Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Wall displays in a history class-room

Yesterday there was a tweet asking for ideas for what to put on a history teacher's class-room wall. So this seems a good moment for me to try and remember what worked for me, and what did not.

Perhaps I should start by admitting that when I was a pupil there was almost nothing on the walls that I now remember, except when one admired teacher put up various jokey headlines and adverts that included his name or initials. Also I began my career in a room which had no useful display space. However, in due course I reached a large room (Scottish Enlightenment, Regency, big windows, south facing: wasn't I lucky!) with pin-boards on the back wall ready for use. Sometimes the displays were less than wall-paper, but some things worked, perhaps, so here goes.

For sheer colour and vibrancy I once bought a load of old calendars (which can usually be picked up very cheap from about February) and got my form-class to use a class-teacher period to use them to cover every inch of space on the boards. This got a good deal of reaction from other classes and led to some intelligent conversations.

Occasionally with pupils of about 13 I would set an exercise of wall-chart making. In the end I found this was best done in pairs, not because it produced better charts, but because the process of collaboration was in itself valuable. The intelligent conversations (again) about a worthwhile project were part of education. There would be a central theme (The Reformation, the Napoleonic Wars or whatever) but each chart would be on a different subject, chosen by lot. There would be fairly strict rules about size (A3 paper provided) and a rule that there had to be a mixture of pictures and writing. Once the charts were all posted on the wall I would make a work-sheet and have a lesson in which each pupil took the worksheet on a circular tour round the charts, all starting in a different place. This not only perhaps increased their awareness of history, but also achieved that difficult objective of getting children to see and appreciate the work of their fellows.

The day after that remarkable Conservative MP vote which led to Mrs Thatcher's resignation as Prime Minister, I happened to notice in the newsagents that the headlines were all different. They even disagreed on the facts. On impulse I bought all the papers, and went back to school to put up their front pages as a display that spoke for itself. This led to more debate and discussion than anything else I remember and I wish I had done it more often. However, it did require an event of similar type, the time to get the display up within 48 hours, the chance of noticing the papers, and the chance of having enough cash-in-pocket to buy them all on impulse. But it is recommended.

As far as pictures are concerned the work of great artists (in reproduction) is always worth displaying. Since this was also where I spent my working day I was happy to spend a little money on it (the wall was in front of me all the time; behind the pupils). And one can never tell if a great work of art may strike some chord in a viewer which may bear fruit in the future. In a recent TV documentary I heard Prince Charles make that point about growing up in Buckingham Palace.

When I bought a reproduction of the Bayeaux Tapestry in Jorvik I was surprised to find that it was too long to fit between the main door of the room and the door to the Department Resources. But it was still worth the drawing-pin effort. This latter is not to be taken lightly, by the way. Many a day my finger ends were sore because I had been taking down a display.

What was on the front of the room, in the pupil's view all the time? Well, over the years I moved from a black-board to a white board to a video-screen to an interactive computer screen in various combinations. In retrospect I liked the black-board best. But there always remained, high up, a magnificent map of Europe which I had been given by my predecessor. Hardly a day passed when one did not wish to point to the Baltic, or Gallipoli, or Cork, or Lombardy.

Wall displays were quite a low priority in my teaching and sometimes the same weary collection of images would outstay their welcome. But the above stories are all true, and might give some ideas.

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