During a recent meeting with the head regarding whole school literacy, he led us away from the safety of his office and around the school. He was cleverly pointing out that many of the classrooms simply weren’t kitted out for helping students become better writers and readers. Key words were sometimes displayed, if so there was no continuity from one classroom to the next. Not a single classroom I’m sad to say had any connectives displayed to help students structure their longer writing tasks.
Eventually we came to the room of one of the school’s more dynamic teachers, (not a slight on the staff, he’s clearly brilliant), and it stood out from the crowd. Although a technology room, key words were displayed, literacy marking symbols were proudly on show and it was obvious the displays were being used.
This struck me as so obvious I wondered why my own classroom didn’t look this good.
Since then with the help of colleagues I have tried to reinvigorate my room to model what others can achieve in their own learning spaces.
In focusing on what makes classrooms effective in improving both literacy and teaching and learning, I realised I had given myself 5 rules with which to work by:
- Nothing is useful unless used. Seems obvious, but take a look around your classroom, how often do you or your students actually utilise a display or poster on a daily basis? If it’s rarely used then why not replace it with something you’d refer to more often?
- The classroom is the frontline of the battle to improve literacy. I wanted to ensure that students would be able to glance up and within an instant be supported in their spelling of key words or use of connectives. After being introduced to it, I went with VCOP to ensure this.
- Students’ work was rarely a good use of classroom wall space. You’ll note here I’ve specified the classroom wall space; student work can be shared with Twitter or Facebook, put on show in corridors, printed in newsletters and it will receive more attention than if it were simply put on your wall. Furthermore, how often do we put work up after we have taught a unit? At which point it is now old news, and unless you are using it as a model then probably superfluous.
- Consistency is not the same as uniformity. My work on displays soon became a talking point and other teachers took the baton and ran with it, I suggested VCOP as a literacy model and other staff adapted it for their subjects and areas. However, all our displays looked different. Students could go from one room to another and know how to access the tools, but they weren’t being forced to deal with five copies of the same room. It’s important to put your own stamp on it, make it your own, but ensure that the foundations of good displays are consistent throughout.
- The better I make it now, the less I’ll have to change it. I realised that if I worked hard at making a fundamentally useful tool to aid my teaching then I would probably end up using it from day to day. If this were the case, why would I ever want to remove it? Of course you may want to freshen it up, adapt it, even move it to a different wall to keep the kids on their toes, but why would you lose such a useful tool? The benefit here is clear, it’s easier to motivate reluctant colleagues if they think you’re lessening their workload in the long run.
I’m sure I’ll adapt these as I go on, but I’m noticing a difference already, and it’s a good one!