Effective classroom displays

When it comes to classroom displays, how much is too much? In what areas of the classroom should you aim to avoid placing displays? Here are some tips from Professor Peter Barrett.

Professor Peter Barrett has studied the connection between the physical design of schools and student academic progress for years, publishing the Clever Classrooms study in 2015, which was the focus of an episode of Teacher’s Research Files podcast shortly after its release. The study, carried out in primary schools, found that the physical environment of the classroom can explain 16 per cent of the variation in learning progress over one school year.

‘If all the walls are completely covered with lively displays it seems, from our empirical results, that the environment created is just too distracting. Equally though, if the walls are left bare it is under-stimulating,’
- Barrett explains

‘So somewhere in between is ideal. One way of saying this can be that covering up to 80 per cent of the wall area in “calm” displays, or limiting this to 50 per cent if the displays are “lively”, is about optimal for learning.’

And, while displays on windows can look nice, Barrett says the fact that they obstruct daylight outweighs the visual gratification. ‘It is theoretically possible to imagine a classroom with large windows facing the sun where some obscuring of the sun could be welcome, but in absolutely most cases daylight should be prioritised. This is because daylight (without glare) was the biggest factor we found with positive impacts on learning rates.’

Barrett says one of the most powerful ways to be innovative with your displays is a class project bringing together a range of individual work.

‘I still remember a project like this from my primary school where we each did lino-cuts of different buildings that when they were joined up created a whole street in our town and linked to a topic about local history and industry. So increasing the scope and evolution of wall displays can deepen their impact and, from personal experience, greatly increase the sense of pride in a collective achievement.’

Another consideration is taking displays outside of the classroom. Some schools are starting to place these outside of the entrance to the classroom so that this sense of belonging and orientation starts from the moment students enter their space, Barrett explains.

‘As [you go through the year] there is the necessity to keep the teacher's topic material fresh and relevant. There is also the need to “turn over” the pupils’ work – so, making possible more opportunities for all pupils to have their work displayed.’

References and further reading

Barret, P., Davies, F., Zhang, Y., Barrett, L. (2015). The impact of classroom design on pupils' learning: Final results of a holistic, multi-level analysis. Building and Environment, Vol. 89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2015.02.013

Clever Classrooms website – here, you can explore the body of Barrett and colleagues’ work on the physical environment of the classroom.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit
www.teachermagazine.com.au.