If you've ever been guilty of ignoring a clearly out-of-date bulletin board or of putting up "anything" that will do, maybe it's time to give your bulletin boards a second look. Experts tell Education World that classroom boards can be more than just "wallflowers" -- they can be tools for teaching too! Included: Tips from experts to help you get more out of your wall décor!
"Too often bulletin boards are just thought of as decoration, when they really should emphasize the learning that is taking place in the classroom," author/educator Michael Gravois told Education World. "Those two qualities do not have to be mutually exclusive; a bulletin board can be both educational and decorative."
|Michael Gravois' second graders from New Jersey create a mural of the surface of another planet. (Click images to see larger.)|
Gravois left a ten-year career in advertising to teach fifth grade in Westfield, New Jersey. When he was unable to find a resource book that met his needs, he developed his own activities for the classroom. Through the years, he has turned those ideas into 17 books for educators, including 20 Totally Awesome & Totally Easy Language Arts Bulletin Boards (Grades 4-8) and 25 Totally Awesome & Totally Easy Bulletin Boards! (Grades 3-6). Gravois now instructs pre-service teachers at the University of Memphis (Tennessee).
THE BEST BOARDS
The three types of bulletin boards Gravois discusses are teacher-made (sometimes pre-fabricated), student-made, and those that combine teacher and student work. When creating boards, he prefers to set up the bulletin boards and then let students take over. He often develops for students a hands-on manipulative, or "response vehicle," which becomes a part of the bulletin board. Gravois keeps three bulletin-board principles in mind. Bulletin boards, he says, should:
"One of my favorite boards was created when I taught second grade," recalled Gravois. "We were studying the ocean. We read books, watched videos, wrote stories, and more. Each child researched two different sea creatures and made them out of construction paper, paper plates, streamers, and other art materials."
Gravois placed a long strip of white bulletin board paper on the floor and assigned two-foot sections to his students. "They worked with the students on each side of them to 'match up' the ocean floor, and colored the floor, rocks, and water," he explained. "They then taped or glued their creatures into the scene. Next to each creature, the students taped an index card that detailed some facts about their animal. We hung the student-created mural on one of the classroom walls." Similar murals also were made for the topics of the rainforest and the planets, with students designing aliens, spaceships, and comets!
To Gravois, the "key" to making bulletin boards meaningful and manageable is using them as learning tools, not just in content, but in their creation as well. "If the bulletin board becomes part of the learning, it saves the teacher from having to create it, it ties into the learning, and it gives the students ownership of their space," he said. "Plus, once a teacher does this for several years, he or she will develop a file of ideas that can be used in future years, making the job even easier. A teacher shouldn't feel as though he or she needs to reinvent the wheel every year. If an idea works, reuse it!"
INSPIRATION AND AMUSEMENT
"Having interactive boards lets the media specialists and students use library materials to create questions and quizzes and develop entertaining ideas that will hopefully attract more patrons to the library media center," reported Judy Serritella, an experienced elementary and high school media specialist who is coordinator of library media services for the Georgia Department of Education in Atlanta, Georgia
Serritella created the Web site Bulletin Board Ideas for High School Media Specialists to share some of her board ideas with other media specialists and published it in book form as Look Again! Appealing Bulletin Board Ideas for Secondary Students (Linworth, 2002). Some of her interactive bulletin board ideas include:
"Library media specialists are always looking for ways to encourage reading and to promote the library media center," Serritella explained. "Clever and creative bulletin boards can help students gain understanding and find inspiration and even amusement."
MEETING A CHALLENGE
Barbara Colvin was so taken with the great bulletin board ideas she found on the Internet, that she created an online index called Classroom Displays and Bulletin Boards. Later, she added some of her own boards, boards from other teachers in her school, and e-mail submissions, complete with photos.
"Students love to be challenged," says Colvin, a seventh- and eighth-grade English teacher at University Christian School in Jacksonville, Florida. "When you put something on your bulletin boards that presents a challenge to students, they get interested in meeting that challenge."
One board Colvin has used many times has students "draw pictures" of adverbs. She posts the pictures and refers to them during adverb lessons. The student-created visuals are especially simple and effective. On another board, a snowman is surrounded by snowflakes that have appropriate verbs written on them -- melt, freeze, slip, drip, and so on. Students write about the scene and use those descriptive verbs.
"I think teachers can make their classrooms so much more inviting if they have eye-catching bulletin boards," Colvin stated. "This year, a seventh grade boy told me, 'Mrs. Colvin, your classroom is so colorful and exciting. Too many classrooms are just dull because they don't have anything on the walls and the teacher never does anything to the bulletin board.' That made me realize how much students do pay attention to your bulletin boards. You can make your classroom attractive with a little creative thought."
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
"An excellent bulletin board is one that makes students think," observes Kimberly Steele, an eighth-grade English and reading teacher. "That can be as simple as a thought of the day or as complex as an interactive lesson in bulletin board form."
Steele creates bulletin boards that her students at Abe Hubert Middle School in Garden City, Kansas, can use as references during class or on tests -- a strong incentive for students to pay attention to what is on the bulletin board!
"One of my favorite bulletin boards is one I made in the form of a graphic organizer, particularly a mind map or web," she told Education World. "I used the mind map to illustrate the different types of text structures students encounter while reading."
Another favorite is a word wall Steele created this year. The school recently adopted a list of universal vocabulary terms classes are to focus on during the year. Steele has several students whose first language is Spanish, so she created a word wall of the words in English and added the Spanish versions in another color. The Spanish-speaking students appreciate the words in their native language and they help Steele pronounce them correctly in Spanish; the other students are encountering a new language too.
"Most important is to relate the bulletin board to information your students actually need to know, rather than something that looks cute," advises Steele. "Don't be afraid to experiment with different ideas. There are many ways to make a bulletin board unique and creative. I am not artistic, so I try to find unique things such as movie tickets or post cards to make my bulletin boards stand out."
BULLETIN BOARDS STRIKE A CHORD
|The school choir in Richwoods, Missouri, receives congratulations on a fine performance from their teacher Tracy King.|
For five years, Tracy King has provided Bulletin Boards for the Music Classroom, an outlet for music teachers to share their creative ideas. A music educator and technology teacher/coordinator for the Richwoods School District in Richwoods, Missouri, King uses bulletin boards as instructional tools in many ways. For example, she uses them to
King also uses boards to reinforce her students' role in the school community. "I love bulletin boards that brag on student achievement," she explained. "I like to highlight performance groups like band or choir and classes that are working on special projects like compositions or recorders."
A recent board commended King's choir students for their performance at a mall. "Even the simplest idea can be turned into a board that teaches or a board that brags on your wonderful students," she said. "Don't be afraid to use on your bulletin boards such non-traditional items as cereal boxes, gloves, empty video boxes, CDs, fabric, wallpaper and so on. And, most importantly, share!"