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How to Decorate Your Classroom to Maximize Learning

Jordan Catapano

As teachers prepare their classrooms and brainstorm back to school ideas for this year’s learners, they look at those blank walls and bulletin boards and envision the colorful possibilities. It can be loads of fun to create displays and give your classroom life and personality with the materials on your walls.

But interestingly, research actually suggests that there are certain types of decorations that supplement daily learning, and certain types of decorations that detract from daily learning. Which ones do you have?

Teachers tend to think of their classroom decorations, and other back to school ideas, as ways to set a particular atmosphere in their rooms. They want their rooms’ personalities to reflect a warm, inviting, academic tone that makes a positive first impression. And often teachers succeed with this. There is a certain freshness to newly created displays that extends that invigorating feeling a new year always offers.

So, as you decorate, definitely think about how your displays can help to set a certain tone about your classroom. Ask yourself, “What kind of atmosphere do I want my students learning in?”

What your decorations accomplish can go far beyond atmosphere. You must also ask, “How can my decorations enhance student learning this year?” Teachers often underestimate the long-term impact of what hangs on the walls. What hangs on the walls possesses enormous potential to “sink in” with students and provide them with a sense of community and ownership.

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First, decorations -- namely posters -- provide opportunity for more passive absorption of information. When students are paying attention to you, they learn from you.

However, when students aren’t paying attention to you, they’re looking around the room. What will they see? Will they see signs and materials that reinforce the life lessons and academic insights you give, or will they see meaningless colorful décor that gives them something to think about other than learning?

Second, it is fruitful to preserve a portion of the classroom for displaying student work. When students see their own learning experiments and successes publically displayed, they obtain a unique sense of pride and ownership. Prominently displaying student work is akin to a parent hanging a kid’s test on the refrigerator: It’s a public affirmation of that student’s value.

Third, your decorations can help develop your class’ sense of community. The walls, after all, are something everyone shares and everyone can see -- so include visuals that contribute to a sense of togetherness or mutual understanding. For example, update what you or your students are currently reading on a big chart, have a question wall where students record their curiosities, or include an area where students’ academic goals are posted.

The above three areas -- learning, ownership, and community – make immeasurable contributions to student growth. But imagine the lost opportunity if the wrong decorations were used. Imagine how the wrong posters, the meaningless displays, or the same old, same old phrases were posted. Instead of supplementing instruction and aiding student growth, they would merely be bland, obligatory displays that communicate an equally bland sentiment about learning in that classroom.

So as you move to set the tone in your classroom with your unique decorations (and your other back to school ideas) this year, make sure that you consider what impact what’s on the wall can really have. Think about atmosphere, but also think about the learning, ownership, and community your decorations can facilitate. It’s amazing how much of an impact what hangs on the wall can truly have.

What do you have hanging on your classroom walls and bulletin boards? Share your ideas here and let us all benefit from your classroom decorations!