroom environment on teaching and learning.

Jamie asks about effective ways to organise the classroom environment. His interest is motivated by concerns about the disruption caused by a small group of boys who sit together for some lessons, and also by contrasting reports he has heard about the best way of using wall space.

Four experts from different fields are consulted:

* A primary school headteacher
* An executive headteacher in a Community and Technology School, school working in conjunction with a consultant from the Design Council
* An optician and orthoscopics researcher

They provide diverse views about the effects of wall displays on learning. Seating arrangements receive less attention, but a helpful solution is offered by Tim Benson, the primary school headteacher.

The video aims to address some of the contrasting and confusing views about an appropriate classroom environment. Although there are essentially two strands to the question, the wider emphasis is on wall displays and creating an environment that is conducive to learning.

Key findings

The viewer is taken on tours of the primary school and the Community and Technology School and hears interviews with each of the experts.

  • Different styles of wall displays are evident in the primary school. Some are created and managed by the children themselves. Others are used to stimulate interest in a topic or as a reference point. In addition, the headteacher suggests having ‘flexible grouping’ to avoid disruptive behaviour and for shy children to be integrated with more vocal members of the class.
  • Supported by the Design Council Campaign ‘The Learning Environment’, staff consulted pupils at the Community and Technology School and discovered that displays were a major distraction. Consequently, a minimalist approach has now been taken and classroom walls are kept plain and bare. Consideration is also given to aspects of the environment, that might improve concentration, such as temperature, lighting and air quality. The executive headteacher states that because it is “ordered” the environment “helps them (the pupils) to be ordered themselves and focuses them”.
  • The interview with Ian Jordan, an orthoscopic researcher, revealed that there is not an ideal classroom design for all children. Most children respond well to visual stimulation, whilst children with Special Needs require a calm environment that does not over-stimulate them. His key recommendation for classroom organisation is that all children should be able to see the teacher.

At the end of the programme, the NQT decides that the advice suggests it is worth using different styles for different purposes.

What Do You Think?

I recently asked this same question in my  classroom displays course and the group came up with some interesting answers of their own:

So what do you think? Just why do we make classroom displays?

Literacy Display – The BFG

BFG, originally uploaded by LindaH.

Multi-purpose classroom displays are often the most useful. Year 5 studied the BFG and made their own dream catchers. The glass jar contain children’s bad dreams. Each child filled a jar with things to represent their worst nightmares. The jars are named and have a list of ingredients on the front.
This was a really powerful way of getting them to connect with the book. Everyone tried to have the most awful things in their jar and in the course of doing this there were lots of great opportunities for talking and listening, and for creative problem solving.
The children had to work out how to represent their worst fears in a concrete form that could go inside a jar. Strong stuff, as children tried to work out what to use for war, poverty, famine and death. Of course there were a fair number of spiders and other more nameless monsters too 🙂
This work showed a lovely integration of literacy with emotional literacy. It stayed fresh and interesting for a long time too as children read the contents of each jar and discussed issues that would not have been easily raised any other way. Classroom displays that continue being a talking point for weeks like this are worth their weight in gold!

A Classroom Library

Our class library, originally uploaded by riaskiff.

Creating a classroom library may not seem relevant to classroom displays but I think we need to consider all aspects of the learning environment and the way they work together when we plan displays.

I want to highlight some of the more interesting classroom libraries that I’ve seen recently. This one is a simple, yet soothing space. The colours are muted and not too stimulating but with just a touch of red for warmth. The books are tidy but accessible. They can be quickly popped back into the trays with very little fuss. There are cuddlies to hand which can be surprisingly important even for older children. The mat, rug and cushions combine together to make a cosy welcoming space. (Just a note about cushions. These are much better than beanbags as children with asthma can find the filling problematic.)The bookcases have been used to create a discreet, yet visible area. I think this is a lovely, well thought out space and it makes me want to curl up there with a good book so hopefully it will have the same effect on children!
Here’s a very different approach:
Book Center/Listening Center
This time there’s a child sized sofa rather than rugs and cushions. It’s a nice idea but I wonder if it’s less practical. It’s definitely more expensive! It limits the number of children able to use the area and makes it harder for an adult to join them at the right level. The children will be side by side rather than clustered and whilst this might be useful for maintaining a quiet area, speaking and listening aren’t really well served by this arrangement.
On the plus side the area looks welcoming and cosy. Displays have been used discreetly to remind the children what this area is about. The area is clearly visible but it’s not quite as defensible a space.
A place to learn
This space is more enclosed than the others. It’s got child sized furniture and it’s quite small. It looks like an interesting and engaging space that will appeal to children. It’s going to provide a good speaking and listening environment but it worries me slightly on a few counts. Firstly, it is almost too private. If children do feel unobserved there is always a potential for bullying behaviours to go unnoticed. Secondly, it’s not an easy space for an adult to enter, get involved and facilitate discussions.
One other advantage of the first area is that there’s less attempt to control how the children sit. Child sized furniture is often most appealing to adults and to those children who like to sit quietly anyway. For those who are more kinaesthetic or squirmy as I prefer to call it 🙂 even the most delightful furniture can, literally, be a pain!

Target Board


Our Target Board, originally uploaded by Leeds Lass.

The use of classroom displays for targets is becoming more widespread but often they are quite dull and quickly become ‘wallpaper’. It’s great to see a more innovative approach like this one.
Here you can see the whole effect:

This display is just ‘targets’ the children have chose for themselves to achieve whilst they are in year 2. They range from being kind to others to learning to write in joined up handwriting. The display is only up for a short while and the rockets will be filed in class to remind the children about what they said they would like to achieve.

This idea could be extended with older classes by having a system for them to mark on the display when targets are met. It might be nice to have a visual representation and it might help to keep the display from becoming ‘wallpaper’. If you are using the display over the whole term how about the next set of targets being on different coloured paper? I think there’s a lot more you could do with this classroom display. What do you think?

Today I Learned… 1

Today I Learned…, originally uploaded by shimelle.

I found this great idea on a new photo on the Classroom Displays Group on Flickr and followed the link to an interesting blog:

But I love this. I’m big on the ‘And what have you learned today?’ (like that wasn’t already obvious) so the other day instead of asking, I handed out post-it notes. They all wrote something and posted it on the door as they left. All but one post-it was academic I learned to say ‘I did and not I done’. ‘I learned about exposition and resolution for story writing’. and the non-academic one has caused more than a few laughs from people stopping by my classroom ‘I learned not to feed the dog next door at break time.‘ Well, he asked why the dog was barking. So I had to explain, didn’t I?

Shimelle’s blog