Broken Desks and Cheesy Posters… The Impact of Learning Environments

The Tower Editorial Board

The Tower (Princeton, New Jersey)

Picture a student sitting in a stuffy, disheveled classroom reading chapters from a textbook among dim lights and haphazardly arranged desks; this is not a good setting for learning. Now, picture the same student sitting among a hearth with comfortable armchairs and tables set up; the environment suddenly becomes much more inviting. Although these situations represent two extremes, whether we recognize it or not, classroom environments greatly impact how well we learn. They help stimulate our minds, promoting faster and better mastery of concepts. We respond emotionally to physical aspects of our surroundings such as the placement of a chalkboard, the flooring, or the wall furnishing. According to Dr. Graetz of Winona State University, there are many depths that come with a student’s learning; learning is characterized by active looking, feeling, and listening, as opposed to passive seeing, touching, and hearing. With this distinction, Graetz emphasizes the emotional effect that learning environments leave on individuals. With a limited ability to gather information, students need a balance of comfort and structure—a direct link to why individuals are generally advised against having a TV set up in their bedrooms.

Uncomfortable environments make it difficult for students to concentrate and absorb information sufficiently. Added distractions, such as overly-decorated classroom walls, can further increase the difficulty. On the other hand, a positive environment helps students develop an attachment to the learning space and motivates them to continue their learning process. This is another reason that, even at home, it is important to create quiet, calm study spaces, free of cellphones, video games, or any other distractions that can divert a learner’s attention from the academic task at hand. Dr. John H Schuh and Dr. M Lee Upcraft of Pennsylvania State University emphasized the importance of learning spaces in their research on assessing how differing conditions for college classrooms can affect students’ grades. On top of improved learning, the two concluded that they were also able to see an increased impact of a classroom set-up on pedagogy—demonstrating how a space is able to define how an individual teaches.

However, diverging from the traditional classroom setting to enhance comfort is unnecessary. Productivity can be boosted by various seemingly minor environmental stimuli in the natural aspects of a classroom. That is—elements like lighting, temperature, noise, and arrangement of a classroom: all factors that play a tremendous role in learning. These components, are so important as they can decrease efficiency and mental productivity. Research by Dr. Graetz and Goliber connects overheated spaces and intimidating lighting to lower student achievement.

Despite the positive aspects of our learning environments, there are still many improvements that can be made specifically at Princeton High School. Almost every student at PHS can relate to the difficulty of taking a math test on a rickety desk with the added disadvantage of a broken air conditioning unit and stifling summer temperatures. Additionally, sitting in a completely artificially lit room with no natural lighting can make all the difference in a student’s emotional state and therefore productivity.

Classroom size also impacts the learning experience greatly. For some students, the size of the classroom doesn’t matter—large classrooms are acceptable learning areas. But others prefer more intimate settings because they facilitate both teacher and peer communication. It is important to take note, however, that each individual’s subject views and opinions of an experience vary, and each student creates his or her own reality for the learning environment they inhibit. Some may prefer larger classroom settings, which require less engagement and more liberty to learn by themselves.

Regardless, there is a clear link between the learner and the learning environment they inhabit. The emotional and cognitive responses one has in reaction to the the space one occupies greatly affect the effectiveness and productivity of one’s work. Each person is different, and while an extrovert may tolerate louder noise levels and larger room, an introvert may view the physical aspects of a classroom as well as the natural and social surroundings as the difference between a successful and unsuccessful learning process. We are so focused on the autonomical nature of school coming from the age of standardized tests that we rarely take into account the importance of environmental stimuli.

Photo Credit: The Tower

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

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