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What kind of display are you putting on?

Whether you love them or hate them, classroom displays have always been seen as an integral part of primary schools. But could these colourful, visually stimulating learning environments actually be hampering students’ learning? 

Writing in the 27 March issue of TES, Lisa Jarmin, a primary teacher in north-west England, cites a study by academics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, US, that explores the issue. The report explains that cluttered walls distract from learning as “students are exposed to large amounts of visual material that isn’t relevant for the ongoing instruction”.

But the researchers' advice wasn’t that all teaching should take place in white boxes. Instead, they recommend further research to examine the optimal level of visual stimulation in primary classrooms.

Ms Jarmin also sought the opinions of fellow teachers in her quest to establish what should have a place on classroom walls. 

Lesley King, a primary specialist in the North East of England, says: “I think it’s got to be useful and relevant to what you’re studying, but it should also be a space to celebrate great work, as that can be motivational.

Patsy O’Donovan is a learning support assistant at Springhill Catholic Primary in Southampton and is employed specifically to organise displays for each class. Ms O’Donovan believes an effective display should be well presented and have a mix of resources to encourage and inspire learning.

“A display requires some thought: choice of colour, font and images, and how to display children’s work,” Ms O’Donovan says. “A very busy display can detract from its original purpose and it shouldn’t become ‘wallpaper’ and go unnoticed by the children."

Communication expert Elizabeth Jarman acknowledges the benefits of being strategic as well as enthusiastic in classroom decoration.

Ms Jarman works in many schools and says that staff can often lose sight of the audience for displays. The should try to think about them from the perspective of a child: is it at the right height for them? Does it reflect the process of learning? Can they use it to trigger recall? Can they identify which piece of work is theirs? Are too many colours competing for their attention and making it difficult to focus?

Ms Jarman also warns about overloading classrooms: “If you want children to be engaged,” she says, “don’t put them somewhere frenetic.” 

For more tips on how to find the happy medium between a cluttered classroom and a sterilised learning environment, read the full article in the 27 March edition of TES on your tablet or phone, or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents


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