Friday, September 27, 2019

If Walls Could Speak-What Messages Do Our Classroom Walls Send?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 
It’s almost October!  I can’t believe that school has been in session for over a month now.  It seems like once September hits, everything goes into high gear.  I am in my first round of coaching cycles, and this is when I get to do my initial visits to see teachers’ classrooms whether in-person or virtually. Because I get to glimpse into such a variety of rooms (grade levels and styles),  I am always intrigued by what is or is not on the walls.  It may seem insignificant, but the walls of a classroom can tell you a lot about what happens within them.  In fact, the walls (and the floor and ceiling) speak volumes to students and visitors about what is important, what is being learned, and who the focus is. So, here are some positive messages that we want our walls to send and ways that these messages can be promoted simply by what we hang around the room.

This is OUR class. 

How often do we, as teachers, refer to our classroom as “mine”.  After all, we spend a good majority of our time there, so it does become a second least to us.  But what about the students? Is it their class, too?  Does it reflect that?  To send the message that this room is OUR room, make sure to have student names around.  In secondary classes, you might not have 120 student names on the walls, but their should be evidence of their voices. Maybe there are note cards with book reviews written by students with their names on them.  Maybe there are signs with table group names that the students created.  Maybe there is an engagement/understanding board where students give feedback by posting sticky notes on the circle that tells whether they got it, kinda got, or didn’t get it. Anchor charts and seating can also can tell a lot about the collaborative atmosphere of a class. Commercially produced posters or anchor charts can be helpful, but when they are made as a part of a lesson with students, it is more powerful. It also sends the message that we learn together. Seating is the same way. When desks are in rows turned to the front, it sends a message of who the givers and receivers of the knowledge are. When they are turned towards each other, it sends the message that we learn from each other. I like to think of a class as a community with its own culture. What inside jokes does your class have? What traditions have they created? Where is the evidence of this? Think about what your walls say about your class culture.

We are intentional about what, when, and where we do things.

Being intentional means having a purpose and plan and following through on it regularly. It’s consistency. Students need this.  If a classroom is disorganized and messy, it sends a message that chaos and overwhelm are ever-present and welcome.  Every area of the class needs a purpose and that purpose should be made clear by what is on the walls or desks or board.  Label things! Have a schedule posted big enough for the kids to see. Not just a bell schedule, but a schedule of routines for the class. What will they do when they first come in? Then after that? Then after that? In lower grades, have a clothespin or something that you can move throughout the day to show students where they are in the routine. In upper grades, have a routine and put something on the wall to indicate it.  What is learned in the class can also be reflected. Are there objectives on the board for the students to see?  Are there anchor charts or student work showing concepts that are being studied displayed?  Surround students with reminders of what they are learning and refer to those reminders frequently.  If at any point, you ask a student “What are we learning?”, hopefully they could use the wall to help them answer.

Learning is the priority.

I’m going to get on a bit of a soapbox here because this is a pet peeve of mine.  There are so many cute and calm classrooms in this world, but that doesn’t always translate into a message that learning is the priority.  I am all for dim lights (occasionally), but folks, a kid has to see the book to be able to read. We are not always living in a meditation bowl, so every now and then...turn the lights on! I know that the intent of the dim lighting is to have a calming effect, but honestly, lighting is not what makes a student feel calm in a classroom. It is the relationship that they have with the teachers and other students and the culture that is created. I can be just as anxious in a dimly lit, tealight-infused class where I get ridiculed for not knowing an answer as I can in a bright, flourescent-flooded one. The same can be said for overly decorated classes.  We absolutely want our class to be inviting, but when the decorations and quotes and wreaths take up more room on the walls than the anchor charts, word walls, book displays, and workstation boards, then that sends a message that we prioritize looks over learning. 

We read and write in this class!

If someone were to walk into your class, would they know it is an English class?  Are books displayed and accessible or are they hidden behind a cute apple-embossed curtain on shelves that the kids can’t reach? Are there any books to be seen at all?  I wish I was being facetious about that, but I have walked into English classes and not seen a book in sight other than the literature textbook. If we walked onto a football field, we would see footballs. So, when you walk into language arts class, do you see the tools of the trade there? If we want students to become engaged and motivated readers and writers, we have to show them that those things are an integral (and accessible) part of our class. Put a #shelfie picture of the books you are reading on the door. Put a copy of your latest blog post somewhere. Have a wall or part of a wall where students can write book recommendations to other students. Display books on the whiteboard ledge that you are reading or that you will be doing book talks about.  Showcase an author of the month with pictures of books he/she has written and something about their life.  Make spaces for students to keep their reading and writing notebooks that reflect the importance of those tools. Create boards to show students when you will be conferring with them for reading and writing conferences. Post anchor charts where students have contributed ideas of topics to write about or collected favorite first lines from texts.  Send the message that reading and writing is done here.

If walls could talk, what would your classroom walls say? Hopefully this gives you some food for thought. I'd love to see some pictures of your classroom walls that speak!