Physical Space

Are Your Classroom Decorations a Distraction?

art room expectations

Sometimes getting ready to go back to school for art teachers seems like an exercise in rainbow installation art. Classrooms are a carefully arranged stage, set up with themed props and explosions of color.

We want to make our classrooms fun and special, but research shows many decorations are distracting. In fact, one study found students had lower test scores and difficulty paying attention in classrooms with displays not relevant to the content. It’s important to set down the staple gun for a bit and contemplate function. We need to design our rooms to support learning. The things displayed in your room can help or hinder students’ ability to learn in the space you create.

3 Tips for Creating a Student-Centered Space

1. Showcase Student Work

Professor Patricia Tarr, in her article,  “Consider the Walls,” writes, “Classroom environments are public statements about the educational values of the institution and the teacher.” When we fill our rooms with teacher-made displays we are making a clear statement about what sort of art is valued in our classrooms – our art. Instead of feeling like you have to cover all the wall space with displays that take hours to make, leave some blank space in your classroom for student work.

student work

One idea is to dedicate a classroom wall or bulletin board as an artwork display space. You can even make it a student-directed display by creating a folder for kids to place work they want to share. Mark the folder with directions for labeling work and include slips for simple artist statements. Your students will love being included in the display process!

2. Put Thinking on Display

It’s important to showcase the end product of our instruction, but sharing the thought process behind it is also important. Making space for students to publicly share what they’re thinking through writing is great for learning and also helps visitors to your room understand what’s going on. One way to do this is to dedicate a section of the dry erase board to “The Question of the Day.” To do this, write a question on the board related to the lesson’s learning goal. Review it with the class and ask them to write a response during work time.

question of the day example

Reviewing these responses is perfect for the lesson’s closure. Erase and start fresh with the next group. If you don’t have a dry erase board, a big sheet of paper and markers or sticky notes works just as well!

3. Post Information

What information needs to be displayed in your room? Thinking about the things students need help remembering or that you refer to often will help you figure this out. For me, my Design Thinking Process chart is a must have, front and center because I use it every day with my high school students. However, when I taught at the elementary level, I needed lots of procedural anchor charts to support kids’ work in centers. I laminated and stored them in an accessible drawer for easy access whenever they were needed. Other posters, like behavior expectations and daily procedures, were kept up all year.

art room expectations
Being an art teacher comes with a lot of expectations. Having a visually stunning room can be one of them. Yes, kids and colleagues are excited and impressed when they walk into a highly-decorated room, but at what cost? Beautiful, teacher-created room displays look good but they can have downsides. They may distract students, take eons of time to make, and create an impression that work has to be perfect to be displayed. It’s okay for us to scale it back and leave more room for student work and essential information.

How do you include student work in your classroom?

What other tips do you have to keep your room streamlined with only the essentials?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Melissa Purtee

Melissa Purtee is a high school art educator and a former AOEU Writer. She is passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.

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