Displays that document what children have done and learned are an essential part of project work. Documentation can communicate to visitors (including parents) what has taken place during a project. Memory drawings; topic webs; charts of questions, predictions, and findings; surveys; sketches, and photographs; data from field visits and interviews; models and other representations of knowledge—all may be important features of the “story” of a project. Bulletin boards, walls, shelves, and even floor space in a classroom can be used for effective displays that describe the progress of a project throughout all three phases. Creating effective, efficient project displays can be challenging for educators who may face shortages of space, time limitations, and files or piles of data collected from and by the children over several weeks or months of investigation.
This FAQ introduces some aspects of display and documentation and lists resources for readers who want to explore the topic further.
Displays are the part of documentation that makes the children’s work visible within the classroom and school. In a project display, you would typically include a title, a short introduction by you or some of the children, samples of children’s work, photographs of the work in progress, and statements the children have made about their work. Children’s work can include sketches, graphs, charts, diagrams, maps, and other representations of what they have done and what they have found out. A display can also include ongoing webs or lists; you and the children will add to them as the project proceeds.
Some other aspects of documentation are not so visible. For example, anecdotal records of individual children’s activity during project work enable you to share information with parents during conferences or casual conversation. Less-visible documentation may also include items you would keep in file folders or other storage space. For instance, the class may keep track of their ideas and other aspects of a project in journals or learning logs that show how the project progresses. You could also make audio recordings of what the children say about the topic during class discussions or conversations during play. You can then pick out especially interesting or relevant comments to type up for later reference. Such records of what children say are windows on their understandings and misunderstandings of the topic.
You can also take photos or make brief notes to keep track of children’s progress on models, paintings, or other representations of what they have found out. Children often work for several days on one representation. During this time, you might make suggestions or invite other children to suggest possible ways to improve the representation. You can document these suggestions, also. Parents’ comments on their children’s work may also be filed for later use in a display or a book about the project.
Displays tell the story of a project as it develops from Phase 1 through Phase 3. Phase 1 focuses on what children already know about the topic, so the display should encourage children to find out more about their classmates’ experiences and understandings of the topic. Items for display include the stories children tell or write, surveys about their prior experiences, and their drawings, paintings, or models that express what they remember or what they have done related to the topic.
Phase 1 is a good time to start a web of vocabulary with the children as the words emerge in their personal storytelling. Display the web where you and the children can easily add to it as the project progresses. An important part of your Phase 1 display is a list of questions you and the children develop, along with the children’s predictions about what the answers might be. These questions become the focus of investigations in Phase 2.
During Phase 2, displays focus on what children do and find out as they investigate questions about the topic. You can work with children during this time to create displays that document their discoveries. Photographs, sketches, and notes from site visits and their conversations with experts can be included in a display. Captions may include comments that the children made as they worked. Your director or principal may appreciate seeing that you have posted learning standards and benchmarks relevant to the work the children are doing.
Phase 3 of project work is a time for review, reflection, and sharing information with others. It is not a time to generate a lot more work to put on display. The arrangement of the display may change, however, to accommodate visitors who will view the work. You or the children might also make a few minor additions, or you may want to add new commentary to show ways in which some gaps in the children’s knowledge or earlier-held misconceptions have changed.
You can show the sequences of events in a chart or a timeline or recorded on a calendar. The children can help you maintain the timeline or calendar.
You might want to document related events close together on the classroom walls. However, keep in mind that the children are likely to think of the key activities—the field visit, the expert coming to the classroom, the delivery of a box of books from the local library—as separate events. They are able to appreciate displays about the events as stand-alone pieces of documentation.
You will provide a sense of how events are connected if you make sure that each of the displays includes a title, a short explanation, and children’s accounts of what took place and what they learned.
If you fully understand the purpose of display, you are not likely to make serious mistakes in showing children’s project work. The main purpose of display is to share information with all children in the classroom. A display should tell the story of the project as it unfolds for the whole class. Project displays should inform, not serve as decoration. Keep in mind that except in Phase 3, showing the display to visitors is a secondary purpose, but anyone who visits the classroom and sees the display should be able to recognize where the children are in the process of carrying out the project.
During a project, each child has opportunities to choose what to investigate and how to represent his or her findings. A child may be the only one in the class who has learned about one specific aspect of the topic. As part of the work, the child can share what he or she learns—even teaching classmates about it. You may want to help the child think through the ways to do this teaching (Oral report? Drawing? Model? Display board? Some other means?), but it is important to have the child make the final decision about what to do.
