Do classroom displays contribute effectively in creating a better learning environment?
What’s the hook?
Great classroom displays not only looks creative but will increase engagement and influence learning in a child-friendly environment encapsulating children’s curiosity.
There are many debates surrounding whether displays are merely decorative and that often teachers fuel the competitive edge in utilising space to showcase their own artistic and creative talents. This needless to say can often be conducted without the presence of the all-important ‘little people’. Transforming classrooms to support learning and making the ‘space’ feel welcoming can depict what kind of teacher you are and the style of teaching you do. Classroom aesthetics can, therefore, play a vital role in creating the right learning environment.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 edition of UKEdChat Magazine
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Displays attract a varied audience including children, colleagues, parents, visitors and community partners and offer that very predominant ‘first impressions count’ ethos. On entering an establishment, educational or otherwise, it can be clear to see if there is a unique protocol or treaty in place for display standards and refer back to the initial statement made…can it really be fully child-led or are the expected standards placed on the excellence of teacher creativity and high-quality expectations?
Within some larger organisations, for example; Mark and Spencer, McDonalds and B&Q, they herald the market with dominant advertising and point of sale in the store. Every branch regardless of location displays a uniform and generic display and defines them in a unique and supreme way. People recognise good quality and base their preferences on this. What would be the outcome if classroom displays were judged in the same way? Would this determine if you were an effective or ineffective practitioner? Do you need to have a love of the Arts to ensure your class displays are good enough to constitute a ‘good display’? Who decides?
Understandably making a ‘good display’ will not only allow learners to take pride in their work and what has been achieved but also stimulating in encouraging learners to examine their future learning and progression. Children feel a sense of belonging in their class and therefore like to play their part in making an impact and by showcasing their achievements a sense of pride and team spirit can be cemented.
Advantages of classroom displays can promote an early intrinsic curiosity for forthcoming learning contexts. Images, key words and materials can be placed to allow learners to explore teaching and learning before it even begins and using books and artefacts can boost a deeper interest.
A good display is an informative way to share learning with peers in the wider school community so therefore creating an impact to ensure consistency and progression that not only motivates but inspires and presents challenges mirroring the breadth of the curricular areas taught.
Having a protocol to define high standards, akin to those of the previously mentioned organisations, although essential can often be met with apprehension when instructions are seen as descriptive and work not actually viewed upon as a ‘work in progress space’. Suggestions that good displays allow learners to outsource their memory might not lend itself to a good idea and once refined in theory, further questions may be weighted such as…. If learners are expected to retain information and successfully transfer this across all areas of their learning then surely the constructs of forgetting requires to be induced?
As humans we forget and when we forget brains are at their most receptive and it is at this point that absorption of repeated information can be processed successfully or not. Memories can rely too heavily on easily recognised cues so within a classroom setting if learning has occurred well then our memory recognises this and associates that room with a particular learning experience.
If learners are taken away from this source and are unable to recall cues in their new environment then memory, in this instance will be at a distinct disadvantage. But on the flip side of this if learning environments are generic and descriptive to a degree, excluding progression in learning, then previous learning can be recalled and children would be less likely to rely on familiar prompts.
As a practitioner, I look beyond just displays to ensure learning is deep and meaningful. In my opinion, not all learner voices are heard or visualised through displays. Classroom dynamics also contribute to effective learning and teaching and therefore for me understanding the children’s holistic learning journey shouldn’t be reflected in displays but more as an individualistic tool taking into account how the learner got there:
- Who helped them?
- What interventions were required and why?
- Did I do enough to support them?
- Does the environment address the needs of all learners?
- Is our class identifiable and personalised to each and every one of my learners?
- Are learners easily connected to the rest of the school in order to share learning experiences?
- Do some learners view displays merely as wallpaper?
- Does it have meaning to them?
- Do I get my seating plan right every time?
Barrett et al (2015) detailed research carried out to assess the impact of classroom variables on children’s learning in twenty-seven schools. Their study explored a range of sensory impacts experienced by learners occupying a particular ‘space’. Seven key parameters were identified that contributed to variations in academic progress.
These parameters include; Ownership, light, flexibility, air quality, temperature, complexity and colour surroundings. Although the research focused predominantly on academic impact, the overall observation was on the actual impact that physical spaces have on the children’s health and well-being.
Within a primary school setting learners usually remain in one ‘space’, their classroom and maximising performance and achievement can be viewed upon as a societal issue. In the study, Barret detailed environment qualities as measurable such as; heat, light, sound and air quality and no consensus was reached as to the impact gained and having a learning space with large windows was deemed to have both positive and negative effects on learning. Classrooms attracting most daylight reported having a 20% increase in reading and mathematics.
In a follow-up study (Heschong Mahone) variables were challenged and notions that build environment versus users experiences were questionable. It was suggested that an understanding of mental mechanisms and the combined effects of sensory interventions were required. The implication that many factors need to be considered resonated the human response that, within an environment and a desire to interact with space requires a varied level of stimulation to engage in different experiences. Three important factors need to be considered to give a clearer insight into the hypothesis that academic progress needs more than just classroom displays…. Naturalness, individualisation and stimulation.
A classroom needs to be vibrant and exciting. Visual coherence and structure should be entwined to encapsulate colour and design within displays. Creating that all important impact that promotes curiosity is of paramount importance to allow all learning abilities to explore new experiences and build confidence. The hook that drives me in creating ideas for displays is to use a mixture of 2d and 3d designs. Lettering is used to communicate its relevance and displays need to be changed frequently and be freely accessible and the purpose of them, based firstly on impression.
Good displays are memorable and build collective ownership and should support children and be used as an assessment tool for learner’s next steps. A valuable discussion with your class validates what they believe a good display should look like. An interesting and stimulating display will also reinforce their efforts and fosters a feeling of community that the children have created themselves.
By displaying learner’s work effectively not only sends out positive messages but it defines the value placed on what is happening in class and what actual learning has occurred. Learners will naturally observe their ‘showcase’ over and over and this alone promotes self-esteem, purpose and a sense of belonging. This undoubtedly encourages learners to learn more…
Hook, line and sinker!
Classroom displays, what’s your hook?
Jackie McKay @JMcKay1972 is a creative and highly motivated teacher at Bannockburn Primary School, Stirling. She is enthusiastic and keen to drive new initiatives to enhance learning and raise attainment.