How to create displays that encourage a positive learning environment, give children pride in their work, help them remember key information, and encourage them to think for themselves. Instead of those ones that, you know, end up ripped and neglected.
Let’s face it, displays take a lot of time and effort. Can you really be bothered making a new one after 5 lessons of 30 challenging children, just for people to ignore it or treat it like wallpaper? Sometimes you wonder if it is worth it.
Well yes, it is worth the effort. When done properly, displays can make a positive impact on teaching and learning. (Or without the jargon – the kids will actually gain something from it!)
First of all, let’s consider what we want the display to achieve:
What do YOU want from your display?
The display must serve a purpose. Yes I know, making it look pretty makes you feel proud of your work, but it also needs to be functional. Think carefully about what you wish to achieve. What is it specifically that you want to teach/remind/evoke?
What do your STUDENTS want from your display?
They want the room to look nice – everybody works better in a nice environment, and they want to be able to glance up for easy reminders. For example the name of a six-sided shape or quotes from Romeo and Juliet. A word of caution. If you have “answers” constantly on display, children can quickly become lazy. Don’t have the Periodic Table up all year round, or they’ll never need to learn it. You could have it up for a few weeks while they’re learning it, then remove a few answers at a time – perhaps replace with clues.
What does your SCHOOL want from your display?
Your school will have specific criteria which may well be set out in a policy, for example all our displays must be either laminated or behind Perspex, another school I worked at, everything had to be double-mounted. Even if your school is really regimented, you can still have fun.
What does OFSTED want from your display?
Inform, educate, engage. SMSCBV (social, moral, spiritual, cultural, British values). Stimulating learning environment. Evidence of progress (show the best work of all students, not just the best work of the highest achieving students) Ofsted, in my opinion, has two favourite things – literacy across the curriculum and pupil progress. These can both be shown in displays.
How do you help students RELATE?
Look around your school. How many displays are filled with middle-class, middle-aged white men? Not that there’s anything wrong with middle-class, middle-aged white men of course, it’s just that there’s also a whole myriad of other wonderful people out there. Children need to see people like them to relate, so make sure your display is inclusive: rich and poor, male and female, black and white, disabled and able-bodied, Earthling and Martian…
What makes a display ATTRACTIVE?
Ahh, now this is subjective. If we all liked the same thing, we would all have a Labrador and no other dogs would exist (imho). The reason we’re making the display attractive is to grab the students’ attention in the first place. So start with thinking about the colour palette. Not just for the aesthetics but also for the colour connotations, for example red can symbolise love and passion or hate and anger. The colour can also have an effect on the dynamics in a room. Strong bright colours can be stimulating whereas pastel shades can be calming. Make sure the colours stand out against each other (without clashing). Don’t try to cut corners, the finishing touches make the most dramatic differences. Use backing paper, borders, double mount. Try to use different textures. Preferably make it 3D. If possible, make it interactive – the students might need to lift a flap, or if they can’t be trusted to touch or it’s behind perspex, questions could be posed. Then have some fun. Sprinkle stars or balloons or whatever floats your boat.
How do you stop your display becoming wallpaper?
So your display was commented on by teachers and students alike! Hurray! You were buzzing about it for two whole weeks, then you forgot about it. And so did the students. To prevent a display becoming wallpaper, it’s a good idea to have parts of it that change regularly. From the picture below, you can see that the birthdays are changed monthly and the literacy focus is changed weekly. Additionally, the students have to lift the sheet of paper to discover the answer.
Where should your display be positioned?
Displays which motivate students can be powerful, past students’ exam results and success, significant female scientists, or people who have started with nothing and been successful from sheer hard work. The problem is that once these have been seen, they do quickly become wallpaper as students have no reason to read them more than once, so they’re great for entrances, exits, corridors, but not necessarily classrooms. The displays in the classrooms should be the ones the students need to refer to, to aid their learning. One thing that is hard to resist is filling the whole walls with displays, posters and work. Less is more. Really – less is more. If you choose ice-cream and squirt strawberry sauce and toffee sauce and chocolate sauce and sprinkle with chocolate drops and hundreds and thousands and smarties … you’re going to be sick. White space is calming and necessary – especially to children with ADHD or autism. And nobody wants that ugly mess left behind from blutac and staples in the wall – admit it – you’ve seen it. Don’t let it happen in your classroom!
How do you maintain the displays?
A lot of people will see your display – the students, their parents, your colleagues, SLT, OFSTED, other visitors. No pressure! Rightly or wrongly, people will form part of their impression of you by your display, so make sure it isn’t out of date, scruffy, half empty, or boring! Involve the students in the displays, so they become invested in the space. vandalism encourages vandalism and tidiness encourages tidiness, so if you see anything untoward happening to your display, make sure you fix it immediately, or you may have a helpful student who would love to maintain and update the displays for you.
So there you have it. Lots of great ideas for your displays. Keep in mind they need to be relevant and functional, but also fun and attractive. Enjoy being creative 😊
Huge thanks to members of the Facebook group, “Secondary School Librarians” who shared ideas and pictures of their displays for me to use here.