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Pictures Worth More Than 1,000 Words: Online Classroom Displays

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
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If your classroom is like most, you probably use every square inch of available space. I love to step into learning spaces that feel like museums of living history. Ceilings, walls, and tables are covered with artifacts showing evidence of student understanding. Many teachers put up exhibits to reinforce everything from the big ideas of a discipline to classroom-management strategies. But how often do you step back and take a thoughtful look at what's on display?

Linda Hartley is an educator from the United Kingdom (a native of Scotland now living in London) who used that question as the starting point for an action research project. A former teaching assistant, she began conducting research as part of her studies at the United Kingdom's virtual-learning Ultraversity. By bringing Web 2.0 tools into project design, she has set off a global conversation.

This work is manifested on her site, Classroom Displays, which is both a Flickr group for photo sharing and a blog for reflection. (The Classroom Displays blog was nominated for an Edublogs Award in 2006.) The result is what Hartley calls "a visual conversation" about those ephemeral displays that come and go from classroom walls and school hallways. Some 270 educators from around the world have joined the Classroom Displays community, and many more regularly stop in for a look.

If you want to find an example close to home, you can click on the Flickr map. From Hannibal, Missouri, for example, Terry Smith's photos reveal a classroom where students regularly take on global projects with learning partners from around the world. (To learn more about Smith's project-based class, visit his Web site.) A teacher from the Bronx shares a picture showing what looks like an army of cockroaches; the caption reveals that the bugs are plastic. (Whew!) Students lined them up as math manipulatives to show their understanding of arrays.

Click on Kuwait, and you get a glimpse inside an international school where a husband-and-wife team from the United Kingdom are teaching. Photos typically include a link to the educator's profile on Flickr, which you can follow to learn more or make connections.

Though the colorful photos are what initially attract visitors, Hartley acknowledges a goal that goes beyond browsing: She wants to get more educators -- especially those teaching in the early grades -- using Web 2.0 tools with their students. But she recognizes that they first need to get more comfortable using these tools themselves. As an entry point, what could be more familiar and low tech than bulletin boards

Hartley tells more of this story in her blog Reinventing Project-Based Learning. But here's the short version, in her words: "I'd seen the power of blogs and wikis for my own learning during the course of my degree, and I was convinced they were going to be really important for children's learning. It seemed to me that if I could show primary school staff the value of these tools for their own practice, it would be easier for them to see the potential power of these tools for the children's learning."

To hear Hartley tell more about her strategies, listen to this podcast interview with Scottish educator David Booruch.

What do Classroom Displays users learn in the course of talking about bulletin boards and hall displays? Most of the more than 1,500 images are tagged, so users learn the value of folksonomies for making sense of large collections. On the blog side, there's an ongoing exchange of ideas across geographic boundaries. Educators who are new to blogging can easily join by commenting. Hartley says that one of the most encouraging signs is watching a community of interest "actually becoming a community of practice."

The newest addition to Classroom Displays: videos. This means teachers can now have students describe what the displays represent and what they learned by producing them. Video displays also have the potential to encourage good questioning techniques for getting at student understanding. Teachers who have never made a podcast or video with their students might be prompted to give it a whirl as a strategy for capturing student reflection -- and that means the conversation grows and grows.

A Classroom Displays postscript: On a recent trip to London, I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Hartley in person. Over lunch at the gloriously appointed café of the Victoria and Albert Museum, we chatted away like a couple of old pals. After all, I've been following her good thinking online for some time, so we were just picking up where we'd left off. As we compared impressions about where education is heading on both sides of the Atlantic, I couldn't help hoping that these rich global conversations will become more and more commonplace for teachers and students alike.

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think displaying students works of art is so important. When I tell my students that their work will be displayed, they work even harder knowing that others will see it. I feel like I do use every inch of space in order to display their work and posting them online would be great.

natasha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Pictures are worth a thousand words! I love decorating and displaying students work in my classroom. We are also required to keep current work up. These sites gave me new and creative ideas for bulletin boards and displaying work. Also, it was intersting to see what international classrooms are like.

Amy Mathis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed reading this article. I teach Kindergarten, so displaying my students' work is very important. I do feel that is raises their self-esteem and makes them feel important when they see that I have taken the time to acknowledge and display their hard work!

sheila's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that if we respond to a few different students' work each day it is supportive of what they do in the classroom. To the teacher from Georgia I say, why only Pre-K students? I teach at a high school in California, and my students are also proud of the work they put up. They like to admire the work of their fellow students. It looks more important on the wall than on the table with all the rest. The room does look very bare when all the work is taken down at the end of the year.

Jennie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Successful communication is the key to any well ran classroom! I can't think of a better way of communicating than student work being displayed. Student's work offer an inside view of what all is taking place in the room. It tells people what is being taught and what is being learned. Student's work can be beautiful displays in the classroom and it is something the student's can be proud of.

Jen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you that it is important to post student's work on the walls. I worked with a teacher who decorated her class with the neatest themes every year at Open House, however, none of those decorations included student work. For instance, one year she turned her classroom into an ocean, and hanging from the ceiling was a glassbottom boat with pictures of the kids looking down at you. The walls were covered with decorations to make you look under water. It looked cool...BUT there was not any student work on display for the children to share with their families. The best decorations are student made, you can make your room cute and still use student writing and work at the same time.

Sarah Bobko's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think it's important to display student work. As others have mentioned, it gives the students something to be proud of and it gives them the recognition they deserve for their hard work. I have a "Wall of Fame" in my classroom. On Fridays my students go through all of the work they completed during the week and they get to choose what they are most proud of. Their work goes up under thier name and stays there the whole next week. They really look forward to doing this - and are constantly asking on Fridays when will we do Wall of Fame?

Meghan Charles's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really enjoyed this blog. This is my first time participating and I found myself spending much time looking at the examples of classroom bulletin boards. I can see myself sharing this website and blog with fellow co-workers and I am sure they would find it beneficial. What is great about this website is that it incorporates a wide range of grade levels and classrooms from all around the world. I am one of those teachers that fills up every inch of her walls. What is sad, is that I rarely refer to the posters that are hanging as a reference. After reading this blog, it made me realize that I need to make sure that these posters are not just for decoration. I also see a great importance in displaying student work. Like many of the others that have responded, the student takes much pride in their work, especially when they know that it is going to be hung up for others to see. Many times, what students create is a culminating activity that will show others what they have learned from the unit. This also allows me to assess their understanding through artistic or crafty activities.

Emily N.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

To display students' work on a nicely decorated bulletin board is indirectly telling the students that you care about their efforts. When they see their project displayed in a different light, they are proud of their work and this also encourages them to work harder and be motivated to learn. Most kids like to shine through. Students who are less talkative or shy have this opportunity to display their talent through their work. It is a conversation starter, an opportunity for other kids to compliment or comment about each other's work.

To share the bulletin board online for other teachers to view is very fruitful. In my first years of teaching, I relied heavily on websites with bulletin board displays to get ideas for classroom decoration. I didn't just want pictures but interactive bulletin boards. The ideas from other teachers helped me immensely.

2nd Grade Teacher
St. Paul, MN

Mark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

FTCE also provide the classroom through which we can imagine about our classroom.

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