Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In learning, too much of a good thing can be bad.

Many contemporary elementary school classrooms have walls that are covered with varied and interesting displays that are not relevant to ongoing instruction (very unlike the austere and bare walls shown in photographs of the 1860 one room schoolhouse walls that now form the living room walls of my home on Twin Valley road in Middleton, WI.) Fisher et al. make the point that rich and distracting environments can detract from focused learning.
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.

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