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  • Looking for a Preschool? Don't Be Impressed With the Heavily Decorated Classroom

    A study looked into children’s ability to focus and learn and how it could be affected by the classroom.
    by Kate Borbon .
Looking for a Preschool? Don't Be Impressed With the Heavily Decorated Classroom
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  • It’s not uncommon to find primary school classrooms decorated with lots of artworks, colorful charts and posters, and other types of vibrant pieces. But according to a study, having too many visually-stimulating items inside a classroom of preschoolers might only serve to distract them — and they might end up learning less, not more.

    The study done by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) looked into children’s ability to focus and learn during lessons and how it could be affected by displays found in the classroom. They put 24 kindergartners in laboratory classrooms for six science lessons. Three lessons were done in a heavily-decorated room, and the other three were done in a more unadorned room.

    The researchers found that while the children learned in both types of classrooms, the students showed a 55% accuracy on test questions in the sparsely-decorated classroom. The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, also found the kids more distracted in a visually busy classroom, and they spent 38.6% more time off-task (doing something other than listening to the lesson).

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    The findings of this study are similar to the comprehensive research from the University of Salford in Manchester, United Kingdom, which also looked at the effects of an educational space on students’ learning abilities in primary schools. One of the conclusions of this study was that classrooms with too much color and too many display items negatively impacted the students’ learning outcomes.

    Given the findings of the CMU study, does it mean that teachers should forgo all decorations in their classrooms? The researchers say no.

    “We do not suggest by any means that this is the answer to all educational problems,” says Anna V. Fisher, an associate professor of psychology in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences who served as lead author of the study. “Furthermore, additional research is needed to know what effect the classroom visual environment has on children’s attention and learning in real classrooms.

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    “Therefore, I would suggest that instead of removing all decorations, teachers should consider whether some of their visual displays may be distracting to young children.”

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    Karrie E. Godwin, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and fellow of CMU’s Program in Interdisciplinary Education Research (PIER) who also worked on the study, echoes Fisher’s comments.

    “If we put children in a classroom environment that has these potential sources of visual distraction, and then if we remove those, are we just gonna shift children’s pattern of attention allocation or are we gonna reduce the total amount of time that children are spending off-task?” she says in a video for CMU.

    “So it could be that even if you were to take down these visual displays, that children might just then pay more attention to peers, and that the total amount of time the kids are being distracted remains the same.”

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    As Godwin notes in the video, though there are lots of different factors that can influence children’s learning abilities, teachers can manipulate how they decorate their classrooms to turn them into environments that are conducive to learning.

    “What we found in our research was that our manipulation affected the vast majority of kids, and so this is something where if you’re designing more streamlined classrooms, it has the potential to increase learning outcomes for the majority of the class,” Godwin says.

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