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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

June 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Too many classroom decorations may distract youngest learners

Education experts sometimes tell parents that the way a teacher decorates his or her classroom may say something about that teacher’s ability. A good teacher, the thinking goes, will cover the walls with high-quality student work, meaningful projects and other resources.

But what if decorations, even those meant to serve an educational purpose, are doing more harm than good?

A new Carnegie Mellon University research paper suggests that, at least for young children, an over-decorated classroom can actually make it harder to learn.

The paper, published in Psychological Science, found that children in highly-decorated classrooms were more distracted, spent more time off-task and demonstrated smaller learning gains than when the decorations were removed.

Here’s a short video of the report’s authors discussing their research, which also shows examples of both types of classrooms:

The intriguing research showed that children learned more when they were taught in a sparsely-decorated classroom — specifically, that their answers on a test were more accurate.

The researchers also tallied all the time students spent off-task in each type of classroom. A highly-decorated room seemed to inspire more goofing off: 38.6 percent of time in such a setting was spent off-task, versus 28.4 percent off-task in a sparse classroom.

Researchers aren’t suggesting that teachers should strip their walls, but they “should consider whether some of their visual displays may be distracting to young children,” said Anna Fisher, of Carnegie Mellon.

The study was funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Comments | More in News | Topics: classroom decorations, early education, K12

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