Sunday, 3 August 2014

Working walls - not just wallpaper!

So working walls –when used well they become an integral part of the learning process, used badly they become terrible wallpaper. Until this year, working walls were pretty much an unused tool in my teaching toolkit until I moved to a school which lives and breathes working walls and now I can’t imagine life without one. Here is my low down on what I think makes a good working wall (and I am still learning and improving this!)

So why have a working wall?

In the past, teachers have used their wall displays for a multitude of reasons: to celebrate great work, topic display boards of maths and English vocabulary walls (VCOP!). However working walls offer a more purposeful use of the classroom display which offers a richer learning environment for the children. Working walls are an interactive wall which can be used to record, visualise and assist learning- to me an underused teaching resource. Working walls allow a learning journey to be shared from a starting point to an end point. Within in that journey, clear steps of the progress will be shared and displayed along with examples of good practise and scaffolded models with clear success criteria’s. They should be a flexible tool that allows innovation and evolution from the children and the teacher. A good, well used working wall can effectively create an independent learning environment where the children use the wall as much, if not more, than as much as they use the teacher.
So what makes an effective working wall?

They must ultimately be child led. The success of a working wall lies heavily on the involvement of the children and how a teacher encourages them to take ownership of the wall and their own learning which will mean the walls become used and less like decorative wall paper. Children will use a resource that they have managed and organised themselves and invested time and effort in.  If they do not see its value, the children will not use it so they must be involved in it from start to finish. Children in my class now ask me to change the theme of our literacy working wall linked to the theme or topic we are learning, showing their engagement and desire to be part of every process of the wall making. I often have a working party of children that help me change the learning journey for maths every Monday or at the start of a new journey ready for the next one.  

The children need to take pride in their working wall and it should become an integral part of the lesson. Refer to it always and praise children who independently use it to support their learning, which will ultimately encourage others to follow. If the children see you valuing their work and adding it to the working wall as best practise, a culture of achievement will follow where children are engaged in the learning and will also seek to have their work displayed on the wall.  The more you use the working wall and build it into the lesson planning, the more the children will see how each lesson fits within the concept there are learning and where it is taking them. For example, during any one lesson the children should be able to state their WALT for the lesson and share how it is linked to the bigger picture – the ultimate end goal at the end of the unit of work, they do this by referring to the working wall. During a unit of work on play scripts, they children understood that a lesson on adverbs would help them write clearer stage directions which will ultimately help them reach their end goal of writing a play script of Harry Potter for J K Rowling.

What should be included in a working wall?

A working wall should evolve. It should start empty and as the learning journey progresses over the days and week it should be added to and developed by the children and the teacher. It should at no time be pretty. Don’t get me wrong, I love being creative with my displays but they start off looking nice, enticing the children to the board, and soon they become covered in learning which is used by the children.

There should be a clear audience, purpose and outcome displayed so they children know where they are heading to and why, particularly on the English wall however this could easily be added to a maths wall. For example on a unit on writing to entertain, the audience was to Year 3 children, the purpose was to entertain and the outcome was to write a funny short story for year 3 children. Once children know where they are going, the learning journey and WALTs will demonstrate to the children the steps of how to get there, for example step 1: WALT: Identify the feature of an entertaining story. Step 2: WALT Use dialogue to create entertaining characters (this step will have its own success criteria linked to speech marks and dialogue writing which may last several lessons). I could continue further along the journey but I think you get the idea!

Modelled examples showing the different stages of the writing process for word and sentence level activities to mind maps, drafting and editing should be displayed. The examples should come from both the teacher and the children. It is vital to display the children’s work as examples and WAGOLLs (What A Good One Looks Like) so they children can see the steps are attainable and also seeing their work displayed allows successes to be celebrated. It is also good practise for the teacher to write their own setting high expectations. WAGOLLS and scaffolded models do not need to be pretty – scraps of paper, photocopies of children’s work, visualiser print outs, whiteboards, flip chart paper – whatever way of getting the work up, it doesn’t matter as long as a wall of visual prompts develops. Post it notes are a great way to involve the children using the working wall, they promote engagement and allow children to independently add to the wall at key points in the journey/ lesson. Use multiple examples of work or steps in the journey. You can take these down as the journey progresses but it is important for the children to see several examples to inspire them. On my English wall, I have ‘Ingredients for Magic Writing’ where the success criteria is split into organisational features and language features, this is also developed and evolves along the learning journey.
 Key vocabulary needs to be a vital part of the working wall alongside other generic models that can aid support the children in their learning. The working wall should be a visual toolkit for the children to utilise at any point of the day.

Let the children track their progress along the working wall. I have seen different versions of this in different classes in the school. Some teachers use a symbol which the children move along to show which step the class is on along the learning journey. I, however, recognising that all children learn at different paces, use names on post it notes, and the children move themselves along the journey based on their own progress. This really allows for a more individualised approach for each child, so they know where their next step is. I always include challenges and extensions for those children that reach the end of a journey more quickly than others. This method works particularly well on a maths working wall.

Word of warning!
Only start a working wall if you have support from your headteacher, remember they are not meant to be pretty so if you have a headteacher who advocates neatness and mounting, working walls will not work for you!

So in summary, an effective working wall must:
  •           Be child led – children should value and use it!
  •         Show the starting point and an end point to a leaning journey.
  •           Visually display the steps along the journey with modelled  examples including teacher examples and children’s work.
  •         Be included in the planning and referred to throughout the lesson.
  •          Be flexible and not pretty!
Working walls have been a wonderful addition to my teachers toolkit and are now a strong part of my everyday teaching! I have even begun to use working walls for other subjects such as ICT and Geography- watch this space!! 

Useful articles

Here is a useful articles I found on the TES Website regarding  working walls:

Here are some photos of my working walls at the start of the journey- yes they do look pretty but trust me they do not stay that way!! 

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