Recent studies show that bulletin boards can be too overwhelming for the brain. Ten things to consider when building your bulletin boards this year.
Bulletin boards are a great way of having information readily available for student use. They can be used as a visual cue of information students already know - like the steps to solving a word problem. Or they can be used as a place for students to "grab" information they aren't sure of yet - like the meaning or spelling of a word.
However, bulletin boards can also be very visually overstimulating to students. This is especially true when we add multitudes of decorations, pictures, quotes, colorful borders and such to our bulletin boards. This overstimulation can cause the students who need bulletin boards the most to use them the least. Often, sorting through all of the extra, pretty stuff, takes too long for students who are visually overstimulated. When it takes students too long to find what they are looking for, they often get frustrated and stop looking for the information they need.
So how do we go about finding balance between having an attractive classroom and making bulletin boards useful to students? Here are my top ten tips:
1.) Keep bulletin boards for useful information only.
Hang decorations or things students do not need to reference regularly (like a list of standards or an inspiring quote) in one specific area. The back of the room or near the door are great places for these items, as they will be out of students eyeline most of the time. In those key, front of the room places, have things you want students to regularly reference - number lines, word walls, phonics sounds, writing formats, etc.
2.) Organize bulletin boards by subject area.
Keeping all of the math boards on one side of the room and all of the ELA boards on the other will help students to focus in on just one area of the room at a time. This way they will know where to turn depending on what they are looking for.
3.) Consider color and design when choosing borders and background paper or fabric.
Sometimes the desire to have all of our boards match in a "theme" will cause the bulletin boards to be busy for the brain before we have even hung anything on it. Other times the background clashes with what we are hanging on it, or makes that information hard to read. Use contrasting colors, with little to no design to make the information that you want kids to access to "pop" out for them.
4.) Consider leaving bulletin boards blank at the beginning of the year.
Add items to your bulletin boards with your students, instead of ahead of time. If possible allow students to be part of the process. For example, when I add word family words to my word wall, I pass the word cards out to students. Each student "presents" their word to the class. We discuss the word (the phonics, the meaning, etc.) and then the student tells me where to put the word on the word wall. This buy-in will help them be more willing to use bulletin boards. It will also increase the likelihood of them being able to locate items if they have a visual and auditory memory link of you hanging it up.
5.) Make bulletin boards interactive whenever possible.
Using bulletin boards for items like Number of the Day posters that are reviewed regularly gives students another form of buy-in. If you can, have a student or two write the answers on these posters. However, even if you are writing, by going over it daily, students can more easily locate the information for various skills.
6.) Consider having interactive notebooks in place of certain bulletin boards.
Interactive notebooks give students the same information that might be on an anchor chart or bulletin board, but in each students' individualized notebook. In addition to being a great way for students to build organizational skills, as students write in their notebook, they are building visual memory links for themselves.
7.) Don't put everything on a bulletin board. Instead, try O-Rings.
Another alternative to bulletin boards, especially for word walls, is to have things like sight word cards put onto an O-Ring where students can easily and quickly reference them. These O-Rings can be hung on a hook on the side of a desk, or be kept in a pencil case, for easy access.
8.) Use O-Rings to "layer" anchor charts and posters.
This is great for things like the success criteria to different writing genres. At the beginning of the year, we can have the narrative writing success criteria (or rubric) on our bulletin board. Then as we move into informational writing, we can add that success criteria to the O-Ring. Students only see the front poster of the O-Ring, but they know additional items are behind it if they should need it.
9.) Refer to your bulletin boards while you are teaching.
So often we hang things up on a bulletin board and assume the students will use it because it's right there. However, that is often not true. Just like all other teaching tools, we must model for students how and when to use them. During lessons, refer regularly to the bulletin boards that host the information you want students to reference. Then, when giving directions for independent work, remind students where they can find help. For example, I always tell students that words on the word wall should not be misspelled in their independent writing because they know how to find that word.
10.) Keep bulletin boards consistent.
If the purpose behind bulletin boards is for students to use them as a reference tool, then we shouldn't be changing the boards every week, or even every month. All of my bulletin boards in my classroom stay the same all year, sometimes with information being added in a new layer, but the writing board is the writing board all year. This consistency gives my students the confidence to know where they can find the information they need. This confidence makes them stronger students and more independent learners.
I know that many teachers these days feel the pressure to have 'Pinterest Ready' bulletin boards. But if those beautiful boards aren't helping our students, then why are we spending our valuable time on them. A teacher's time is limited enough. Let's focus that time on creating classrooms that work for our students, not for Pinterest.
Stop updating outdated boxed curriculums and trying to sell them back to us. Let teachers and students think for ourselves.
