I’m lucky, as one of the few, marginal benefits of working across multiple sites, to have hitherto escaped our department’s annual allocation of rooms to “look after”, so I have never had specific responsibility to make sure a room is looking “nice”. Even if I did have responsibility, mind you, I’d probably forget, then remember and take everything down for looking scruffy after three months’ neglect. I just don’t get the big deal.
I rarely, if ever, make posters and wall displays in class. Part of it is, I admit, laziness, but most of it is that I don’t see them as part of the learning process. If I were to do a poster, as I did last night, then there would have to be a learning purpose. Last night, for example, students made posters outlining the key features of leaflets to demonstrate understanding of the features we had previously been studying. I see the point of this:, as it gave me an opportunity to observe and monitor student learning of the key concepts involved. I will be putting them up, if I can wrest some space from my display-mad colleagues, because they may provide a useful reference point in future lessons.
In general, however, the products themselves are often far less useful than the language learning processes that occurred while creating them, and this is why when I do do wall displays, there may be some crossing out and some scruffiness, the may even be errors on them, perhaps of a language point which is non-intrusive and entirely incidental to the focus of main point, or a mistake left unmarked because it’s an Entry 3 mistake on an Entry 1 piece of work. For me, posters and their development are organic, real things: interlanguage made concrete, perhaps, artefacts of language-in-learning.
“Posters” have other uses, of course, than just showing work when it’s completed. I like a strong visual, and had a great success with one group making huge wall displays of routes and barriers to work using a Reflect for ESOL tree. Here, however, rather than being direct displays of things learned, the display formed the starting point for emergent language, and led to several lessons work on that language.
These are exceptions. The reason I lay off posters as a general rule is that the shallow surface attractiveness of the display, quite understandably, perhaps, gets precedence over the learning value of the task. Everyone gets bogged down in glue and scissors and colouring in letters, which is all very therapeutic, in an infantilising way, but not terribly useful. Instead of thinking about language, or even really applying it, students chat in their first language while faffing with crappy bits of paper and felt tip pens. The outcome, if you like, becomes not the learning, but rather the finished product, which is the wrong priority, to my mind. The finished product should be almost incidental, and the learning that generated them should be paramount, and if the students are not thinking about that then the whole time spent making that display is wasted.
But, I hear you say, what about celebrating achievement and student pride in their work? And what abt making the classroom look welcoming and warm. To which I say “meh”. A piece of work that takes fifteen minutes to write, then an hour to pretty up on sugar paper with some stuck down bits of magazine is hardly something to be proud of. And yes, many classrooms, especially in this age of new build colleges painted ice white throughout, could do with some cheering up: by all means do so, but these are just not reasons to make a wall display, not on their own, sorry.
I’m not saying “don’t do wall displays” nor am I saying don’t decorate a classroom. I’m certainly not saying “don’t celebrate achievement”. I’m saying do them if, and only if, the creation of the display is a genuine part of the learning experience. Of course, doing them because either a) your manager wants you to stick something on the wall, or, b) because OFSTED are coming, are the worst reasons of all.