There’s a common suggestion in business these days to use “social proof.” Show people happy customers, and you’ll find new customers.
Can we apply this business model to the classroom? I think so, though in this case it’s really more of an inspiration model.
Putting amazing student work from the past on display will help inspire your students in their efforts. It will give them something to reach for and put their work in context. Putting amazing student work from the present on display will honor their efforts and give them a larger audience than just you, their teacher. It will also continue to push the standards up, as students see the heights to which their peers are reaching.
High Tech High, a San Diego charter school system that features creative project-based learning throughout its curriculum, tells the story of its school on its walls. Everywhere you look, you see student work. Projects hang from the ceilings and cover the walls. Inspiration is everywhere, as students see what has come before. Take a minute to explore their website and you’ll see what I mean.
You can imagine how that sets the tone.
But I know you’re busy. And making five thousand tape rolls a month to cover your walls in paper is a challenge. So let’s talk about some easy ways get the benefits of displaying student work without getting overwhelmed.
#1 The Hall of Fame
This is an easy one, because you just create it once a year. Pull that dusty stack of incredible projects and photos of events from years past out of your classroom closet and put them up. Display them in a class Hall of Fame, whether it’s a bulletin board as shown above, a shelf, or even a striking door that greets your students ever day with the creations of years past. Pick up the free download for the “Hall of Fame” banner letters right here.
This option is quick, and it will allow the best work your past students have ever done to influence the culture of current work. Especially if you point to it now and then and highlight pieces that relate to what students are currently working on.
#2 The Easily Rotating Display
For this option, set up a spot in your classroom where you plan to display impressive work, consistently, throughout the year. Whether it’s a bright, attractive bulletin board with a header that will remain the same as the work rotates, a clothesline with clips that make it easy to rotate work, or some other system, setting up a display area where you just have to rotate the work, not all the decor, makes it easier to keep this going all year long.
Take it to the next level by displaying the best work of students past on the project your students are currently working on, then subbing in your current students’ work when they’re done. That way your students are seeing models of their project as they work, not just afterwards.
If the project isn’t easy to display (like a blog, speech, or podcast), try displaying alternate documentation like screenshots, photos, or scripts.
I love the way The SuperHero teacher sets up easily rotating spaces like this when she does her classroom makeovers. Also, I love her classroom makeovers in general. Surprise, surprise.
#3 The Digital Display
Another easy system you could use to document your students’ learning is to open a private class Instagram account or free Blogger blog. The advantage of this is that not only can you share it with your students, but also with parents and other members of the school community.
You’ll be able to store and share a higher volume of work as well, since you won’t have to make space for it in your closets and drawers. You can link to student blogs and docs, embed videos and podcasts, share photos of blackout poetry and literary food trucks, etc.
Then, as each unit begins, you can pull from this storehouse of awesomeness and show your students models before moving into the work. You can create slideshows to run on your smart board or pull items to print for new displays on your walls. Your digital display will become the portfolio of all the best work to flow through your classroom, year after year.
In the Reggio Emilia schools of Italy, where creativity flows and young children are honored as makers, creators, and thinkers, the learning environment is considered “The third teacher,” and teachers constantly work to document their students’ insights and growth as well as keep the learning space filled with provocation for learning. If you watch this short video about Reggio, you’ll see some creative ways teachers reflect students’ learning back to them in their environment.
Surrounding students with models and inspiration helps create a strong creative culture. It doesn’t have to be hard. Working on a display or your online student work portfolio provides a great opportunity to listen to a podcast, catch up on The Great British Baking Show, or just let your mind rest for a few minutes. It’s good for everyone, and you’ll be amazed at how you all learn from the walls around you.