Elaborate classroom displays ‘harm children’s education’

Teachers should consider taking down over-elaborate classroom displays amid concerns maps, artwork and photographs damage children’s education, according to research being reported by the Telegraph

Researchers said highly-decorated walls in primary schools undermined pupils’ ability to concentrate during lessons and absorb teachers’ instructions.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that children educated in “sparse” classrooms spent more time “on-task” and gained higher test scores.

Academics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US, insisted they were not advocating a ban on classroom art work but said teachers should consider “whether some of their visual displays may be distracting to young children”.

Anna Fisher, associate professor of psychology, who led the study, said: “Young children spend a lot of time – usually the whole day – in the same classroom and we’ve shown a classroom’s visual environment can affect how much children learn.”

As part of the study, 24 primary school pupils were placed in laboratory classrooms for six introductory science lessons on unfamiliar topics.

Three lessons were taught in a heavily decorated classroom – those filled with maps, number lines, shapes, artwork and other materials – and three lessons were given in sparse surroundings.

The study, in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science, showed that children learned in both classroom types, but picked up more when the room was largely free of wall displays.

Children accurately answered 55 per cent of test questions taken in the sparse classrooms compared with 42 per cent in highly-decorated rooms.

It also emerged that the rate of “off-task behaviour” was higher in the decorated classroom (38.6 per cent) than in the sparse classroom (28.4 per cent)…

More at: Elaborate classroom displays ‘harm children’s education’

Interesting – what do you think of this? Do you have sympathy with the conclusions or feel that classroom displays enhance learning and the school experience in other ways? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Primary and Research.


  1. melulater

    SchoolsImprove thanks for that link. Interesting ideas but I disagree with their results. I have personally found stimulating class…

  2. melulater

    SchoolsImprove …enviro sparks interest & learning. Important to display kid’s work, topic sparkers and maps, etc. I think that the…

  3. melulater

    SchoolsImprove …researchers in this article are too focused on standardised test results rather that student engagement & true learning.

  4. DebHepplestone

    SchoolsImprove the results were for test scores in one subject not learning across subject boundaries and connecting learning.

  5. KarenBeattie

    MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove from SEN training, learning friendly classrooms say nothing around IWB and maths, lit displays colour coded.

  6. alwiello

    melulater SchoolsImprove we’re not supposed to be “educating”; we’re supposed to be helping them to pass tests … #nodistractionsplease

  7. bhscmissh

    SchoolsImprove my classes use my displays to help them in class.As long as they’re educational they’re a benefit not hindrance.

  8. revdebs

    MaryMyatt SchoolsImprove -stimulating environment harms children’s test scores NOT children’s education

  9. SueSutcliffeC4S

    SchoolsImprove Findings only valid if accompanied by a simultaneous analysis of the quality of teaching. Boredom may account for outcomes

  10. paul_aniceto

    bharrisonp wondering if article mainly referencing displays purchased at store or items not linked to Ss current learning or synthesis of.

  11. paul_aniceto

    bharrisonp you know about our fire codes 🙂 so a lot of that paper are off walls and door space already 🙂

  12. avivaloca

    bharrisonp So funny that you tweeted this! Blogged about something similar last night. Had this moment of clarity yesterday. paul_aniceto

  13. bharrisonp

    paul_aniceto I think it’s about both- Attending to the walls & the the impact of visuals is new

  14. avivaloca

    bharrisonp paul_aniceto Think there’s value to being aware of the amount & placement of the visuals.

  15. nobleknits2

    avivaloca bharrisonp paul_aniceto and it’s not a bad way to teach the elements of design, too – there is value to white space!

  16. paul_aniceto

    avivaloca and its impact, as Brian suggested. Perhaps also if what is put on walls is community generated and agreed upon. bharrisonp

  17. paul_aniceto

    nobleknits2 yes! The “rests” in music sometimes have the most musical impact. avivaloca bharrisonp

  18. nobleknits2

    paul_aniceto avivaloca bharrisonp something I need to remind my students of as they begin compositions. 🙂

  19. paul_aniceto

    bharrisonp agreed. NomadCreatives tweeted about displays and use of wall space yesterday, and got me thinking.

