The writing on the walls of a classroom can tell a lot about the classroom and the kind of learning that takes place. I used to think that covering your walls with helpful teacher-store posters was the way to go. I’ve learned that is most definitely not the way to go. What we place on the walls of our classroom tells our students, or any other person who enters the room, what is valued most, and what we should value most in our classrooms is student work.
Around the classroom, I have learned to keep open invitations for students to collect and share tiny portions of their favorite words, sentences, lines, pieces, etc. As a result, I have observed the birth of authentic conversations as they check with each other to decipher, compare, contrast, collaborate, and finally agree on things as simple as one sentence. When they find one that they are particularly proud of, they show it off. They will take it around and show it to other students and if I’m lucky, they will proudly show it off to me.
There is special kind of pride and excitement that comes when students discover on their own those tiny pieces of beautiful work, whether the work is their own creation or one found buried in a book. When student have the choice to manipulate and participate in their environment and what goes on the walls, they become more and more immersed in this world of words, writing, reading, books… literacy.
I have learned that the most powerful example of writing I could have on the walls of my classroom is student writing.
Back in November 2019, Melanie Meehan shared a post called, Communication, Collaboration, And Clarity: Reaching Your Writers. In it she shares the importance of allowing students time and space to practice problem-solving and working independently. I absolutely love this post!
“Kids need practice with problem-solving and independence! Adults working with students are scaffolds, and just as construction workers plan to remove them from buildings, we need to plan to remove scaffolds from students… No matter what, we want to find entry points where students can access the work and do it without an adult guiding, managing, and directing every step.” -Melanie Meehan
What would happen if we combined the idea of using student work as mentor text, low-stakes publishing, scaffolding strategy, communication, and collaboration? Too much? Maybe… not. What I have found throughout the years is that when a simple practice is presented, it can become a wide learning opportunity for all language learners in the room, those continuing the journey of the language and those new to the language. One simple practice can be an invitation to “collect your favorite…” line, chunk, word, etc.
As Stacey shares in her post, Creating Classroom Environments: Starting the Year with Empty Walls, “It is important to create and sustain a child-centered classroom. Beth recently told me about the 80/20 Rule many teachers follow. Here’s the gist: 80% of the things displayed in the classroom are student-created while 20% of the classroom is teacher-created. If you’re going to follow this rule this coming year, then that means no more than 20% of your classroom’s walls should be covered on the first day of school.”
The writing on the walls doesn’t have to be grand pieces of student work to cause an impact on student learning. We move students forward, as long as we leave space on the walls for what is important. In my classroom, it is important to leave space for:
· Student writing
· Student word walls
· Student quotes
· Student writing tools
How do we immerse students in words and language? We give them the tools and space to work independently and discover for themselves.
How do we support authentic conversation, collaboration, communication, oral language, and written language into the classroom?
1. Welcome student work into the classroom by asking for their thoughts on where and what to place on the walls
2. Give students space on the walls
3. Allow students time to reflect on what is placed on the walls
In the classroom, I still use my specifically made posters and anchor charts, but they no longer take over my walls. I carefully keep that 80/20 rule planted in my head, guiding me and reminding me to keep student work at the forefront. When student work covers the walls of our classrooms, learning becomes much more valuable, relevant, and impactful―much more than anything we could purchase to hang on the walls.
How do you help show your students that their writing is valuable and matters? What does the writing on the walls of your classroom say about the kind of learning that takes place?
California native. Dual language 4th grade teacher. NWP/HTWP Teacher Consultant. Kidblog Ambassador. Writer.