If Classroom Walls Could Talk

Take a look at your classroom walls and displays. What do they say about you, your relationship with your class, and your view of teaching? Are your students guests in your room, or does the classroom feel like a space you share with them? Do the walls and displays show what you think and believe . . . or do they show what your students know, think, and wonder about?

I know from personal experience that these can be hard questions to ask and to answer, but this is the perfect time of year to tackle this challenge. Evaluate your classroom displays and wall space now, and then give yourself the whole summer to think about changes, set new goals, and try out new ideas.

When I evaluated my second grade classroom one spring, I came to the disturbing conclusion that my classroom said a great deal about me, but not nearly as much about my students as I wanted it to. Looking around, I saw only one area where student work was displayed. There were things hung in the room that had been there for years. I took down one of these posters, and saw that the paint around it had actually faded!

Much of the wall space in the room was devoted to anchor charts and other reference materials. These were all things I’d honestly thought were important for my students’ learning, but now I realized that many of them had outlived their usefulness. For instance, in September, I’d made a chart about how to choose a “just right” book, and that had stayed up all year. I had several charts to help students spell various categories of words—those too had stayed up, regardless of whether my students had already mastered them.

As an experiment, I asked my students how often they looked at these charts, and I was a bit taken aback by their answers. Hardly anyone did. I suspected that the few who said they did use them were saying that just to make me feel better. I asked the children how often they looked at the displays of their work in the room, and those answers were also telling. They said they looked at them a great deal at first, but because they didn’t change very much, they’d stopped after a while.

This conversation led me to reflect on what my walls and displays meant to my students, and I decided to make some changes. Here are some questions I asked myself, and that I hope you find helpful as well:

  • Do the walls and classroom displays look pretty much the same from year to year? Or, do they reflect the unique personality of that year’s class?
  • Roughly, what percentage of classroom displays includes work done in whole or part by students? What percentage is devoted to posters or materials that were made, purchased, or inherited?
  • For any chart or reference that is currently hanging up, when is the last time a student used it? When is the last time it was actually referred to? (Before your students leave for the summer, you might ask them these questions!)
  • Do students decide which pieces of work they want to be displayed?
  • Are the displays or charts at students’ eye level? How else does the decor of the classroom take into account the children’s developmental needs?

In my next post, I’ll show some examples of terrific classroom walls and displays!

Want to see more ideas for classroom displays? Have a look at our Classroom Displays board on Pinterest!

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: Bulletin Boards, Classroom Organization