Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rethinking the Visually Interesting Kindergarten Classroom- WHEN TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING MAY BE BAD

Hoboken, NJ Circa late 1930's
photo: David Pirmann
Imagine a kindergarten classroom. Picture the vividly colored scalloped borders on the walls, the dancing letters, maybe some charming cartoon barnyard animals holding up “Welcome to School!” signs. That bright, cheery look has become a familiar sight in classrooms across the country, one that has only grown over the last few decades, fed by the proliferation of educational supply stores. But to what effect?

A new study looked at whether such classrooms encourage, or actually distract from, learning. The study, one of the first to examine how the look of these walls affects young students, found that when kindergartners were taught in a highly decorated classroom, they were more distracted, their gazes more likely to wander off task, and their test scores lower than when they were taught in a room that was comparatively spartan.
The researchers, from Carnegie Mellon University, did not conclude that kindergartners, who spend most of the day in one room, should be taught in an austere environment. But they urged educators to establish standards.
“So many things affect academic outcomes that are not under our control,” said Anna V. Fisher, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon and the lead author of the study, which was published in Psychological Science. “But the classroom’s visual environment is under the direct control of the teachers. They’re trying their best in the absence of empirically validated guidelines.” -NY Times

Heavily decorated classrooms disrupt attention and learning in young children

May 27, 2014
Carnegie Mellon University
Maps, number lines, shapes, artwork and other materials tend to cover elementary classroom walls. However, new research shows that too much of a good thing may end up disrupting attention and learning in young children.

Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children

When Too Much of a Good Thing May Be Bad

  1. Anna V. Fisher1
  2. Karrie E. Godwin1
  3. Howard Seltman2
  1. 1Department of Psychology
  2. 2Department of Statistics, Carnegie Mellon University
  1. Anna V. Fisher, Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Psychology, 335-I Baker Hall, 5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213 E-mail:
  1. Author Contributions A. V. Fisher was responsible for the conceptualization of the study and contributed to study design and data analyses. K. E. Godwin contributed to the conceptualization and design of the study and to data analyses, and she created the study materials and trained the coders. H. Seltman conducted the mediation analysis. All authors contributed to the writing of the manuscript.


A large body of evidence supports the importance of focused attention for encoding and task performance. Yet young children with immature regulation of focused attention are often placed in elementary-school classrooms containing many displays that are not relevant to ongoing instruction. We investigated whether such displays can affect children’s ability to maintain focused attention during instruction and to learn the lesson content. We placed kindergarten children in a laboratory classroom for six introductory science lessons, and we experimentally manipulated the visual environment in the classroom. Children were more distracted by the visual environment, spent more time off task, and demonstrated smaller learning gains when the walls were highly decorated than when the decorations were removed.   

Journal Reference:
  1. A. V. Fisher, K. E. Godwin, H. Seltman. Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children: When Too Much of a Good Thing May Be Bad. Psychological Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1177/0956797614533801