What do the walls of your classroom really say about learning?

In between the consumption of vast quantities of delicious food, I’ve been spending a lot of time meandering around art galleries in Europe.

I’ve seen the grand masters – Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Dali, Cézanne, Renoir, Degas.

Too many – I was sensory overload.

A lot of the works of art have just blended in to one hazy experience.

Which is perhaps why the What Design Can do exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum had an impact on me.



On the wall were simply designed visual provocations – no extraneous visual cues.

Just a simply designed posters with well thought out questions to provoke thinking.

My attention was immediately focused by the simplicity of the visual designs.


The exhibition provoked my thinking about classroom set up.

Primary classrooms are often an explosion of bright colours, cute slogans with lashings of decorative fonts.

Is this visual stimulus all too much for the children?

Could these bright displays be distracting for some kids?

With a new school year starting up in another month in the northern hemisphere, teachers will be hitting craft supplies stores to decorate their classrooms and display their rules in order to ‘set the tone’ for the rest of the year.

There are some amazing classrooms out there, particularly on pinterest, where teachers have obviously spent a lot of time and money to make their classrooms as warm and inviting as possible.

There’s just one small problem.

Where are the kids in this process?

When children walk into a fully set up classroom on the first day of school you are setting the tone. You are telling the kids this is MY classroom – you’re a guest.

A few months ago, the image below showed up repeatedly on my twitter feed.

Image via twitter
Image via twitter

The display hits nearly all of classroom design features, bright, colourful, font overload, and of course a border. The idea of growth mindset is great, but is this display valuing the traits of a growth mindset?

Were the kids involved in making this display or was it teacher doing all the work?

If we really value learning, should our walls value finished product over process?

Should there be less teacher-made displays and more ‘works in progress?’

Is less more in classroom design?


7 thoughts on “What do the walls of your classroom really say about learning?

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  1. I think the best displays are made by the kids as they learn – their work, their space, their art their science. Murals of photos they take of them do experiments and investigations and celebrations of what and how and why they are learning – changing, visually exciting interesting – their posters their pics their work IMHO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tony
      I agree – if the room is full of teacher-made displays then there isn’t much ownership. At some points I wonder if our rooms become too cluttered and we need to have less going on?


  2. Here’s the mural I made in the back of my classroom last summer: https://mrchasemath.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/random-walks-mural/

    On my other three walls I have lots of very simply-rendered math quotes, and I do have a few posters as well. Not a ton, though. Before the random walks mural, I had posters covering my back wall as well. I’ve been glad for a return to a simple, more beautiful back wall that is both peaceful (not ‘busy’ and distracting) *and* mathematical.

    Three cheers for classroom feng shui!


      1. No…I thought about it, and that would have been cool. But I’m too much of a control freak :-).It was a finished work before the kids came in.

        Feel free to read more about it & the process at the link I provided, and watch the documentary video about ‘the making’ of the mural.

        It serves as an aesthetic backdrop to my classroom. And it also serves as a conversation piece. People just think it’s pretty but don’t know there’s any math involved. Random walks are easy to explain, but the mathematics and applications are deep. In the limit, I always explain to classroom visitors, you get Brownian motion, which is the kind of particle motion that Einstein explained in his landmark paper at the turn of last century.


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