What’s on Your Walls? How My Classroom Helped My Students Learn

I decided I was going to be a teacher when I was in the second grade. At the time I believed that meant I would wear turtleneck sweaters and have blonde hair that was flipped up at the bottom like my teacher. Of course, I knew I had a lot to learn before I would be ready to teach. I can think of one lesson I was very slow in learning, even though all those years, it was right in front of my face.

All through elementary and middle school, I glanced, gazed, and even stared at some of the most powerful teaching props in existence, the walls. But I didn’t really see them because to students, it is as natural to find something useful on a classroom wall as it is to glance at the wall in the first place. As a teacher, when I first walked into my own middle school classroom and had to decide what to put on my walls, I was baffled. In a way, they were still invisible to me.

I started out with a small library on an old metal bookshelf, a couple of inspiring posters, and some class rules, then quickly added my state’s content standards and a corner for publishing student work. I added multiplication tables, math facts, and writing conventions. I made room for a student-created vocabulary wall.

By mid-year, my students had helped me redecorate. By this point, I saw my walls as some of the most important learning tools I would ever have access to. I began to think back to the many classrooms I had been in as a student teacher and observer. I started to mentally categorize the purposes I had seen classroom walls fill:

Organization—posted agendas, calendars, standards, and bookcases

Resources/Reminders—vocabulary walls, math charts, homework assignments, procedures posters, and class expectations

Recognition—homework, student artwork, and student illustrations of vocabulary words

Physical Props—scenery for readers’ theater, games like “pin the math term on the example,” and often a whiteboard or interactive whiteboard

Community Building—a birthday calendar, getting to know you projects, and both commercial and student-created decorations

The greatest part in my eyes was how involved my students were. They were interacting with their physical space in ways that helped them learn and feel recognized. And it was often my more disruptive students who would jump at the chance to hang out after school and help me add something to the classroom walls. As we’d work, they would talk and I would listen. My classroom walls helped me connect with my students and helped them develop a sense of ownership.

What about you? What do you think it is most important for teachers to have on their walls? What would you add to my list?

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