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Goldilocks & Classroom Decor

Jen Hudson Education, Life in the Classroom

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A quick google search for ‘classroom decoration’ yields 185 million different results, with some of the top 10 being from sites such as Oriental Trading Company, Michaels, Amazon, and Lakeshore Learning. Big brother knows teachers are always looking for ideas and a fair amount of us are willing to shell out big bucks to make our vision a reality.

However, never once in my 4 years of undergraduate work and 2 years of Masters was I ever instructed as to how and why to decorate my classroom. My cooperating teacher during student teaching told me that she took the ‘Goldilocks approach’- not too much, not too little, just right. But that’s where my education about the learning environment ended.

These days, I’m lucky enough to be in many different teachers’ classroom every day. Throughout my days in middle and high schools, I see many different kinds of classrooms, from the ‘too much,’ to the ‘too little,’ and even many ‘just rights.’

In the age of Pinterest and TeachersPayTeachers, there is an endless supply of ideas and themes and printables for teachers to make learning environments pop. But what is purposeful? What is useful? What becomes part of the environment and what becomes part of the learning? When do they intersect?

Research has suggested time and time again that “too much visual stimulus can be a distraction” (Terada).  Gillian McNamee, director of teacher education at the Erikson Institute in Chicago, makes the comparison to being at a crowded shopping mall: “When you go to a shopping mall, after about an hour and a half, it’s just too many people, too much visual stimulation, noise,” she said. “It can wear a person down” (Ramirez).  Our students can become worn down just making sense of their surroundings because their executive functions are not fully developed and able to determine how to filter through the importance of the visual and verbal stimulus around them. However, it is a delicate balance, because blank walls can feel just as uninviting as walking into an empty mall, with stores closed and storefronts shuttered.

 So what is it that we can with to our learning environments to make sure that learning and students are focused, even if it’s not a printable from TeachersPayTeachers? At both the secondary and elementary level, it’s crucial for teachers and students alike to evaluate their learning environments.

 Some topics and questions to think about:

    • Accessibility: Are resources to assist in learning accessible for all of my students? Do my students know where and how to find necessary information without the teacher’s guidance or support? In other words, “To walk the talk of a real classroom community, we must ask ourselves if all of our resources are designed and arranged for the convenience of all learners” (Wade).
    • Inspiration & Respect: Are the adornments on my wall able to inspire my students to dream bigger? Do they communicate my value of their learning? Do they communicate how students value their own learning? Are student learning samples prevalent? Are external points of inspiration like mass-produced posters portraying role models from diverse backgrounds? (Terada) This boils down to how we communicate our philosophies of learning and our role as teachers to our students.
    • Space: If McNamee’s rule of thumb, that “20 to 50 percent of the available wall space should be kept clear” it’s important to be mindful of how and where classroom walls utilize blank space (Terada).  How are wall elements separated? Where is the majority of items on the wall? What function do they serve in that location?
    • Function: This is perhaps the most important element to consider. Does student work, anchor charts, posters, graphic aids or organizers reinforce a lesson rather than distract from it? (Terada) Is everything that is on the wall timely, of value, and helpful to the current lesson(s)?  

What is your favorite thing about your learning environment? What is your students’? If you could change one thing about your room’s walls, what would it be? Of the four topics above, what does your learning environment excel? What could use more focus?

 

References

Ramirez, M. (2014, October 13). Do classroom decorations disrupt kindergartners’ learning? Retrieved from https://hechingerreport.org/content/classroom-decorations-disrupt- kindergartners -learning_17660/

Terada, Y. (2018, October 24). Dos and don’ts of classroom decoration. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/dos-and-donts-classroom-decorations

Wade, M. (2016, March 29). Visualizing 21st-century classroom design. Retrieved from https:// www.edutopia.org/blog/visualizing-21st-century-classroom-design-mary-wade

 

 

I always knew I was going to be a teacher; from assigning neighborhood kids homework during the summer to reading with a flashlight under the covers, school and learning has always been something I have loved. Phoenix born and raised, I attended Northern Arizona University and received my undergraduate degree in English Education. While at NAU, I received the Golden Axe Award and was lucky enough to be the President of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education. After college, I spent ten years at Explorer Middle School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District, where I taught 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts. I wanted to push my instruction and my students' learning, so I decided to pursue a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University, which was completed in 2010. This desire to do more for my students continued through 2013, when I was named Arizona English Teachers' Association's Teacher of Excellence and received my National Board Certification in English Language Arts/Early Adolescence. This desire to learn and improve my practice also includes becoming a Master Teacher in 2017. In the 2018 school year, I will be a Mentor Teacher for first year teachers in grades 7-12 in PVUSD and am looking forward to continuing to learn and grow with my new teachers. On a personal level, I still love to read (though the flashlight has been replaced with a Kindle). Most of my time is spent with my husband, Chris, my toddler, Oliver, and our pitbull-dauschund mix, Kipton. I love all things Sun Devil football and am known to binge watch 90s and early 2000 sitcoms much too often.

  • James King

    I love this post!

    I majored in both Communication and Education, so the concepts you bring up “spark joy” in me.

    We communicate a lot through our decor, intended or not.

    We communicate what we value: our interests as well as our academic priorities can be communicated. For instance, a teacher with all sports memorabilia, and no academic-related decor is communicating (whether it is true or not) that they prioritize their outside-of-school life more than inside.

    Having a new classroom the last two years, the reason for my eclectic and ill-planned decor is that I am prioritizing my curriculum development over making the room look good / have purpose. But a student may (subconsciously perhaps) read my room as “less interested in figurative language than my last two English teachers.”

    I could ramble for a whole post myself!

    It is an important thing to consider, and it would be worth-while to dedicate undergrad time or PD to the subject.

    Thank you for sparking the conversation.

    • Jen Hudson

      Thank you so much for your insight and feedback! You are 100% correct; Just like the clothes we wear, the posters that adorn our wall communicate to the outside world.

      You also brought up an excellent point re: importance. In the grand scheme of things, what we teach and how we teach it will always take precedence!

  • Jaime Festa-Daigle

    When I went into teaching, some good felt and border could go a long way. My red, white, and blue, patriotic themed posters were more than enough. Then, Pinterest came. I look around and feel like I can catch up. My store bought “Hang in There” poster are no match for my colleagues entirely matched room in our school colors. Classroom decor mattered to me, I spent a lot of time in my class. I used the posters in my class to teach from. I didn’t want my class to smell bad. And while many classrooms I walk into are beautiful, I am blown away by how much time teachers must spend decorating them.

    • Jen Hudson

      I too remember being so proud of my bulletin board because I used ribbon when I couldn’t find a border I liked. Then, along came Pinterest, and calligraphy DIY videos. The Pinterest culture (and subsequently the TeachersPayTeachers culture) is so very real but so little of it is rooted in what is best for kids. This comparison culture pits teachers against each other and, in the end, serves no one.

  • http://www.leadfromINtheclassroom.com/ Jess Ledbetter

    I really enjoyed this thoroughly researched piece! As a special education preschool teacher, I really take these things to heart because my students are so highly influenced by environment–and it’s one thing I can control. My favorite thing about my classroom environment is actually on my ceiling! Years ago, I purchased cloud light panels for my ceiling lights in a different district. I fell in love with the filtered light and the inside/outside feeling. Over the years, I have noticed that even grown ups take a big, deep breath when they walk in my room. When I transferred districts a few years ago, I missed them so much and purchased them again within my first year. Again, I noticed the difference with my students right away. I would buy them again and again wherever I go. Small things can have a big impact when they are intentional and strategic :) Great post Jen!