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.