Sunday, 8 April 2012

Can displays help teach learning (and not just reinforce content)?

As a PE and Learning to Learn teacher, I live a nomadic life when delivering theory lessons.  As a result of these subjects timetabling, I use classrooms that stretch from one end of the school to the other.  What this has done is let me get a feel for the various learning environments that my colleagues create.  Many have tables together so learners can work in teams, other have tables in rows in a more old school/traditional layout.  These are flexible and easy to move and put back.  What I have longed for in these classrooms is some display board space so that I can actually promote some of the ideas from my lessons.  Understandably, as these aren't my rooms and I use them for only a small proportion of the week, I don't feel I have the right to request some space.  That was until I spotted an empty board in my regular GCSE PE Theory room last year.

So what did I do?  Well, I went on a journey to try and promote the Learning to Learn skills I use in my Year 10 PE Theory lessons.  As this was a trial and I was just testing the water, I simply wanted to add elements of thinking skills, questioning, teamwork etc at relevant times as I went through the course.  What I wanted to do though was get these to become good learning habits for my class and reinforce these continuously (teaching them how to learn - basic L2L).  After approaching the teacher who used the room, they agreed to let me have one of the biggest wall spaces in his room.  Time to put a plan together!

I had a big think about what I wanted on this wall space.  What I didn't want was basic PE related topics or a L2L wall that I wouldn't ever use.  It had to be interactive.  It had to benefit learning.  I remember reading about Learning Walls a long time ago when I undertook my L2L research and really liked the idea of having an interactive display space that became part of my teaching and not just something learners read as they daydreamed in lessons.  The basic concept of this is 1) It promotes learning and key L2L concepts 2) It becomes a tool for teaching & learning in your lesson.  I did a bit of research and came across an interactive learning wall from Abraham Guest School who were running with the Alite L2 programme.  This learning wall was in a powerpoint format and has numerous hyperlinks that took you from page to page.  It reinforced the 5R's, had thinking skills, questioning, 5R progress matrix, graphic organisers and many more L2L concepts.  This was excellent but I couldn't help thinking that if I needed to use the whiteboard for something PE related, I couldn't keep the interactive learning wall on the screen as well.  It might become a little fussy.  It was also a bit full on for my small trial.

I therefore went traditional and started to design my own display.  As I might have to move rooms in the future and take it with me, I decided to have it printed as a giant poster which I could take down and put back up as I needed.  I thought about the L2L tools that I wanted my GCSE students to use and included bits of teamwork, graphic organisers, Kiplings questions, De Bono's 6 Hats, a stuck wall (3plus me rule) Anderson's taxonomy and Medal and Mission feedback (G. Petty).

Throughout my year in that room, I could quickly refer to it when I needed.  If I designed a task which required learners to use their reasoning skills, I could remind them to use the 6 Hats or Spectacles (G. Petty) as they were working.  This made actual learning conversations with the individuals more constructive and I could easily use the wall to help guide students through their learning.  If I saw someone had not thought an argument through fully, I simply had to refer to the 6 Hats and like a light bulb, the students remembered what they needed to do. 

As part of my role requires, I shared this with our Learning and Teaching group with the idea of getting something similar into all classrooms next year to support our new Year 7 L2L programme.  What happened a few weeks later was amazing!  As I went into the humanities block, I walked into a member of the L&T group's classroom and saw this amazing Learning Wall.  Wow!  The wall was the next stage up from mine.  This teacher, also a member of the L2L team, had made it fully interactive.  Not only did it have key L2L concepts like the enquiry wheel and the 6 hats, but it also had a row of plastic wallets along the bottom, each filled with some of our L2L learner mats ranging from 'Questioning Success Mats' to 'Teamwork Success Mats'.  In lessons, if she is doing a task, she simply gets out the relevant mats, hands them out to each group and reinforces a variety of L2L concepts.

The amazing Learning Wall created by a member of our L2L team.
This is something that I will be sharing with every teacher in preparation for our new Year 7 L2L programme next year.  If we can have something similar to this in every classroom, maybe on a smaller scale, it might help support those teachers who will be delivering L2L for the first time.  Because we're going for L2L in all of Year 7 in every lesson, something like this on their wall may help remind them of what to do.  It's just one way to help promote and develop L2L in our school.  What do you think?  Do you use a similar type of Learning Wall?  If anyone has any experience of something like this I would love to hear from you.

