Academic Posters Don't Teach
I see your adorable Learning-at-Home set up. I can feed the excitement in your social media post. You love your children so much and you want to provide them with the highest quality education, even during a pandemic. You have a grand stash of sharpened pencils, an ergonomic chair and so-many-educational posters.
You may think that decorating the walls with cutesy numbers or letters posters make the space feel more like school, but they may not be helping your child learn!
WHAT’S WRONG WITH POSTERS?
Ok, don’t freak out! There isn’t anything *wrong* with posters… they just might not be accomplishing the learning goals you have set up. Ineffective poster use can be explained with two examples: Selective Filtering and Overstimulation.
Selective Filtering is an amazing brain process! In Jordan Gaines Lewis' article “This is How the Brain Filters Out Unimportant Details” from Psychology Today, she explains the reason the brain needs to selectively filter stimuli: “At any given moment, we are constantly bombarded by signals from at least four of the five senses. The visual system is constantly processing our surroundings.” The brain actively ignores much of the visual input it takes in. This allows us to focus on the important things around us. And it allows us to create short term memories and then later filter some of those into long term memory.
To recognize an example of your own brain selective filtering, take a look at the wall art around your home. When you first put it up, you thought about it often and smiled when you walk by it. But as time passed, it began to fade into the background, quite literally. It is no longer new stimuli and your brain now pulls your focus away from it in order to interact with other aspects of your life.
Yes, the posters in your learning area are cute. They may add to the color scheme you’ve chosen and they make the area feel more like school for you. BUT - your child’s brain quickly determines that they must be filtered out in order to focus elsewhere. And if your child’s brain is unable to achieve selective filtering, then the posters can contribute to overstimulation.
Overstimulation happens when the brain is attempting to filter out stimuli but is unable to figure out which stimulus is most important. In children, overstimulation often presents itself in focus issues and behavioral issues. It can be exhausting for a little brain to actively filter competing stimuli during school time. To learn more, check out "Stop Classroom Clutter: Think Before You Paint or Hang That Poster" by Colette Bennett.
HOW TO MAKE POSTERS AND WALL DECORATIONS MEANINGFUL
There is a simple way to avoid the pitfalls of selective filtering and overstimulation: interact with the posters! The brain filters out stimuli once it becomes background noise… so don’t let that happen!
Sing the ABC song every day, play “I’m thinking of a letter” and use the poster as a visual. Have an emotion check-in during your morning meeting where your child looks in the mirror, notices his/her facial expression, and matches it to the poster of emotions! Create a routine where you interact with the posters on your wall and you will be able to accomplish those initial learning goals you had when you purchased them!
THE “ONE WEEK” TEST
How will you know if the posters have gone from learning materials to busy background noise? Your own brain filters out the wall decor, too, so it is easy to forget to assess the value of the posters in your child’s learning space! Hopefully, this article will encourage you to critically inspect your posters. Use the “one week” test to determine the posters are useful: if your child goes more than a week without interacting with the poster, it might be time to take it down.
EXAMPLES OF MEANINGFUL POSTERS AND WALL DECORATIONS
Graphs and Charts - So much learning happens for children when they are filling out graphs and charts! The picture below shows my daughter’s reading chart. I noticed that she was struggling to count past 13 and wanted to introduce a 100 Chart to give her more practice with numbers. But, as we know, simply putting a chart on the wall won’t teach her anything. I had to find a way to encourage daily interaction with the chart.
I made matching number stickers and she came up with a goal: a sleepover at Grandma and Pampa’s house when she reaches 100 books. She had to count every day to tell us what number was then next to get a sticker. Within two months, she counted to 100 with ease!
Word Wall - You will find word walls in most early elementary classrooms. They are a living wall that you interact with daily by adding new words discovered during reading and writing. Again, the key to this being valuable for your child is if they interact with it often. If you go more than a week without talking about the words or adding to it, you are at risk of it becoming filtered background stimulus.
Child-Made Art Display - Children LOVE displaying their art on the wall. This is a great opportunity to use your wall space for something that will give your child a sense of ownership and pride. Remember to switch out the art often.
Interactive Posters - Different from an art display, an interactive poster is something the teacher (or parent, in this case) creates along with the learner. Interactive posters are a great way to enliven the learning space with content related to a specific unit of study. Creating, rather than just looking at a pre-made poster, allows the child to gain a deeper connection to the material and hopefully move the information into the coveted long-term memory territory! Learn more about The Pedagogical Power of Posters here.
How do you encourage your little learners to interact with their learning space?