[nobe-l] Re-: classroom visuals

Catherine Mendez caitryl at gmail.com
Fri Oct 21 02:10:41 UTC 2016

Dear Valerie,
Making the classroom visually appealing is one of the biggest challenges that I have faced being a blind teacher in the early grades. As a student, I couldn't see what was up on the boards, or what the anchor charts looked like… It was a whole dimension of  my school experience that didn't even register on my radar. Thus, when I entered the classroom as a teacher, I initially had a lot of difficulty understanding what students needed in terms of visual supports, and then figuring out how to provide them.

At the school where I work, we are strongly discouraged from having store-bought posters on the walls in the classroom. Anchor charts are supposed to be constructed with students, or, in some cases, derived from a standard set of schoolwide parameters and principles.  Here are some of the ways that I have gotten around the challenge of creating these materials:

If your classroom has a SmartBoard, you can use Microsoft Word or any other word processor software to type  the anchor chart collaboratively with your students, and then print off the resulting products. My school has an on-site poster making machine, where you can place any 8.5 x 11 size documents on the scanner tray and it will produce a 3 foot poster. Our machine will duplicate images as well, although it only replicates materials in one color, so these charts tend to be more functional than glamorous. But that's OK.   Many of the teachers use the poster maker, so their charts look exactly the same way.

Another option, if you work with a teachers assistant, or have an older student or even a parent as a volunteer, is to create a typed and laid out copy of your chart, with all your formatting and whatever included, and have them transfer it onto chart paper prior to the lesson for which you need it. If you don't need to construct the chart with the students, but rather need it to support a learning experience, this technique works.

Also, in recent years I have gotten fed up with having to make many of the same charts over and over and over each year. This is time-consuming, and I simply don't have the time to spare. So, there are some charts that my school requires be present in every classroom every year, for example, a "how to choose a just right book" chart, a "habits of successful readers" chart a "conversational prompts" chart, and a "what do I do when I'm done" chart.  The language for these charts is standardized throughout the school, so what I did was, created a table in Microsoft word and used the comic sans font at size 96 to write all of the text of the charts into the table rows. I was able to then make different things different colors as well, by changing the font color.  I also printed the materials on various colors of paper, to make them pop even more.  Over the summer, I had my reader help me cut those individual blocks of text out, lay them out on a large piece of poster paper, and help me find Internet graphics that represented the various concepts displayed. We then glued the images to the poster alongside the text. When that was all done I took the final products to a local teacher store and had them laminated. Now I have really classy looking charts, that are durable enough to last for several years.  For some of the text, we were even able to use background graphics… For example, my "habits of successful readers" chart, has each have it displayed on the graphic of an open book. To do this, you really need to have a reader who is tech savvy, and or with an artistic bent, but with a little preplanning you can find such a person. The initial outlay of time is worth not having to rinse and repeat the same chart construction every year.

When designing bulletin boards, it helps to have a sense of what colors go well together and which clash. You can have a friend or family member who enjoys either sewing, knitting, or even shopping for clothes give you a quick crash course in color management. That way, when you plan for your bulletin boards, you can have an idea what paper colors you want to use, to coordinate with your background paper color and your border.  This can even help with word walls.  For example, the word wall in my classroom has dark blue backing paper with a white border. The space for each letter is delineated with red craft tape. This is because I happen to know the red stands out against dark blue. The individual words are written in black ink, and are on color-coded paper… Social studies words are on yellow, science words are on light green… But the overall effect is very coordinated, eye-catching, and easy for students to use.  If you're not sure, ask a colleague if something will look good before you put it up… Even sighted teachers do this, especially at the beginning of the year when everyone is setting up the classroom. 

When you're designing displays of materials, remember that differences in texture can be just as helpful visually for your cited students as they are tactilely for you.  Using different fabrics, different kinds of paper, and even hanging things at different angles, can draw the eye.  For example, if your students are making books in writing, have them do the covers of their books on pastel card stock, so that your board isn't just covered in white paper. Or, if they have created a one page product, you can back the individual student pages on construction paper, so that they look like they have a colored border when they're hung up.  Our school even did a thing where the bulletin boards in the hallway are all covered in burlap of various colors, instead of paper. This provides an added texture element when your displaying student work.

I hope that this helps. I'll be interested to see what other solutions people have come up with for handling classroom displays. It can be tricky, but if you embrace it as a challenge, it can also be a lot of fun to make your classroom look nice. After all, you're going to be spending six hours at least of every day there, so having it look good, even if you can't see it yourself, will make you feel good as well. Beyond that, your students would love to be there, and the hard work you put into making the things on your walls colorful, appealing, easy to access and relevant will ultimately improve their learning experience.

Cayte Mendez
President, National Organization of Blind Educators
A division of the National Federation of the Blind

Sent from my iPhone

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