How can we improve our displays?
We need to think carefully about our classroom displays so that they don’t do more harm than good. Displays aren’t just for decoration but when done well can add significant value to the learning environment.
In ‘Memorable Teaching’, Peps Mccrea warns that displays which aren’t purposeful can actually be detrimental. They can be distracting and potentially prevent learning from entering long-term memory. Clever classrooms think about displays and what impacts they can have on learning. To mitigate this, I have displays in my classroom that move. These are referred to and utilised by the students and by me during lessons.
1. Synonyms for Academic Verbs
I have these positioned under my board. Whenever I am modelling academic writing I can ask students to choose an appropriate synonym and this ensures our vocabulary is sophisticated and varied. This gets students into the habit of thinking about their academic vocabulary and practising using the verbs correctly. It helps them to recognise the subtle nuances between words.
2. Subject Terminology
This idea comes from Lemov’s Reading Reconsidered and comprises three displays: How English Scholars Talk About Poetry, Prose and Plays. When we are learning a new term, I take it off the display and move it to the board. This means we can keep referring to it and reminding ourselves of the definition and appropriate usage.
For more challenging schemes such as Macbeth, I have tier two vocabulary words to help students communicate their ideas. Again, when we want to use these words or remind ourselves of them, I move them to the front of the classroom. This display is particularly useful during low-stakes revision quizzes such as Andy Tharby’s memory platforms. For example, if the question is ‘What is the first crime that Macbeth commits?’, students might have answered ‘King Duncan’s murder’. At this point, I need to remind them of the word ‘regicide’ and encourage them to use it.
4. Sentence Stems
David Didau advocates framing students’ responses by providing sentence stems. However, he does warn that students will feel uncomfortable using these initially. I have certainly found this but through being relentless in my insistence that they do use the sentence stems, students’ communication is dramatically improved. If they are able to confidently and repetitively use the stems in their speech, they can eventually use them in their writing.
For example, instead of feeding back to the question ‘How does Mary Shelley elicit sympathy for the monster?’ with ‘She suggests the monster is lonely and neglected’, students respond with ‘Shelley elicits sympathy for the monster by depicting his loneliness and neglect.’ This could be used as a topic sentence in an assessment, whereas the former is less powerful.
5. Prefixes, suffixes and roots
After reading Alex Quigley’s ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap‘, I was inspired to display common prefixes, roots and suffixes in order to encourage my students to recognise word patterns and use morphology as a strategy for working our word meanings.
For example, when exploring the word ‘benevolent’, I move the ‘bene’ poster to the front of the classroom and we discuss the meaning (‘good’) and the word family including ‘benefactor’, ‘beneficial’ and ‘benediction’. We also contrast this with ‘mal’ meaning ‘bad’ and link it to benevolent’s antonym malevolent. This helps students remember the definitions of more challenging words.
I know many teachers favour displays of students’ work and I can see the merit in this as a model of excellence, but I prefer live modelling and rarely unpick fully completed examples in my lessons. Displaying neat work is great but I am wary of displays that celebrate presentation over content. I think we need to be careful of the message we are sending students if a piece of work is lauded for beautiful handwriting and an underlined date and title – but full of errors.
Moveable displays not only help my teaching and the students’ learning, but they reduce the lesson planning too!