  20. bharrisonp

    paul_aniceto nobleknits2 avivaloca the classroom wall as a reflection of student need; not just teacher preference

  21. nobleknits2

    bharrisonp paul_aniceto avivaloca Looking around, mine’s crowded, but meets that criteria. 🙂

  22. NomadCreatives

    paul_aniceto bharrisonp This is the case where a study is being interpreted as “1 size fits all”. In art & design, displays r vital.

  23. NomadCreatives

    paul_aniceto bharrisonp It must be looked at through critical lens. I’m sure joanne_babalis has something to say about this.

  24. joanne_babalis

    NomadCreatives paul_aniceto bharrisonp Interesting post. I agree “classroom’s visual environment can affect how much children learn.”

  25. joanne_babalis

    NomadCreatives paul_aniceto bharrisonp I think we have to be mindful of what & why we are placing on our walls. Is it simply to decorate?

  26. joanne_babalis

    NomadCreatives paul_aniceto bharrisonp What’s the purpose? Is it 2propel learning forward (e.g. Pedagogical documentation of an inquiry)

  27. The 24 children were put into two “laboratory classrooms” – one highly decorated and the other sparse, but both – presumably – unfamiliar to the children.  No wonder the time in the ‘highly decorated’ classroom resulted in less attention to the lessons because, again presumably, the kids were also taking in their unfamiliar surroundings.  To extrapolate this to “natural” classrooms where displays slowly develop over time and often exhibit the class’s own work, is a gross error and suggests weak research methodology.

  28. davidwees

    cyberjohn07 Zite In other words, maybe there are things not measured by the test that make keeping classroom work up.

  29. Trundling17

    SchoolsImprove Felt cross reading this More (conflicting) ‘expert’ advice that’ll prob bcome a tick box soon 4us@HeyMissSmith nancygedge

  30. RosyKat

    SchoolsImprove aaaah finally, far too much on the walls in some places, makes my brain hurt. You wouldn’t have it in your home!!!!

  31. ChrisWaterworth

    candacemccolgan SchoolsImprove TBH, it’s the bright, loud displays, printed from SparkleBox and plastered everywhere – now that upsets me.

  32. ChrisWaterworth

    candacemccolgan SchoolsImprove The process of learning needs displaying as well as finished work.

  33. candacemccolgan

    ChrisWaterworth SchoolsImprove Totally agree. Love a #workingwall. But also love to show finished work too.

  34. candacemccolgan

    ChrisWaterworth SchoolsImprove Yes. I love it. I am trying to copy it a bit for my Mexico/Aztecs/Chocolate Project. Will tweet pic nxt wk.

  35. mariemcmanus

    SchoolsImprove bring back boring classrooms- oh for goodness sake. People get paid to do these ridiculous surveys.

  36. avivaloca

    “nancywimbush: avivaloca bharrisonp paul_aniceto It’s all about purpose & Connections isn’t it?” < Yes!

  37. fiona_peters1

    ChrisWaterworth SchoolsImprove Brilliant! I shall download it. They’re great ways of using it.

  38. fiona_peters1

    ChrisWaterworth SchoolsImprove By the way, your classroom looks good – a stimulating, yet calm, environment without unnecessary bling.

  39. SimonWhitehall

    SchoolsImprove Interesting and links with avoiding over busy learning environments for children with ASC and ADHD

  40. ChrisWaterworth

    fiona_peters1 SchoolsImprove Thank you, appreciate your kind words. Oh and great use of ‘bling’

  41. peroxidemoments

    SchoolsImprove think this is very true in primary schs esp for children with sen and/or behavioural issues

  42. ChameleonMusic1

    SchoolsImprove The survey / study has no weight at all – just 24 pupils involved and generally poor methodology.

  43. Value_added

    SchoolsImprove Look on bright side it could save loads of work for those primary teachers who insist on displays even tho not in STPC.

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