Curious Parents

Should Classrooms Have Decorations Or Not?

Times Square is jam-packed with people and things to see. It's one of New York's top tourist destinations, but it's not a great place to sit and read a book or attend a lecture. The same way the lights, signs, crowds, and noise of Times Square can be overwhelming, too much visual stimulation in the classroom — in the form of decorations — can hurt student performance.

School classroom

Less Is More

Decorations like maps, posters, art projects, and seasonal decor are staples of many U.S. classrooms, especially in elementary school. For generations, teachers believed these visual components helped create a welcoming environment, increasing engagement, and complementing learning. Now, educators and scientists say those charts and motivational cat posters could actually disrupt the learning process in young children.

Recently, Carnegie Mellon's Anna Fisher, Karrie Godwin, and Howard Seltman studied the effects of classroom displays on students' ability to focus. The results showed that students were more distracted and learned more slowly in highly decorated classrooms.

Fewer Distractions Can Mean More Learning

In their study, the researchers brought 24 kindergarteners to laboratory classrooms for six lessons on scientific subjects they were unfamiliar with. Half of the lessons were taught in a heavily decorated classroom, and the others were taught in a classroom with minimal visual distractions.

While the children learned in both the decorated and undecorated classrooms, their ability to accurately answer questions about the lessons was uneven. In the sparsely decorated room, they answered correctly 55 percent of the time, compared to 42 percent of the time in the highly-decorated environment. The students also tended to spend more time off-task (38.6 percent of the time) in the decorated classroom compared to the undecorated room (28.4 percent).

These findings don't indicate that decorations should be completely banned from classrooms. Even the researchers say more work needs to be done to fully understand the effects visual decorations have on the classroom environment and learning. In the meantime, schools could provide more guidance to teachers when it comes to classroom design. For their part, teachers could try minimizing decorations or be strategic about placement (for example, mounting wall decorations on back walls and out of sight during lessons), and see what effects the changes have on their classes.

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Written by Jamie Ludwig August 28, 2017

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