decorating your class

Gertrude the Slate-Enhanced Learning Integrationist Coordinating Specialist asks if she can see the room where I will pilot a three-week unit using a one-to-one pencil to student ratio.

"What is this?" she asks.

"It's a poem."

"I know what a poem is.  I mean, what is this?"

"It's by Whitman."

"Take it down."

"Seriously? Is it because he was gay?  Because we're still using peanut butter even though George Washington Carver was gay, too."

"It's not that at all.  The issue is this: your classroom is a learning environment."

"Exactly, that's why I put up some photographs and poems and . . . "

She cuts me off, "Don't forget word walls.  Where are your word walls?"

"They're back in my old classroom.  I thought kids could keep track of vocabulary in their portable notebooks so that they could access the words at home."

"Everyone must have word walls.  And where are your anti-bullying posters?"

"I put up one of them.  It's just that they were so cheesy that I thought most of the posters would actually make kids want to start bullying."

"Where are the charts about academic achievement.  How will we Caravan to the Top without graphs?"

"I actually thought kids could graph out their own scores on paper and pencil."

"Where is your periodic table of elements?"

"Is that really necessary in the sixth grade? We're not in chemistry. Besides, they're still finding new elements.  They just discovered krypton."

"Just because you have pencils doesn't mean you don't have to play by the rules."  The term "play" is exactly it. I spend an entire week after school and cancel my community service club so that I can make charts and graphs and word walls.  But I have fun with it.  Our word wall includes the words "hypocrisy" and "asinine" and I have a graph up demonstrating how seldom students bother to read graphs when they are posted on the wall. At one point, I create a comical lazy cat named Gertude imploring students to work hard.

When I'm done, the principal walks in and says, "Oh, Techno-Tommy, the Fire Marshall was in.  Didn't you read the staff handbook?  You're supposed to have only half of your walls covered and you have three quarters.  Very dangerous stuff, I tell you. You'll need to take down some of these charts."

He glances around and smiles at the word wall. "As long as I'm in here, where are your posters that explain each of the Six Ways To Be a Good Writer? You know what? Why don't you just have the kids write down the Six Ways in their notebooks instead?"

"Yeah, so they can access it at home?"

"Exactly.  See, Tom, I can figure out this pencil and binder and paper world. I'm not as much of an old fogey as you might think."


  1. Word Walls, I should probably have one because my whole spelling program is an ugly train wreck. Our specialist did a walk through my classroom. I was conscious of the absence of some required educational graffitte on my walls as she listened to my rant about the classroom geography and the need for more flexible classrooms if differentiated learning is to succeed. I had my six traits posters up. My math problem solving strategy posters were up. The school's behavioural expectations was up (she snapped a picture of that), as well as my classroom expectations. What was missing was the newest initiative: the "big picture" statements of each course's current unit student learning outcomes.

    Sometimes I think I need an Edison slide projector flashing slides of this stuff onto the front wall in a continuous presentation. All the flashing lights would likely distract students. Eventually they would fade into the background perhaps and become just another texture to the classroom walls.

    All these posters must be some industrial model generated by city life. The signs are everywhere competing for our attention, trying to sell us a product. If the idea makes any sense it would stick in the mind I think. If it is an important skill, then it should be practiced until it becomes a comfortable habit. If you are still advertising it in January, perhaps you are not really doing it in the classroom.

    I still have one 2' X 6' strip of wall to post ten pithy statements about what we are doing every day. I need to get to it before the next walk through I guess. All this mandated advertising has left me no space for students to share their own learning.

  2. They got upset with me about not putting up enough student work (they're in their "plogs" and in our class magazine, thank you very much) and yet they want me to add the school behavioral expectations (which almost dares kids to disobey).

  3. I love the Edison projector metaphor. I'm totally stealing that, by the way.