Mr Kemp NZ

Less is more? What do your classroom walls look like?

Recently I wrote a post about wall displays and how passionately I feel about ensuring that walls are displayed with students learning and remain fresh and actively inspiring.

However, recently I have read several posts about the idea of ‘less is more’. Less on walls help students to focus and engage in learning. What a crazy concept I thought, but when faced with a recent study in Psychological Science (May, 2014) I started to re-consider my approach.


The study found that students taught in a highly decorated classroom, they were more distracted and scored lower on assessments than when they were taught in a room with bare walls. My BIG question here is, are test scores everything?

I decided to take this question to the members of my school community. When questioned, many parents in my school stated that they preferred to hear their child talk about their learning rather than see it displayed in a ‘pretty’ way on the wall. When I compared this to the students in my classroom, they thought the opposite, they generally liked the idea of having a colourful and busy classroom because it made them feel ‘positive and energised’.

In a classroom that is not ‘busy’ with wall displays, students get distracted by other students or even themselves, whereas in a well decorated classroom students are more lively to be distracted by the visual environment.

To me all of this information means nothing until put into context. Some classrooms I have taught in would benefit from less on the walls and some benefit from a colourful and bright learning environment.

The study also advised new teachers to be wary of “the shopping mall effect” in decorating their rooms. “When you go to a shopping mall, after about an hour and a half, it’s just too many people, too much visual stimulation, noise,” she said. “It can wear a person down.”

My advice to you ……. Know your learners and know what they need to succeed and then create your wall displays to suit. Don’t ‘buy’ into the advertisements selling you commercialised posters, instead get your students to create them based on their learning. Student voice is powerful and given a chance they will blow you away!

Maybe the ‘less is more’ idea is something that you can consider as you prepare for a new school term / school year over the next few weeks. I look forward to receiving your feedback here and via twitter as to what you do and why …

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Craig Kemp

Craig Kemp

I am a passionate Global EdTech Consultant based in Singapore but working with Schools and EdTech companies all over the world. I am a lifelong learner, dream creator and thought leader. I love to inspire others and find inspiration. Co-founder of #whatisschool, #asiaED edchats and #pubPD.

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  • I believe that there is a “balance” needed. I am in favor of items on the wall, especially charts, that are co-constructed with students and that students use in their work! I am not in favor of “decorating” the classroom walls with “cute” anythings and definitely not in favor of posting any “cookie cutter” student work. I believe that items on the wall need to have a specific purpose!

  • I believe a stimulating classroom environment is vital to stimulate the students as well as the teachers to do better.It will help them to be better learners and thinkers.A classroom environment that displays books,posters,wonder walls,publishing walls ,areas to display their artwork and other visuals promotes questioning,discussion and stimulates their brains to do better.One of the classroom guidelines at my old school in Auckland,New Zealand was to have an appealing print saturated environment.We had to have at least 2 new wall stories every term,I loved putting up students’ work and my students always took pride in seeing their work displayed in the classroom.During 3-way conferences parents enjoyed looking at their children’s work.Seeing the joy on their faces when they walk into the classroom in the morning to find their work displayed is priceless.
    We even had corridors where work was displayed.Whenever there was a new display students from other classes walking along the corridor would stop by admiring the work and would peep in to classroom to say how beautiful the artwork looks or share something they learnt from the display.
    At the same time we should not have an overdose of store bought posters or displays-shopping Mall effect .I totally agree with the idea of empowering our learners to choose and create based on their learning and interests.
    Vibrant classrooms do tell a lot about the students and the teacher’s passion .It is their world ,let us help our learners bring those physical spaces to life by adding some colour.
    I had missed reading your post about Wall Displays before ,so I went back in the middle of commenting to read your old post.
    Hats off to you Craig for your seamless passion.Thank you !

  • This is a topic I gave a lot of thought to last year. I’ve always been proud to display the work of the students in my class. I believe their hard work and learning deserves celebration. I also believe in having displays that ignite learning and support learning.
    In March last year the school I was at was having a jubilee. My class and I put in a lot of hard work to have our room looking spectacular for the visitors to our school. And it did and we had many visitors in our room.
    The following week I came across a blog post from Bruce Hammond bemoaning the lack of student work on the walls by the end of Week 6. I wrote this post in response: The Classroom Environment – what makes a class attractive?
    I later saw a series of articles decrying too much on walls, similar to what you have discussed above and followed up my previous post with this post as a response to these articles: Changing what is on the walls
    I know the impact that wall displays to inspire learning are. In this post I discuss the impact of a display: Creating excitement about learning for Anzac Day
    I love it when you put up a display and the kids get all excited over their work again and seeing it up on the wall.
    Currently I am taking over an established classroom. The previous teachers have removed their personal wall displays, but I encouraged them to keep the children’s existing work on the wall and we will change the displays as we create new work. I’ve spent today putting my things that support learning on the walls. I can’t wait to see the children’s reactions to the small ways the class has changed on Monday!

  • As a guy who doesn’t pay much attention to studies (I believe you find what you look for) I go with my gut and my experiences. I have become very intentional with what is on my walls. I put several things up that share my history in the town’s community, real artwork prints so my kids can appreciate the real deal, and lots of spaces for kids work to be put up throughout the year. We even talk about it on the first day.

  • What an interesting read Craig. I try to have ‘understandings’ the students create on our walls for reference. Not student work. But even that can sometimes get too much. Finding a balance and knowing students is spot on. I have students who benefit greatly from having these references to strategies and understandings but also students who can get distracted and ‘worn down’ by too much visual stimulation.
    Great blogging as always!

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