Sunday, August 17, 2014

It's about what you do within the walls, not what you put on them

Every August, two friends from college and I go on our annual back-to-school shopping trip to get needed supplies for the upcoming school year. We visit the local bookstore with free-roaming cats, the office supply store with folders for one cent each, the big-box retailer with their markers marked way down, and of course, the teacher supply store.

When we first started this tradition 10 years ago, we spent considerable time (and money) in that teacher supply store, buying name plates, borders, posters, decorations, and more to make our classrooms look the best they could for when the students arrived on the first day of school. Over the years though, the money that we've spent on these classroom decorations has considerably gone down. And for good reason.

In The First Six Weeks of School, authors Paula Denton and Roxann Kriete suggest that one of the goals for the first week of school is to display children's art, writing, and personal artifacts around the room. They go on to explain that involving students in creating the posters and labels that hang on the walls allows students to grow familiar with and begin to assume ownership of the room.

That would mean though that the walls of our classrooms are empty when students first walk through the door, which doesn't seem to be a very welcoming environment. In her article Consider the Walls, Patricia Tarr points out that teachers feel pressure to not leave their classroom walls bare. However she warns that when classrooms are decorated with commercially produced borders, posters, and informational materials, the important texts and images on them fade from students' consciousness and worse yet, distract from the children's concentration and focus.

As the video below points out though, Primary Years Program (PYP) educators must display numerous important aspects of the program in their classrooms: the essential agreement, the IB learner profile, the classroom schedule, classroom labels in the language of instruction and in the school's language B, the key concepts, the PYP attitudes, the transdisciplinary skills, the action cycle, all six units of inquiry, and the central idea and lines of inquiry currently being studied.

Note that this video is not an official IB publication.
However, it has proved to be helpful to many an IB educator.

In line with what Denton and Kriete opine, the video's narrator states, "As the teachers and students become more comfortable with these terms, they should work towards these displays being student-generated, instead of teacher manufactured."


Want tips for creating IB learner profile attribute posters with your students?
Click one of the links below.


As we create posters with students and decorate our classroom walls with them, we must also heed Parr's warning and acknowledge that even when wall displays are student-created, the important ideas on them are quickly forgotten as students are unable to interact with them. Therefore, in addition to displaying the IB learner profile and the essential elements of the PYP on the walls of our classroom, it is suggested that each student receive a personal copy of the Essential Elements, like the one pictured below. When each student has a copy of the Essential Elements at their fingertips, along with age-appropriate explanations of these complex ideas, they will more readily reference them as they investigate important concepts and reflect on their learning.

Click here for a PDF version of this Essential Elements Mat
(that includes the Transdisciplinary Skills on side 2)

Ultimately, it is our goal as PYP educators to focus on what goes on within the walls of our classroom, not what goes on them. Student-generated classroom wall displays and Essential Elements mats are simply tools that help us reach our ultimate goal: for students to be genuinely and independently using the vocabulary of the PYP in meaningful contexts in such a way that reflects their true and deep understanding of these abstract ideas.

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