The moment a teacher gets their own classroom is an exciting one. It’s kinda like getting your own home (not that I have had that experience … yet), but it’s what I imagine is a similar feeling.
Your mind starts racing about how you are going to set up your classroom (will you have your student’s desks in rows or will you group them into tables?), where is your desk going to be placed (do you want it to be easy access to go from standing at the front of the classroom to sitting at your desk or in an advantageous position that even when at your desk you have a clear vantage point to look over your class?) and displays (will it be colourful and engaging or will it be more focused on the learning in the classroom?).
For me when I finally got my own classroom in my NQT year, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I was lucky to have a very large, verging on huge, classroom, with some decent additional furniture, including lots of storage space, a book case (!!) and three whiteboards. But for me, it was all about the display boards.
As it was a large classroom, I had a lot of space to cover on the walls. Now, I could have kept it minimalist, as there are arguments out there that the more minimal the classroom the less distraction there is for students, and I don’t disagree. But, nevertheless, I am someone who loves colour and engaging things to look at.
I like to be able to look at other things going on around me, whilst also engaging in a conversation with someone. I often get accused of not listening, but I am. It’s just a habit I have picked up that means I am always aware and vigilant of what is going on in my immediate surroundings and/or who is coming into them.
So, when it came to deciding what I would do with my expanse of wall space. I decided to make it as colourful, but educationally engaging as possible.
One of my colleagues during my training year had made a timeline of history in her classroom, which was really useful to signpost students to when moving from period to period. It helped with their chronology (such an important aspect to History – if they don’t know what period they are in or how far into the past it was, then they won’t fully appreciate what they are studying). And because of the space I had to play with, I decided to replicate their timeline with my own.
See a video of the finished product (it took me THREE days last summer to put up):
Whilst the rationale was to benefit the students, I didn’t actually realise the benefit it would really have in practice. A couple of examples where I have seen it be incredibly useful to our students were when:
- Being observed as part of a learning walk by our Executive Principal, ahead of a looming ‘Big O’ inspection, they asked one of my Year 7 students about what they had learned previously and what they were going to learn about next. When I then briskly when to see what they had been asked and what they had said they explained with confidence to me that they explained how we had studied William the Conqueror and 1066 and were moving through medieval history and would be looking at the Black Death next. And this was all because they had seen the timeline and used it as a prompt to help them talk about the history in a wider context.
- Teaching my Year 9 class the ‘Medicine Through Time’ unit as part of their GCSE transition year, I found placing the students within the timeline helped put them within a period framework that allowed them to better understand the new knowledge being presented to them and hang that new knowledge on to pre-existing knowledge. This became such an embedded practice with the Year 9 class, that even up to the last lesson that I had with them before lockdown, you could see students glancing up at the timeline to place themselves within a time period with more familiar knowledge they had studied in KS3.
Another example of a display I used in my classroom to benefit my students was focused around historical literacy. Literacy and a WORD rich environment are an important aspect of our school that we are trying to inculcate, and when I came across this display by Dan Warner-Meanwell and Sarah Hartsmith, I had to magpie it because I thought it would be so beneficial to our students to help them with developing confidence with their writing, especially as historians.
This display was positioned next to my desk and adjacent to the electronic board, and it was very warmly received by both students and teachers.
The display was rolled out across the other four History teacher’s classrooms, and also the English Department were keen to develop something of their own to reflect how best to write like a linguist (?).
With students, from one of the very first lessons that I had with the display up, I had students looking at the display and engaging with it. I also found that it was a helpful signpost for those students who struggled with starting a sentence, but I had withdrawn sentence starters from, and I would suggest that they go and look at the ‘Speak and Write Like An Historian’ wall. And this ranged from Year 7 all the way up to Year 10. I even had a few Year 10 students take photos of the display (when I wasn’t looking – plausible deniability and such) so that they could use it when doing practice writing at home.
As such, there are always hotly contested debates about classroom displays: how they should look, what they should be there for, should we have them at all. For me, my classroom is an extension of my teaching practice, if I am going to put something up in my classroom it is only to further enhance my teaching practice and improve the learning of my students. Nothing is going up, just to look good or to tick a box. It has to have some concrete impact that I can gauge from the time it goes up in the classroom.