Guest Post: Displays and learning spaces @data_fiend

I love a good display. They can be a contentious issue in schools, and yes, putting up displays is one of the 28 tasks that, as teachers, we are not meant to complete. However, displays are a fact of life in schools and, I rather like them, and the process of creating them.
Years ago, my displays would mostly consist of pupil work, often from KS3, to show good pieces of work. They would be lovingly mounted on several layers of coloured paper, checked for mistakes and sometimes they would be annotated, but mostly they were part of the decoration. They were pretty, sometimes interesting, but rarely an integral part of the learning going on in the classroom.
As the years have passed I have begun to think about displays in more detail, moving beyond the decorative and ‘Oh hasn’t Jilly done well’, to creating something with a specific purpose. I have come to the conclusion that, in my classroom at least, displays are used for for a variety of purposes – 5 in total.

The Marketing Tool
Firstly, I have my in corridor display, part of the marketing for my subjects at A-Level – encouraging students to continue with their education, and remain at our school, is key. Obviously this is not entirely a ploy to improve the finances of the school (although in this day and age it is hard to ignore the need to maintain post-16 numbers), I like to think that it gives all the students lower down the school a sense of progression and to start them thinking about the future and aspiring to study at A-level and beyond.

This particular display remains relatively untouched, occasionally being updated with the latest changes to the course and more recent pieces of work.

The Text Based Display
This display is to prompt students to remember key texts – for example my ‘Animal Farm’ display (still somewhat a work in progress):

The arrows contain a brief summary of each chapter, which can be referred to during revision quizzes. Sometimes I will use this in class with students producing additional elements, for example key quotations for a particular character or theme - post-its are good for this, or those with artistic talents can produce characters.

Student Research Display
This is really where I have to control my perfectionism. When we are studying a topic, either at the initial introduction, or as a revision task I hand over a display to be completed by the students themselves.
This particular display was created by students in A2 Media Studies, exploring a range of texts on feminism. I allocated each group a text and they had to identify the key elements and then collaborate to complete the whole display. Knowing that their finished work would be displayed for the group, as well as other students encouraged them to produce a more polished piece of work.
I have extended this style of display as a revision task, so far only used with Year 12 and Year 13 students. I roll out a monster piece of backing paper across a group of 4-6 tables (sticking the ends down with blutack) and their revision task for the lesson (or sometimes two) is to cover it with everything they need for the exam or topic. We do it round a central table and the group can decide which topic areas or which points to include. This has worked really well for revision, and the finished product can be used as a temporary display to refresh their memory prior to the exams.

The Learning Wall
One of our school policies is to display L2L posters (in our case BLP). I wanted to go a little further and have adopted a learning wall – shamelessly borrowed from Cramlington Learning Village (Click here) and the fantastic David Fawcett ;) (Click here).

This, hopefully will be used more next year to encourage the groups to seek their own solutions and give them some suggestions for when they are stuck.

The Next Stage
I have probably spent more time this year thinking about displays than at any other point in my career. Following twitter links and reading blogs have given me lots of ideas so my final display is my new experiment. I wanted a display that covered all phases (KS3-5) and suggested the connectivity between them - the subjects as well as the effort needed in order to achieve good results – so I chose to create a mountain range with successively higher peaks.
In addition, to keep the powers that be happy, I have included some exemplar student work, however I have been careful to highlight the features that make it a good piece. I had a really helpful discussion with @HThompson1982 who was kind enough to share some pictures to help with this.

It is not yet finished, as I need a KS3 exemplar piece and hope to include more HOT maps. I  incorporated SOLO Taxonomy (thanks to @arti_choke’s great site (click here) and the colour symbol generator) with key verbs, brief descriptions and some examples of hexagon work and HOT maps as this is something I am aiming to embed in my teaching next year. The ideal would be for students to refer to the board during the lesson. I also hope to cover it in plastic and ask pupils to stick post its onto the SOLO line at different points during the lesson to identify their level and demonstrate progress.


  1. These are excellent examples of what can be done with learning walls. Could one be cheeky and ask that you stick examples of the mats up as well? I have several mats for writing/reading etc which are in boxes on my wall ready for kids to grab as required but am always on the lookout for better ones!

    1. I think you have just given me another idea of a post! I will get something written up and share some of the learning mats that we use here at our school.

    2. I'll add our mats to dropbox and send you link. Scottish versions 8-)

  2. Fantastic learning walls! Great reference points for students and teachers. Totally no brainer why would you have any ther sort of display?

  3. A very interesting post and some very inspiring displays. I am personally rubbish at display, but having read this I'm going to re-double my efforts. I'd also like to see the mats mentioned in the post if possible.