To create captions for displayed work, you can take children’s dictations or write captions for the item based on what they say about it. They may want to write some of their own captions. Photographs taken by you or the children can provide a record of children’s good ideas about how to represent what they have found during fieldwork.
Classroom space for display is often scarce, so most of the work to be shown does not have to be large scale. The children can make small constructions, drawings, etc., which are best displayed at eye level. Mount larger-scale, less-detailed work higher on the wall—for example, paintings, collages, or murals. Captions explaining the larger work can be placed lower down so that viewers can easily read them.
It is a good idea to avoid displaying work at an angle rather than horizontally or vertically. Though some people feel this approach makes the display look more interesting, it actually takes up more space and makes the writing harder to read.
You may be tempted to display almost everything the children have done, since so much of it has value. It is important, however, to involve the children in choosing just a few pieces of work to illustrate particular information. Items that are not selected might have other uses. Perhaps they can be published in a class book about the project or be stored in a child’s project folder to be used as needed.
Here are some additional tips for displaying the children’s work:
When you keep anecdotal records during a project, the purpose is not to compare one child’s work to that of other children. Instead, the point is to record individual children’s approaches to their work and their growing dispositions to develop interests and strive for mastery. For example, your notes might show that Sarah has made progress in explaining her work clearly to classmates, or has persisted instead of giving up on hard tasks, or has solved problems resourcefully, or has collaborated with other children.
It’s important to keep in mind that the project is a collaborative effort. All the children contribute to it according to their interests and abilities. For example, a display need not include a sketch by every child. You might have sketches by three children, photographs of two other children at work, an experience story dictated by two others, etc.
You can help children see the value of their classmates’ efforts by highlighting the work the children do, rather than praising specific children when something goes well. For example, if a pair of children worked especially well together to make something, you might ask them to share their tips for ways to work effectively with a partner, and type up their ideas to display along with the item they made.
The amount of print (captions, etc.) in a display needs to be small because space tends to be limited. Children and visitors are not likely to have enough time to read very detailed written information. Keeping in mind the purposes of display (mentioned earlier) can help you to keep the story of the project brief.
The writing in a display may have various purposes, including
Try out different font sizes with the children to determine the how large the type needs to be on any print portions of the display.
It’s no surprise that an interactive display will invite children’s attention much more than a static display. Invitations to interact might include the following:
The children may have their own ideas to make a display more interactive.
Constructions can take many forms in project work. Children may work on large-scale collages, murals, or posters, as well as 3-dimensional models. It is a good idea to think about the final product when children make models so that there will be enough space for display.
A model might be large enough for children to play in or operate, such as a grocery store or a car wash. Such large models call for space on a floor or playground area. Other models can be too small for play but large enough to show a great deal of detail. They can also be shoe-box-sized or smaller to fit on a shelf or be stapled to a vertical surface.
Many children enjoy miniature representations of reality. Even very young children can make small, light models. Colored paper is a good medium for smaller models. Children can cut, fold, and stick it together to make 3-dimensional models that will fit in a small display space. Two-dimensional (flat) work will take up less space than a model.
You may also be able to find display space in the hallway beside the classroom doors. You might want to find out if the class can display some items in the entrance hall of the school for a limited period of time. The entire school can benefit from seeing what your class has done. In addition to sharing information, the display provides an opportunity for children to appreciate each other’s work.
As a family child care provider, you may have to be resourceful to find space for documentation and display. The children may be glad to give up some play space for a short time in order to display their project work. Children often are pleased to see their work on the walls of the rooms where they spend so much of their time.
In addition to wall displays, you might also make big books that include drawings, paintings, photographs, quotes from the children about what they did, captions dating and explaining the work, and so forth. If you have the budget for it, you might make copies of the book for each child at the end of the project. If not, a single copy of the completed book can circulate among the families, with children taking turns having the book at home overnight.
You can also document project work in PowerPoint presentations. Scan the children’s flat work (drawings, paintings, etc.) and photograph their models, block constructions, etc., with a digital camera. The images can become part of the PowerPoint presentation, along with captions explaining each piece. You might want to have the completed presentation playing so parents can see it when they arrive to drop off or pick up their children.2008
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