Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

Judging a book by its cover. Ideas and thoughts on how learning is displayed in schools.



When students, staff and visitors walk into your school, what is the first thing they see?

What about your department area?

What is the purpose of display in your school and what does it say about the curriculum in your school?

How often and why are displays changed?

If you asked a student from your school to close their eyes and talk about your classroom, what would they say?

Is your school a lighthouse for learning or a sterile space full of clean corridors?

If we imagine the curriculum is not just the subjects we teach, but the ‘glue’ that binds the school together, a major part of that is the indirect experience students have every day; where they spend their free time, what kind of welcome greets them as the trundle through the gates, how they feel about your classroom, what their school ‘says’ about their learning.

In some parts of my school, we have those insipid inspiring posters, we have displays about what jobs you can get with certain GCSE’s, we have tired, worn out displays of outdated learning frameworks and we have a lot and I mean a lot of space which reflects very little to do with learning. This really frustrates me, because at our core, we are a forward thinking school, which is encouraged to take risks and innovate. It’s just the spaces we have are not nurtured for learning. They’re there to be wiped clean every evening, to be walked through at pace, on the left… I SAID LEFT JENKINS!!  and ignored by the masses.

It certainly doesn’t have to be like this. One of the key factors for improving attitude for learning is recognition of hard work. But how often do we recognise (apart from the grade, comment, well done, pat on the back) the wonderful things that our young people produce?

The walls of your school are part of the curriculum, the glue, the very fabric (obviously), but they could have a really important role to play in how a student feels about learning. So what does your school say when you enter the door? Welcome to blah blah blah, will visitors please report to reception? What percentage of students have work/evidence of learning on the walls? How does your classroom create an enquiring, active mind?

I have had some ideas about this. Let me know what you think….

1. I want the entrance to my school to say, “Welcome to the most worthwhile day of your life so far” and in small print, “and if it hasn’t been, tell someone why!” or something along those lines. Too often, I see schools in which signage is designed for visitors, not students and why they should come here each day.

2. I want every student to have an A3 clip frame or similar, which once a month, during a form time, they have to get down and replace with evidence of their best work; could be a photo. This will be placed on the “My greatest achievement so far” corridor. Every student, every month. Display and celebrate. Can you imagine teachers using this as a tool. “Joe, would this piece be good enough to go in your frame? Why not?”, “what can we do to change your opinion about this?”

Once a year, the ‘greatest achievement’ had to be something outside of school too.

3. Every teacher had to do an audit of the purpose of display in their rooms.  This must include student input. If anything hasn’t been used within the past month, bin it.

4. The staff should agree on what classroom/corridor display is for (as long as it really hits the mark, look at good examples ) and write a policy, which can be used on ‘learning walks’to make sure it’s reflected.

5. Some kind of constantly changed ticker-tape or quote display as you enter the school.

A constantly changing list of learning moments from students and teachers. Famous quotes for Risk Month, Explorer Month…

What we are often faced with is a veneer of greatness; copious quotes from the Ofsted report stuck onto the entrance sign “This is a good school, which provides well for all its pupils”. SO F***ING WHAT! How about we look at what the Americans do outside their evangelical churches. With those letters that can be changed regularly or a LED ticker tape of up-to-date using quotes from staff and students about learning. Imagine first thing you see is a excerpt from your poem you wrote yesterday on the entrance, the red dots running across with exuberant pace, reminding you why this school is such an exciting place to learn. You could end each day texting your valuable learning experiences to the SLT in charge of (something or other) and they can choose which go up(or a great registration activity in forms)- great to get to know students and which departments are providing valuable learning experiences. You could have Eureka month, where students save up their best ‘I’ve got it’ moments to share. The ‘Fail, fail better month’, there is plenty there to fire up the passion for learning.

These are basic aims. Personally I want to see illuminated learning sculptures glowing at night around the school grounds. I want hidden speakers with recordings of brilliant learning conversations hidden the bricks, I want an authentic French market once a month in the MFL corridor. I want the whole place to scream out loud that learning is what this place is about, but I guess its one step at a time.

So now, ask yourself those questions at the top of the list and then think about what it could be like if we really wanted it to all be about the L word not the O word?

Students often say the most enlightening things about learning (if you ask the right questions)and do the most incredible work. We need to capture, preserve and celebrate this, at least for a while before it disappears into the aether. Making it part of the glue that binds the school together.

Author: Pete Jones

I am primarily an Art teacher, but over the past 5 years have been co-developing an experienced-based learning programme in the school I work in called Pebble, (short for Project Based Learning). I read extensively on learning and education, and I intend to use this blog to record what is going on in my head as well as in the classroom. Hopefully I will be able to share resources and ideas with like-minded thinkers in the future. The Pebble course runs through the whole of Year 8 for 5 periods a week. I am desperate for our world wide education system to catch up with the way we live our lives. Transformation of what we learn in schools and how we learn in schools is desperately overdue. Pebble is a skills centered curriculum with the focus very much on what students need to be successful learners, giving them valuable, deep learning experiences to boot.

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