Learning is more powerful when those involved have ownership.
research tells us:
As the sun begins to set on the summer, and a new school year approaches, teachers can be found working hard in schools to prepare their classrooms to welcome a new group of students. Deliberate preparation and excellent educators go hand-in-hand.
Effective teachers are always trying to use best practice and educational research to inform their many decisions throughout the day. This includes the creative lessons we teach, the standards that we include, and from the engaging questions we pose, to the authentic assessments we choose. Yet do we spend this same careful consideration when deciding how to decorate our classrooms? And if not, is there a cost to student learning? There may be research that says yes.
And it only makes sense, as our students spend so much of their school day within classroom walls. We should be aware of this research so it can inform how we decorate our learning environments to best support our students.
Let’s first think about student ownership. When’s the last time that we moved into a new home and have kept all of the decorations put up by the previous owner? Not often. And why not? A new living space becomes more of our own when we decorate it as just that, as our own. This same sentiment is true for a student's new learning space, our classroom. Student ownership in their learning can increase when their learning environment includes materials created by them or with their input.
So when we look around our classrooms, what do we see? The same posters, word walls, anchor charts, and banners, hanging from last year? And more importantly, when students look around our classrooms, do they see materials that they’ve made with us and that are engaging and relevant to their lives? If not, some suggestions are noted below.
Let’s also discuss how much is too much. In the age of Pinterest, it can be exciting to find new decorating ideas and themes. Though sometimes our decoration and covering walls can go overboard. Research suggests that an environment with a lot of stimulus does not equal better learning. In fact, some researchers share that young students, especially those of early childhood and elementary ages who work in a high stimulus classroom can show more difficulty staying on task, less engagement in their work, and lower academic achievement.
1. Consider starting the academic year with a blank canvas. Then add materials that reflect the authentic learning taking place throughout the year. While the classroom can look barren the first few weeks, it's impressive to visualize all that is learned during our time together with those students.
2. Honestly evaluate each of our materials and decorations with a simple question: Does this serve a meaningful purpose to my students? Or better yet, if you don’t know the answer, simply ask them.
3. If we purchase pre-made materials to decorate, ask ourselves this question: Do the pictures and people represent the diversity represented in our students, their families, and the world around us?
4. Know that more may not be better. Students are entering our classrooms with an increased amount of stimulus in their lives. An over-decorated room can create an environment where it's just easier for the student to block out the material rather than thoughtfully process it.
5. Take a careful look at how to utilize space, color, and lighting. These three elements can enhance classrooms to produce a safe, welcoming learning environment.