Display Dilemma!

If I display artwork, I display the whole class. All kids deserve to have their art displayed and deserve to feel great about seeing their artwork in the hallways, no matter what it looks like. The same few kids always get picked and tagged as “the best”… But who is helping to boost the confidence of the kids who don’t normally get the spotlight?

I think it’s the job of the art teacher to show the creativity and skills of all students.

Some teachers only choose the best out of each class to display. This practice always makes me feel uneasy, but I am always impressed at how nice their bulletin boards look and grapple with this moral dilemma.

This board I recently put up displayed the whole class’s artwork:

However, on this board, I choose my favorites from each class (for the first time ever):

Both look great. But one makes me feel really good about myself, and the other makes me feel guilty for leaving kids out.  So, I am faced with a “Display Dilemma!”

Should you display the whole class or pick the best out of each class?

What do you do?

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Jen

    I understand your dilemma! I have some very special needs students that may not have the same skill level as some others. They are so proud of their accomplishments and i am too! I always display everyones work because I love to see all my students so excited to find their work on the walls. I am constantly taking down and putting up my kids work. The teachers appreciate it too!
    Both of your displays look wonderful!

    • Vivian

      I pick projects that turned out best for a class and display everyone’s work from that class. I change it up though and sometimes put up the best works from 3 classes. I have started to use bulletin board paper, measure it out, tape art to the front, and then with helpers staple the bulletin paper up on the cork strips. This makes the work pop out visually and takes time, but looks best for me. I’d like to change it up more often though, it’s just a matter of having consistent help. There are two small buildings at my school and it’s K-8, with limited display space in the K-4 building.

      • Svnasiegs2

        I ask students if they want to take their work home or keep it here. Then it is their choice. I do have 850 students, 35 classes a week, 2 schools, very limited prep minutes, and a new fire code rule about only 20 percent of wall space being covered. So, I hate not creating cool displays but am very limited. It seems like everyone is happy if they get to take home right away or keep it at school to be displayed for all to see.

  • angie

    I put up the best from each lesson. I too want every kid to have their work on exhibit, but I want it to be a big deal. I send a note home to parents every time I put up a student’s work. If I display the whole class, noone gets to feel special. I keep track of whose art work I’ve displayed, so that EVERYONE is on exhibit at some point, usually more than once. Plus, if I decide to put up Ms. A’ s class, but Susan didn’t do a good job on that lesson, but did on the previous 3, she isn’t proud. You’re grading the art, if they aren’t meeting the objectives, I don’t want to put up the work.

    • I love that you make display such a big deal, Angie. The note home to parents is a wonderful idea. You must be really organized to do this. Props to you.

  • Our classes are small (14 kids in a class) so I display one from each kid. However, when I worked at a different school the classes were big and the bulletin boards small, so I couldn’t always display all of them. I think it’s better to display more of them. Who cares if the boards don’t look perfect? By the way, I think both of your displays look wonderful!

  • When I came back from maternity leave, I looked around at what my sub had displayed and my first reaction was “wow, these kids really did well”. But then I looked at what she didn’t hang up and I felt terrible. She only hung up the amazingly successful pieces of art. So, the perception was that she was doing a good job, but the reality was that many of the kids were not. So, I think it depends on your situation. My sub felt it was essential to make everything look like it was going perfectly for each child based on what she hung in the hall.
    My personal philosophy is that in every subject there are varying degrees of success. Although some kids might not get all the lines of perspective perfect, the overall aesthetic might be amazing. If the kids know their artwork might get hung up no matter what, they may be motivated to achieve more in every art experience. By using Artsonia, I have seen the quality of their artwork go up because they know I put up everyone’s artwork online (as long as it is complete) and that not only will their peers see it, but their family.

    • Great point, Theresa. Displaying the art online would be another way to promote all kids’s artwork and motivate them to try their best. I think display of any kind motivates kids, whether the result was good or bad. Thanks for sharing your story.

      • Emily

        I too find this a dilemma. I end up hanging everyone’s work together. When I am switching the work, I always have students walking by, admiring each other’s work, or if is their class, watching for their artwork. Some kids aren’t naturals, but try equally hard; what an easy way to encourage them to continue to try hard and enjoy themselves through art. One way I do personally encourage exceptional work is to photograph and use it for future classes in powerpoint presentations, and send it to our local newspaper. Anyone who brings in the printed artwork receives extra credit. One in a while our tech. guy will display artwork on our school website too.

  • The first year I taught I only displayed the best of each class. I wanted to show my new school the BEST! But throughout the year I kept hearing the kids say, “Where is mine?”, “When will mine be up there?”, “Mine wasn’t up all year!”.
    It made me so sad. So now I have a display card for every class that I laminate that says, “Mrs. Kiser’s 2nd grade class”. I now display the whole class. But, I still tend to choose the class that did the best with the project. I keep a tally sheet to make sure that every class has had artwork displayed at least once during the year. Never the same 4th grade or 2nd grade class in a row. This way all students are happy and even the teachers are happy. :) And I feel better!

    • Becca Ruth,

      I love the card idea for each class. I might steal that idea! :) Have you blogged about it? I think people would be very interested. Your solution seems like it has a great balance for display. I wish I had more display space in general. The kindergarten teachers always hog my display rails.. Booo…thanks for sharing!

