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?
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