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  • Writer's pictureTara O'Brien

Co-Constructed Displays Create Ownership

As teachers we know the old saying, “the classroom is the second teacher.” The way that we organize our classroom space effects the well-being and academic outcomes of our students. In a UK article published by the journal of Building and Environment in 2015, Barrett, Davies and Zhang shared a study involving 153 classrooms in 27 different schools. They measured the sensory impacts of students in their classroom environments including light, temperature, air quality, ownership, flexibility, complexity, and color.

The impact of classroom design
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This study was ground breaking and provided insights into how to best utilize classroom space to facilitate learning. Unsurprisingly, “Light, temperature and air quality have a significant impact on the pupils’ learning outcomes” (Barret et al., 2015, 52). However, the ability to control these aspects of classroom environment was also important. These are the most basics sensory inputs and relate to a student`s comfort in the classroom environment. Its difficult to focus and learn when lights are blindingly bright or the heater is turned up so high that students fall asleep during lessons.

This study, and subject, is complex but for the purposes of this post Id like to focus on one area…how student ownership of the classroom space impacts learning. Research in the past has addressed the impact of co-constructed displays and this study took findings a step further discovering that, “A classroom that has distinct architectural characteristics, e.g. unique location (bungalow, or separate buildings); shape (L shape; T shape); embedded shelf for display; intimate corner; facilities specifically-designed for pupils, distinctive ceiling pattern etc. also seems to strengthen the pupils' sense ownership” (Barret et al., 2015, 52). As educators we know that when students feel a sense of ownership, they are more engaged and motivated to learn. Anything that we can do with the classroom space to increase the feeling of ownership in our students is well worth the effort.

In the past, teachers decorated their classrooms, hanging bright and busy displays, and covering every inch of their classroom walls. The intention of bright and busy decorations is an understandable one. As teachers we try so hard to create an exciting learning environment for our students. However, according to this same study, the optimal learning environment is balanced. “For example, the overall appearance, including the room layout and display on the wall has to be stimulating, but in balance with a degree of order, ideally without clutter. Similarly, colours with high intensity and brightness are better as accents or highlights instead of being the main colour theme of the classroom” (Barret et al., 2015, 52). The findings conclude that displays in the classroom should walk a tricky line between interesting, but not over stimulating.

While teacher-created displays are well-intentioned, co-constructed displays create ownership in students. As referenced by Barret`s study, ownership of the space led to better learning outcomes. Everything in the classroom has a clear purpose that connected to learning and well being. Ill give an example from my own teaching practice. At the beginning of every school year, I work with students to plan out their hopes and dreams for the year and their learning goals. Then we shift our discussions to focus on what classroom agreements we need to create to facilitate working towards our hopes and dreams and goals. This is a step-by-step process and students co-construct a display with me as we work through it. Students` comments, pictures about their hopes and dreams, and photos modelling the agreements were all displayed. Students also played a role in deciding where and how the display would be organized.

After this step of the process we moved on to creating our classroom jobs. Once again, this process and display were co-constructed. Needless to say, every year I have some very interesting sounding classroom jobs! Last year we had a “dinkle.” The job of the dinkle was to ring the chime before transitions. My students created pictures to build a classroom display about our classroom jobs. The most impactful and effective classroom displays are co-constructed, useful, and serve a clear purpose.


Barrett, Davies, Zhang. (2015). The impact of classroom design on pupils' learning: Final results of a holistic, multi-level analysis. Building and Environment, 89. 1-89. print/33995/

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