I have visited several schools over the past few months, and love the way the pieces on display
add colour and dynamism to an environment that can be pretty sterile.
Primary Learning 2019
It is obvious that teachers are proud of their students’ work – expertise in the arts, in writing, in mathematical thinking, and in their scientific research.
I’m sure the students and their parents are pleased to see their work on display too.
This got me thinking that it is curious that we don’t spend much time on considering our reasons for creating displays, learning how to use our displays as cleverly as we might – to learn how to look, to see, and to supplement the literacy work we do in every subject. This is a resource that is vastly under-utilised.
Visual text can convey ideas and concepts effectively and economically, removing the need for detailed explanations. This is why we have charts and reminders – the alphabet in the early grades, ‘useful adjectives/verbs/prepositions’, text structure reminders, spelling conventions for the sound of English, class rules and aspirations, and the like. This is the strength of a display titled ‘3W drew pictures of our excursion to the farm’, and why its use is so extensive – the visuals do all the work, with no further explanation needed.
Are we making the most of our classroom?
Thorn (2010) asks some key questions about displays –
- What is the purpose of display in the primary classroom?
- What considerations should govern the selection of topics and materials for display
- Should work be created specially [sic] for display?
- What are the rules for creating visually satisfying displays?
Each of these is worth considering. We live in a visually stimulating environment, sometimes too stimulating. We are increasingly being challenged by the visual demands of online text – the conventions of printed text layout have been overthrown in the capabilities of interactive text, emojis, GIFs, You Tube videos – where students can be exposed to a thousand images in seconds.
Our physical surrounds are also filled with visual noise – street signage, posters, warnings, traffic lights, commercial billboards and hoardings.
It can be difficult to compete with these – almost impossible really, with our limited resources and static walls. That is why we have to be clever in our work in the classroom.
We know that differing purposes for any text make different demands on the reader or viewer. The way we use words in texts is guided by the context, purpose, and audience for such texts loosely grouped into types in the NSW English syllabus as imaginative, persuasive and informative (NSW English Syllabus 2012 p.213).
The way we use displays can also be guided by context, purpose and audience within these same types of texts in order to achieve more than to decorate, to supplement classroom instruction or to vaguely inform or reassure the viewer, parent or carer – ‘3W wrote about our excursion to the farm’.
Why this is important
As classroom teachers, we want to provide a supportive classroom for all our learners. We do so as we encourage our students to engage with language, and by using it constantly in multiple ways (Miller 2015 p.112). We can look beyond the obvious ‘print literacy’ to engage our students, and beyond the traditional uses of the vast wall spaces we have in our classrooms.
We want to maximise engagement and participation so that academic success is a real possibility for all, Jennifer Miller (2015 p.109).
A significant reason for considering extending our uses of the classroom display space is that our NSW English syllabus (BOS 2012) requires the study of English K-10 in its various textual forms:
These encompass spoken, written and visual texts of varying complexity through which meaning is shaped, conveyed, interpreted and reflected. [AG emphasis]
BOS English syllabus 2012 Rationale p.1
We have permission and encouragement to look at visual texts in interesting ways.
A couple of years ago I was invited to see the display in a Year 2 teacher’s classroom. The teacher was very excited as she had realised she needed to spend more time on having the students work on the literacy required to investigate the world – work she had previously been dictating.
It was an excellent display – a full wall height, and half the back room of the classroom, was filled with a deep, rich blue-black ‘space sky’, with rings indicating orbits, and the planets of the solar system as coloured cut-out circles apparently spinning dizzily relative to the gleaming golden sun taking up a corner of the wall.
The children had drawn and coloured and cut out the planets, and stuck them in the appropriate places. But the joy of creating the display was all the teacher’s.
I have no doubt that for the students some sound research had gone into the planet illustrations, and probably some joy in the magnificence of the display. But the purpose of the exercise had little to do with student learning.
When we look at the knowledge, understanding and skills that students will develop, many relate equally to visual texts, as students:
- use language to shape and make meaning according to purpose, audience and context
- think in ways that are imaginative, creative, interpretive and critical
- express themselves and their relationships with others and their world
NSW English syllabus Objectives p.13
Space to play
The practice of classroom displays in many schools has developed into using edging, coloured backing paper, commercial charts of everything from those text structures through to reminders about learning and manners – often given equal billing – as well as the exhibition of every example of work students did in every art activity, or every word they wrote about the excursion.
Included are constraints such as to not let anything dangle over the edge of the pinboard, to make sure the edges are even, borders are perfect, to use commercial products that aim at conformity, and so on. If you are falling for that stuff, have a closer look at what you are displaying and why.
The blog at learning spy – and rant – may be just what you need.
NSW DET (2011) Analysing visual text Features (colour, font, layout, symbols and concepts) at https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/eppcontent/glossary/app/resource/factsheet/4115.pdf is an introduction to basic elements of visual literacy, primarily designed for parents
Board of Studies (2012) NSW English Syllabus K-10 at http://www.educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/k-10/learning-areas/english-year-10
Miller, J (2015) Classroom strategies for teachers and EAL learners, Chapter 8 in Hammond, J. & Miller, J. (Eds) Classrooms of possibility: Supporting at-risk EAL students Newtown: PETAA
Primary Learning (2019) How language – and other elements of communication – change according to purpose, blog at https://primarylearning.com.au/2019/06/03/how-language-and-other-elements-of-communication-change-according-to-purpose/