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Inviting My Walls into My Classroom Conversation

All those years that I worked so hard to make attractive bulletin boards, and then they just sat there on my walls, fading all year long--sigh! If only I'd realized sooner that even in secondary classroom walls are so much more than just a challenge to decorate every fall. What I've discovered in the last 2 years is that they can be a real partner in classroom learning if I use them to curate thinking--both mine and my students'--and then refer to that thinking. In the last two days, I've had several conversations with students where the student pulled the walls into the conversation:

  • In class discussion about a piece we were analyzing on education, an 11th grader referred to critical thinking--"like on the bulletin board."

  • As the 10th grade prepared for a synthesis essay on the topic of disregard for human dignity in response to our study of the Holocaust memoir Night and other related pieces, I asked, "What is synthesis?" A student immediately pointed to the reading strategies anchor chart where synthesis is one of the 7 strategies of effective readers.

  • On the way out of class, a student stopped to comment on Between the World and Me, which I had displayed with other books related to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: "I read that last year, and I didn't really get it." After a brief conversation, the student said, "Oh! That really helps me understand the author's perspective. I like it better now."

There are 2 ways I've begun to use my walls more effectively over the last 2 years. First, I use my classroom walls to curate thinking--mine as well as my students'. This means teacher-created content like anchor charts and bulletin boards (the types of things I want to refer to frequently and have students reference as well). It also means captured student thinking from gallery walks, chalk talks, or any other evidence of student thinking. It doesn't have to be beautiful--the point is, it's their thinking made visual that they can refer back to.

Then, I model inviting the walls into the classroom conversation. If I never refer to a bulletin board after the first day of school, is it any wonder my students don't? Now I walk around and point to things as they come up--whether it's a book pulled off the shelf of my classroom library, a country on the world map, a word from my word wall, the 6 traits of writing chart, or the list of argument moves students compiled from their reading.

The stuff on the bulletin boards and walls still fades, but at least it has accomplished some good in the world--prompting conversations, and furthering thinking. How do you make your walls part of the learning conversation in your classroom?

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Kim Essenburg's website, Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn, on December 1, 2017.


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