      • Jessica,
        I don’t think I have blogged about that yet… Thanks :) Sometimes it’s those little things we don’t think about.

      • Judithhokky

        Just make a display on a wall – somewhere – it doesn’t have to be close to the art room.

  • I display all my student’s work. Every child is amazing to me and as art teachers we need to celebrate and spotlight this whenever possible especially when there is so much enphasis on academic and sporting greatness with only a few always singled out. Let our students shine through the arts and truly feel like the wonderful and creative artists they are.

  • allison

    This goes through my mind every year! I have a really large school – with 750 kids at it’ll be 850 next year – but very few tack strips to hang the work on. I do take the time to sticky tack large groupings of work up every once in awhile but it is just so time consuming when i only have 3 plan times a week! I want to show everyone’s work but to make a list of who i have and haven’t shown seems impossible right now. so i show works that are great examples of students who met the objectives and students who have shown significant growth. most of the time the students names are on the back of the work so it’s difficult to tell who’s work it is as well. i need help!!!! does anyone have suggestions for the large school scenario? when i taught in a school with 250 it seemed so much easier!!!

    • Judithhokky

      Type up the students’ names, print them out and mount (if time) on construction paper. Trim. Put these name placards next to the students’ work.

  • When I taught at a smaller school -approx 300 students- I displayed everyone’s work. Now I teach more than 700 kids, 29 classes every week and it’s just not practical to put up an exhibit of 180 students per project/grade level. Those who do get their work displayed feel honored for the privilege and are not always the top of their classes academically.

  • Yes. . .I think you do the right thing by doing a little of both. I think sometimes the WHOLE class tried really hard. Sometimes the effort of some really exceeds the effort of the whole class. It is a case by case basis. But effort makes a huge difference to me.

    I am thinking about what a waste of time the end of year art show is for me! I display EVERY child’s artwork in a school of 600. Fifth grader get 2 or 3 pieces displayed. About 50 families show up to the art show at the end of the year. It takes endless hours to make displays and I still haven’t found a system or for that matter good parents to help. Often times I feel like parent help involves babysitting and directing and then when they finally get into the job they have to go. I essential gave up on parent help this year. But if you work in a district with some stay at home moms I’m sure the display process would be a lot more efficient.

    To make a long story short. . .this year I’m selecting artworks just to keep art displayed at the school. . . then having an art night with an activity. I think focusing on the art process is always best at the elementary level anyways. I don’t think any kids will really will remember pointing to their work in the hallway but they will remember making some really cool project with their mom or dad or you in the classroom.

    • I think you are making a smart choice, Erica. Really, we are only human and you have to outweigh the benefits of a particular activity before you just keep doing it only because ‘that’s what we’ve always done’…. I hope you take pictures of you art activity night. I would love to hear more about it.

  • Sara Gmitro

    I think it’s really important to display every student’s work. As long as their work is finished, I put it up. I work hard to build up my students’ confidence as artists, and I feel I need to back that up by displaying everyone’s work. Every now and then there is a project where I feel that some work needs to be left out because it doesn’t positively represent that student’s ability, but most of the time, it’s all up there. I think both students and adults in the building benefit from seeing a diverse range of student interpretations of a project.

  • Dale Parker

    I would love to display the work of all students but I have only one bulletin board. I do showcase some pieces in our library in plexiglass box frames. I am also working on a web page for our school so hopefully I can display more work there.

    • Dale, I am thinking technology is a great solution to some of the space and class size constraints so many people are having right now in our schools. A blog works as a great place to showcase photos of student work, too and is much like a webpage. Good Luck!

  • Ronda

    In high school, I put up everyone’s work. Believe it or not, my art room doesn’t have a single bulletin board and there aren’t any in the hallways anywhere…but, it’s high school. I have some picture framing wire strung between some screws in our commons area that I just use paper clips to hang work from thanks to a favorite substitute in my room and his picture framing business. I also have a 3-D display case near the auditorium, and there’s never-ending wall space. I guess if the kids know that there is a chance that I’m going to hang that particular project, and they know that there is the potential that everyone will see their work (with their name attached), I can hope that they ratchet up the quality of their work.

  • Vicki Layne

    I usually display the entire class. It works for me when we do our class critiques. Since I am a middle school art teacher, we have time for this.

    Elementary teachers would have a tough time displaying all of that art work. You could do a table top “gallery walk” instead. This way students get some recognition since you can’t display everything in the halls.

    I sometimes have to display in my classroom. Adding some cork strips (or string with clothesline clips) in your classroom or just hot-gluing some black bulletin board paper (horizontally) makes a good backdrop for artwork. If using the black paper, I place rolled masking tape behind the artwork to attach it.

    In addition to the display, I post a project description card that I print out in large type so others can figure out what the project is all about. I laminate them and reuse them each semester or quarter when I repeat a project.

  • Eric Lowe

    I have displayed all the students projects and they seem to pick the best ones for the art show display at parent teacher night or the yearly art show. Students become self critical and their work improve and education happens. The joy of teaching art seeing all the possibilities success and some not so great. We all learn from our mistakes. Some of the best art work is a shared effort from two ideas.
    Eric Lowe