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If Work Is Going Up On The Wall, We Need To Aim For Perfection

7 ways you can ensure your classroom display showcases the best of you and your learners

Julie Price Grimshaw
Julie Price Grimshaw
  • If Work Is Going Up On The Wall, We Need To Aim For Perfection

You may have heard that lively, colourful displays are vital in establishing a positive learning environment. You might also have read the view from an American study in 2014 that ‘elaborate classroom displays harm children’s education’.

After visiting many schools over the years, I’ve concluded that what is on the walls should reflect the individuality of the teacher and the pupils. The possibilities really are endless, but here are a few guidelines.

1 Spot-on SPAG

Make sure that anything on the walls exemplifies correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. I’ll never forget the time I walked into a classroom and there, emblazoned on the wall in huge letters, was the phrase ‘The apostrophe and it’s uses’ – and this was the work of the teacher.

The main point here is that if you’re not sure about something, get someone else to check it. Many inspectors are incredibly eagle-eyed when it comes to this sort of thing, but this isn’t about inspection; it’s about making sure that displays don’t contain errors, because we really do have to model perfection as far as possible.

It’s important to make sure that students’ work is also free from errors. By putting a piece of work on display, we are holding it up as something special; by displaying substandard work we are, like it or not, reinforcing low expectations. There is one exception that comes to mind. I once visited a school where a huge display showed pupils’ work on creative writing from initial scribbles through to final draft. The quality of the final drafts was exceptional – but even better was the way in which the pupils could explain the process of producing a truly excellent piece of work.

2 Avoid competition

Avoid displays that highlight differences in ability in a negative way. Not long ago I saw a poster featuring a ladder outlining where each class member was in terms of attainment in maths. A child came up and said, sadly, “I’m down here on the ladder because I’m rubbish”.

The teacher later told me that the display was a great idea because ‘all children love competition’ (no they don’t – some hate it). He also said that the children at the bottom of the ladder didn’t mind (actually, some do mind, very much). A bit of competition can be lots of fun – but having a display that constantly reminds a child that they are at the bottom of the heap is not.

3 Aim for relevance

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Make sure that ‘working walls’ are actually useful. What information do they really need up there? It’s great to see children using displays and some of the best I’ve seen are actually compiled by the pupils themselves – including an excellent set of posters on use of the apostrophe! Maps are fun, literacy and numeracy information is great – but make sure they really are useful, otherwise they simply won’t get used.

4 Keep things fresh

There’s nothing worse than ageing, peeling displays – especially things like ‘Our autumn poems’ (complete with lovely leaf display) in the middle of June.

5 Use your hard work

Sometimes we spend ages on a display and then let it fade into the background. I once saw an amazing lesson where the teacher talked to the pupils about their pointillist paintings that were displayed on the wall, exemplifying excellent use of language and encouraging pupils to respond in a similar way.

6 Quality, not quantity

I’d rather see a limited amount of excellent work than every inch of a wall full of poor quality and irrelevant pages. And it’s worth noting that some children do find it easier to focus when displays are more sparse, so there’s no need to plaster everything with colour.

7 Mental photographs

Children spend a long time in the classroom; they’ll look at things and remember them. I can still recall a rather creepy Victorian print of a child with a spinning top from my schooldays. When I saw the same picture online recently it took me back and I could smell that classroom again. Through your classroom walls, you’re not just enhancing learning – you’re building memories.

Julie Price Grimshaw is a teacher, teacher trainer and education consultant (selfpropelledlearning.co.uk). She has been involved in school inspections since 2001.

Julie’s book Self-propelled Learning and Effective Teaching is available on Amazon.