How can classroom walls be used most effectively?

Classroom walls can play a vital role in helping students maximize their productivity, motivation, and focus. As you design the space you will want to keep these intentions prominent in your mind:

  • Support a Sense of Identity, Belonging, and Ownership: Students should be involved in making decisions about what is displayed or offered on the classroom walls—their learning space is influenced by how it reflects their presence and their ability to leave their own mark on it over time. To this end, it is powerful to see wall displays from every student, as these serve as inspiration and expression of their dedication to learning as well as in creating a classroom community where everyone is safe to make their own unique contributions.
  • Support Organization: Well-organized displays of schedules, calendars, goals for the day, upcoming assignments help to foster students’ ability to self-manage and feel oriented. The consistency of location and format can help students to feel more secure in knowing where to look to get the information that they need and to know what’s coming and how to prepare for it.
  • Honor Cherished Values and Aspirations: The walls can communicate the most cherished values and aspirations of our classroom community and connect it to the world beyond. A flag, a picture of a hero are traditional ways to show these. So are images of the Earth as seen from space, as well as imagery of the diversity and unity of the world’s peoples. Additionally, posters expressing appreciation for effort, kindness, the value and importance of being able to make and learn from mistakes communicate a “mission statement” for the class. Our walls are also a powerful place to see a signed document of agreements, rules, and promises that were agreed upon by consensus.
  • Make It Attractive, But Not Distracting: We may be tempted to create fabulousness with well-intentioned color, information, and sheer stuff, but, it is very easy to provide too much of a good thing. Depending on the needs of our own students, it’s helpful to remember that walls that are decorated in blues and greens, and with reduced density of information, can be generally calming, whereas reds, oranges, and yellows can be stimulating, as can the presence of informational posters and texts. There is no universal rule but this one: Enough is enough—always aim for calm, productive focus with encouragement of energy, as needed, in moderation, to best meet the needs of the particular students in your classroom.

This response by Debbie Zacarian and Michael Silverstone appeared in EdWeek’s Classroom Q&A with Larry Ferlazzo.

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