Should a Teacher Decorate a Classroom?

We decorate the walls of our bedrooms and offices with posters, paintings and photos. Bare walls look like prison cells. Decorations on walls brighten a room, making it more inviting. The town of Paete, Laguna in the Philippines are known for its artistry. Thus, it would be surprising to find undecorated walls inside the homes in this town. Furthermore, the walls inside the classrooms in this town are likewise highly unlikely to be empty. In fact, when I visited Paete ten years ago, it would be impossible not to notice the paintings on the wall:

Even in high school, considerable talent is displayed on the walls.

Photo credit (Imelda Avino)

Here are additional photos from other classrooms inside Paete elementary schools (photos from Ibaba Elementary Schools and Aileen Padalan):

Classrooms are places where children need to focus their attention. Thus, there is a possibility that these trimmings can be distracting. There is a recent study reported in the journal Psychological Science that measures the compromising effects of decorations inside classrooms on children learning:

The above study involves 24 children in kindergarten (12 boys and 12 girls). These children are randomly assigned to two groups. One group is placed in a decorated classroom condition while the other in a classroom with bare walls. The following are photos of the two classrooms:

Bare classroom (image copied from Carnegie Mellon)

Decorated classroom (image copied from Carnegie Mellon)
The children are provided six lessons in science during a two week period. Learning assessment is done by administering a test at the end. A pretest is likewise given before the lessons to ensure that the two groups are indeed similar. In fact, the results from this pretest from both groups demonstrate that children perform similarly to random guessing. The children are also videotaped during the lessons to measure how frequently the students are not paying attention to the instructor. The results are summarized by Carnegie Mellon University in its press release:
The results showed that while children learned in both classroom types, they learned more when the room was not heavily decorated. Specifically, children's accuracy on the test questions was higher in the sparse classroom (55 percent correct) than in the decorated classroom (42 percent correct)...

...However, when the researchers tallied all of the time children spent off-task in both types of classrooms, the rate of off-task behavior was higher in the decorated classroom (38.6 percent time spent off-task) than in the sparse classroom (28.4 percent time spent off-task)....
With the above results, it is perhaps important to step back and reflect on how we decorate a classroom. It is already challenging to win and keep a child's attention. We probably should not add more to that challenge.