Classroom Design Affects Student Learning
Our environment affects our behavior and decisions on a daily basis.
That may seem obvious when stated outright. But how much do we really think about how our surroundings affect our activities.
Obvious examples are the layouts of commercial stores. Take grocery stores. The milk is in the back so you have to go by tons of products. It’s pretty much a walking commercial. I don’t even need to mention the check out aisles.
Where do you put the snacks at home? Are they in high traffic areas or do you tuck them away in cupboards or drawers? If you’re constantly walking by the snacks, chances are you consume more than if they were hidden away.
Environments can also affect other things. For instance there’s now evidence that surroundings can directly affect learning in children.
The Impact of Design
The study found that by changing some basic factors that schools could increase student’s learning by 16% in a single year. Their findings were published in the journal Building and Environment in 2015.
The research is a result of 3 years worth of data collection which was led by Peter Barrett. It consisted of tracking various environmental variable and student factors across 153 different classrooms in 27 different schools. By the end of the study, the scientists had also collected performance data on over 3,700 students.
The overall effect?
To give you an idea, let’s put it this way. If researchers were to move an average student from the worst classroom to the best classroom, it could boost learning by 1.3 sub-levels in the national curriculum. To put that in perspective, students are expected to advance 2 sub-levels per year.
The study resulted in a report called “Clever Classrooms” and gives practical advice to teachers and planners. Peter explains:
“The research identifies many simple, quick and cost-effective ways for teachers to change their classrooms to make a real difference to a child’s performance in reading, writing and maths.”
When it comes to classroom design, people worry about the size of investment it will take to improve educational outcomes. Purchases such as technology can add up quickly. This isn’t the case when it comes to classroom design, though. Peter continues:
“We’re not talking about major investment on behalf of the school or local authority — quite the opposite — simple choices in how classrooms are used and evidence-based decisions when schools are being built.”
Interestingly enough, it was the school design itself that was a major factor. Instead, the biggest impact comes from where the students do their learning. In the classroom.
People may fuss about the overall design, specialty areas, play facilities, and navigation routes. The study finds that these things aren’t where the focus should be.
John Coe, the Chair of the National Association for Primary Education, said this:
“The most powerful impact is made by the physical design of the particular classroom in which they spend such a vitally important time with their teacher.”
So what were the biggest factors that played a role in improving academic performance?
The biggest considerations are both simple and effective. Here’s John again:
“The researchers, by differentiating design features from aspects of teaching and learning, show that considerations of daylight, temperature and air quality have the most influence on children’s progress.”
The study revealed a few other important physical classroom factors. These included color and individualized classroom design. There was one last thing. Here’s John again:
“The children’s feelings of ownership of their surroundings are also important as is a classroom environment which is neither over stimulating nor unduly calming.”
So when it comes to classrooms, a kind of goldilocks principle applies. The best results come from not overdoing, or under-doing, the sensory stimulation.