Time to change the wallpaper

12th July 1996 at 01:00
Display in the Classroom:Principles,Practice and Learning Theory By Hilary Cooper, Penny Hegarty, Phil Hegarty and Neil Simco David Fulton Pounds 14.99

For many primary teachers in the seventies, display was a matter of spending hours after school with hessian, double mounts, trimmer and children's paintings. The results, draped in tasteful colours - or occasionally in one's discarded curtains - were attractive enough to colleagues and any passing local authority adviser - and almost totally ignored by the children and the parents. The latter, as the writers of this book say, could not see the educational point of display, and it was rarely explained to them.

This book is about something different. Relating displays to theory about the way children learn, it suggests that presentations of work should be something with which the children interact. It illustrates samples of work on walls which children have arranged themselves, and to which they can constantly add.

A typical example is part of a topic on Ancient Greece. The children have used corrugated card to make their own museum, in which they have displayed drawings of artefacts seen in the British Museum and explanations for visitors. Other children created a replica Lascaux cave. They designed and made weapons from plant, wood and leather scraps, and neolithic pots. Play led to story-writing and drama and finally to a presentation in assembly examining fear and power.

It will be clear from this that the authors of Display in the Classroom go against the current grain. They use the theories of Jerome Bruner and Margaret Donaldson and have an interpretative model of the classroom. They see it as a difficult, interesting place, and the child as an active learner, debating and negotiating with peers.

Bruner argued that children learn through physical experience and manipulation. The display implications of this are made explicit by Cooper and her colleagues as they demonstrate the need for artefacts on display which actually work: toys, tools, instruments. All these help children to explore and investigate.

Politicians' pronouncements may tell us that theory, especially progressive theory, has held children back; that the classroom is a simple place where facts are transmitted by experts to non-experts. Cooper quotes one politician who goes so far as to maintain that there is "too much paint and pleasantness in primary schools".

Any book on primary practice that doesn't go against the grain isn't doing its job. It is refreshing to hear the voices of children, student teachers and teachers contributing to the debate. The photographs could have been reproduced more clearly - some of the black-and-white ones are very gloomy - but this is one of the best books I have read on display.

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