Data driving me crazy.

As an artist and retired art teacher I believe that classrooms, like all the built environment, should reflect good design principles.

But what are those?

A tweet by Michael Antonucci intrigued me.

Some of you may know Antonucci as a guy obsessed by teacher unions and a writer on the same topic. As you might guess, he is critical of the NEA. Not like I’m critical. I believe in the value of teacher unions. He thinks they are an assault on individual liberty. We have met a few times at NEA national meetings, which he covers for his web site and other outlets. I enjoyed our conversations even though we rarely agreed on the main stuff.

Antonucci rarely gets into teaching practice which is why I was intrigued by the tweet.

I went to the source.

Two researchers at Carnegie Mellon did a funded research study comparing test success in a sparsely decorated classroom as compared to highly decorated classroom.

Students did better in a sparsely decorated classroom.

You can see the picture of the sparsely decorated classroom in the video. It looks like a jail cell.

The study consisted of 24 kindergarten students divided into two groups. They were given a science lesson and then tested.

Jesus. Aren’t there rules about the humane treatment of subjects in a research study?

For the study, 24 kindergarten children were taught in laboratory classrooms for six science lessons on topics they were unfamiliar with. Three of these lessons were taught in a decoration-heavy  classroom, and three lessons were given in a spartan classroom.

The results showed that children learned in both classrooms but they learned more when the room was not heavily adorned. Children’s accuracy on test questions was higher in the sparse classroom (55 percent correct) than in the decorated classroom (42 percent correct).

I want to stop for a second and comment on the two researchers in the video. It appears that one of them has arranged her books on the shelf by color spectrum. I’m sorry. But even for someone advocating sparse classrooms for kindergarten students being taught science, arranging books on a shelf by color seems to be behavior that is a little obsessive.

I don’t want to even get too much into the issue of what conclusions can be drawn from a study of 24 kindergarten students.

I taught art to kindergarten students. Way more than 24 of them. They are snowflakes. No two are alike. Generalizing from a group of 24 is dangerous.

What if a study showed that after teaching science (whatever that  means) to a room of 40 kindergarten students who came from poor families, had no breakfast, walked a mile through a safe passage zone in sub-freezing weather, then scored lousy while in a room with peeling paint, no heat and no books.

I suppose that is a different design issue.

There is a telling remark by one of the researchers. She says that since we can’t do anything about the impact of poverty, teaching in a sparse classroom is something we can do to improve test scores.

I’m sorry, but why exactly can’t we do anything about poverty?

Now there’s a research question!

In doing research it is important to define the question properly.

These two researchers wanted to know whether a highly decorated classroom distracted 24 kindergarten students from performing well on a science test.

I think the question was whether a science test distracted 24 kindergarten students from looking at things that interested them.

Listen to Hitting Left with the Klonsky brothers on the radio.

8 thoughts on “Data driving me crazy.

  1. I would simply point out that both groups failed with common metrics.
    55% for the “success” group?
    Test scores demonstrate success? That’s the research that ought to be done.

  2. This study joins the ranks of educational research that is poorly conducted and whose conclusions are so simplistic they wrongly become “conventional knowledge.” As you pointed out, poverty was not a controlled variable. Did the study control any variables? Kindergarteners present a wide range of learning readiness just on a developmental level in addition to other variables.

  3. Let me comment on the books arranged by color. Browsing through design blogs, this is a big deal for some. Along with covering all books in white paper and stacking books by size. Why anyone would do any of these things is beyond me, especially in a classroom. But following design trends among those who don’t seem to use books to read is, I guess, one of them. Just shake your head and move on.

  4. Most social science studies don’t produce the same result on a repeat so I would just ignore it. As to the books my teachers let me do that in grade school to appease my OCD.

  5. This sort of a test is inaccurate, unless all variables are eliminated except the one being measured.
    This would include things like time of day, before or after recess, before or after lunch, temperatures and humidity, air conditioned or not, raining or not, and things like that. Also it would have to be the same teacher and the same lesson and the same test. Also, the baseline of the kid’s skill levels would also factor in especially in kindergarten. Exactly who funded this worthless, invalid “study”?

  6. Granted I don’t know much about the finer details of this study, but if anyone walks into a visually stimulating environment and then is asked to concentrate on one task, not necessarily of their choosing, what do you suppose the chances are of that person spending some time off task taking in their surroundings? The researchers just made their task the most stimulating event happening. I have so many more questions and concerns that I could fill a book. That anyone has paid any attention to this “study” is amazing to me. God forbid that anyone make decisions about the preferred learning environment for young children based on this exercise!

  7. Not a study. Just some fun put out there as a study. In all my years of teaching (over 40), I have only been in one room that distracted me. That teacher also distracted me since she was very bizarre. Which is not a bad thing overall. The fact is that rooms evolve. A poster is put up with information that the children go over. If they forget that info, it is there for a reference. Then another display is put up. Same routine. By Christmas you usually do have a “decorated room” full of info the children can refer to when needed. Teachers try to make the room safe and comfortable with as much needed information up as possible. Most do not decorate unless you count rugs and window decals as decoration. This silly Not My Study of Ks (Ks!!) is not worth discussing anymore.

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