Monday, July 15

New Research Shows That Heavily Decorated Walls Distract Students

Colorful artwork, maps and shapes often cover the walls in a typical elementary school classroom. Are these displays encouraging learning, or could they actually be a distraction? In a new study by Carnegie Mellon, researchers found that busy decorations correlated to distracted behaviors.The research, published in Psychological Science, details how highly decorated classrooms impact children in more ways than one. When exposed to these classrooms, instead of a more bare classroom, children were more likely to spend time off-task, experience smaller learning gains, and be more distracted.

Though children are not usually actively examining the walls, the results are in line with earlier studies on how children are impacted by the physical setup of learning environments. “Young children spend a lot of time — usually the whole day — in the same classroom, and we have shown that a classroom’s visual environment can affect how much children learn,” said Anna V. Fisher, the paper’s lead author.

The research could also lead to better understanding of correct learning and testing environments. With just a change from a decorated to sparse classroom, the accuracy with which children could remember the science lessons they had been taught in the experiment jumped from 42% to 55% — a discrepancy that can be important considering that about 70% of American schools are currently labeled “in need of improvements” under the new federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The researchers were also testing to see whether, in the absence of visual distractions, students would shift to an alternative distraction, such as talking to friends. What they actually found, though, according to Karrie E. Godwin, was that children in the more decorated classroom spent more time off-task than those in the sparse classroom.
“We do not suggest by any means that this is the answer to all education problems,” Fisher acknowledges.

“I wasn’t aware of this research, but we teach students all over the world on Skype,” says Jacqui Byrne, Partner at Ivy Educational Services.“In order to ensure that the student focuses on the tutor and the online whiteboard we always make sure that the background behind the tutor is plain and/or simple.”

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