It never fails! Every year you show up to pre-planning and there's a new curriculum, a new program, or a new idea that is supposed to solve all of the problems of education. So as educators, we are supposed to throw out everything we know and jump on this new bandwagon (for a year or so, until something new comes along). Generally these are really repacking of an old idea. If you stay in education long enough, you see the same ideas cycle through every 8 - 12 years, branded as new and shiny.
But in reality what we did last year (and the year before that, and the year before that) WORKED. Can it be improved on? ALWAYS! But should we throw the baby out with the bath water? NO. In fact very often, I will find myself trying to put some supplemental material together to make this new program meet the needs of a group of students (because these lovely educational programs that districts spend fortunes on DO NOT provide everything) and halfway through I'll say to myself "I made something like this before." So I'll go dig through my stuff and lo and behold there it is.
Now I'm not saying that we should teach the same lesson using the same lesson plan for 30 years. We should always be on the look-out to learn and grow as teachers. But we should also be trusting OURSELVES to know how to teach. We went to school for this. We go to professional development. We spend hours analyzing what went well and what didn't on a lesson. We get to know our students and their needs. We KNOW how to teach.
Instead of teaching to a boxed curriculum, we should be teaching to the student and the standards. Yes, all kids need to learn how to read. But every first grader does not need to be read Stellaluna. Yes, all kids need to learn how to solve word problems, but every third grader does not need to build arrays using only red chips.
If I ruled the world of education (which obviously I don't) I would have 5 - 10 standards for ELA and 5-10 standards for Math, with very basic outlines for teachers and students to follow. Then I would allow teachers and students the freedom to choose the books that interest them. To choose the manipulatives that make sense for them to solve the problem. Freedom to get interested in learning. I taught 1st graders last year who already hated school. 1st grade! They have 11 more years to go and they already think of school as a chore. How sad is that?
But I have to follow the boxed curriculum with fidelity....
So I obviously can't make your school tell you that you don't have to use their shiny new program. However, I have learned how to "wiggle" inside the box you are given. First, use any "extra" time to your advantage - morning work, transitions, centers, etc. Second, use pieces of the curriculum in your own tried and true way. ie. Yes, we're reading Stellaluna, but we're going to act it out instead of reading it for the 12th time. Third, allow yourself to think outside the box - seek out creative ways to present the information from the curriculum. Fourth, listen to your students! Let them have some input and some choice into the activities they will be completing.
If you are able to find that wiggle room, or if you are lucky enough to NOT have a boxed curriculum, here are a few things that might work to teach the basics, while still allowing for teacher and student choice and outside the box thinking. For so many teachers bringing outside of the box ideas into a boxed curriculum classroom would take hours and hours of extra work. I hope that some of these resources will take that stress away from you.
Genre Book Reports - Students choose any book within the genre to read. This allows them to read in their interest area and reading level. After reading, they complete an organizer with the basic reading comprehension information. Finally, they APPLY their comprehension of the book to create a project of their choice about the book they read.
Read Aloud Journal - Read alouds are such a great way to work on various comprehension strategies. Teachers model their thinking, as well as good fluency. However which book you read is actually not very important. Using this journal, the teacher chooses the book, and the focus. You post a guiding question and students answer it while you are reading. This leads to discussion - where the read learning happens. Then students can APPLY their learning to independent reading.
Daily Vocabulary Work - We all know that learning and working with new vocabulary words is important. But just because the words are listed in a TE doesn't always make them important. Instead, have kids choose words from a book you are reading. Or pre-teach the words you think they might struggle on. Have kids practice - at home or in class - and then for the weekly "test", have students write down 5 words and give you a sentence showing they understand the meaning of the words. It works with ANYTHING and can give you the freedom to make it student or teacher led.
Year Long Country Study - Students LOVE to learn about other places. Let kids choose a country - any county - to research for a whole year. This project gives you a monthly focus so that students are doing research, creating projects, and learning more than just Social Studies all throughout.
Student Created Tutorial Videos - We all know that students learn more by teaching others. But who has the time to sit and listen to 20 different "teaching presentations"? Instead, have students create videos to show they have mastered a topic. Build a class library of videos that students can refer back to when they are stuck. Don't just talk about a community of learners, build one.
I know that all of these resources are a bit "outside of the boxed curriculum", but our kids are not all inside the box. We owe them some learning that is outside of that box. For the past 5 years, I taught inside the box (because I had to), but brought in as many of these out of the box ideas as I could. If you are lucky enough to have the freedom to teach outside of the boxed curriculum - please enjoy and run with these ideas for your students. I have many more inside and outside of the box ideas at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I hope you find something to help make your day slightly easier.
Sign Up for Monthly News Releases