In a Classroom, What Colour is Best?
This week I was reminded of the importance of autonomy for teachers. The concept of teacher autonomy refers to the professional independence of teachers in schools, especially the degree to which they can make decisions about how they teach.
Autonomy is one of the driving forces of our motivation. It’s the thing that spurs us on. I just spent several days setting up my new classroom, but it was enjoyable work. I’m not sure how excited I would have been to do it, if someone dictated how it should be done! Teacher autonomy allows me to make the decisions I see fit, in the layout of my classroom and in my teaching practices. Autonomy is the reason some individuals decide on a career in education, as there are several areas we have choice and can practice our individualism.
The setting up of my new classroom has created an interesting conversation. My own belief is that we create our classroom environments according to our personal preferences and our past experiences. We might also be influenced by ideas we’ve heard from colleagues or concepts we’ve learned during professional learning days. With all the information on the internet, it’s so easy to double check on the ideas and fads we see in education. What is research-based and was is not?
This year I am at a new school and have a new assignment. Actually, it’s my old school and my old assignment but I’m excited because I’m looking at it with fresh eyes. Last year I was seconded to work on the Wellness Team for my school district. I had an opportunity to visit many classrooms throughout the division. I marvelled at the variety and uniqueness of each teacher’s room. I appreciated being invited in, as our classrooms are so personal. Often they represent the things that matter most to us...literature, student work, inspirational quotes or messages hang from doors and bulletin boards. I saw Star Trek posters and deer antlers displayed on walls, and beloved classroom pets like snakes, birds, and lizards. I loved seeing teachers embrace their individualism. As I toured throughout the division and worked in these classrooms, I got so many great ideas on how to set up a classroom, and this year I have an opportunity to try out a few!
When I enter a new classroom, one of the first tasks I tackle are the bulletin boards. Like some teachers, over the years I have acquired several yards of broadcloth which I use to cover my bulletin boards. It’s a bit more expensive than paper or plastic tablecloths but it lasts, can be laundered, and the staple holes are not noticeable even after several years of use. I’ve acquired some favourite colours too, several blues, teal, light green, and a black one for my art board. The work of doing the bulletin boards took several days as I have ten of them in my new room. Ten! During this time, I had several conversations with other teachers about colour in a room and what seemed better for student learning. The first conversation occurred when I was at a teacher store, purchasing some new borders and desk name plates. A second year teacher approached me and asked my advice on her classroom set up. She was worried her love for colour might make the room look cluttered. She showed me photos. There was a ton of wooden shelving and counter space, and one light green wall which served as a dry-erase board. The room was neat and organized. Nope, I assured her, there was no clutter in those photos. I suggested that creating a space that felt good to her was also important. Some of her students might appreciate colour. I also reminded her, it is difficult to satisfy all the students in a single class. The next conversations occurred at school. I ran into a few teachers who were also doing some initial set up in their rooms. One teacher leaves the oatmeal coloured background of the bulletin board and simply places borders on the bulletin board, while another colleague chooses one simple background design, in this case it is bulletin board paper with a blue sky and clouds, and covers each bulletin board with it. I was starting to wonder now about colour in the classroom. What colours are most conducive to student learning? This year I had planned to add more aspects from nature in my room, perhaps some birch logs and greenery. That was one of the new ideas I wanted to try this year. I was definitely looking for some more natural colours in my room but had not considered discarding colour all together. I like colour and believe a room can have colour without looking cluttered.
I went home and had a discussion with my kids. My older boy is 15, and my younger one is 13. I told them about this curiosity of mine about colours in a classroom. I mentioned that to my knowledge, there was no scientific evidence about what colour is best for learning. Teens these days feel they know all the answers because they have grown up with the internet at their fingertips. My boys assured me there was scientific evidence about colour and student learning, and that colour was tan or beige in a classroom. This was the nudge I needed to check things out for myself. When I was a young teacher, the internet wasn’t sophisticated enough that I could easily look up research. Sometimes I forget I have this capability at my fingertips. I searched through Google Scholar as I wanted articles with evidence based research. Surprisingly, I found only one article, but there might be others out there. According to Gaines and Curry (2011), colour impacts student behavior in a classroom however the findings of several studies are inconsistent in determining the optimal colour choices. For this reason, these researchers encourage educators to use the information in their article as a guideline. Their article has a handy table which lists various colours and the articles and findings about these colours in the classroom. Gaines and Curry (2011) also note that large amounts of colour overstimulate individuals no matter the colour temperature or preference and in contrast, colourless interior spaces can be stressful and non-productive. Below, are six recommendations from Gaines and Curry (2011):
1) A warm neutral colour scheme of tan or sand would be a desirable foundation for a classroom and should be applied to walls, floor, and ceiling if possible.
2) The wall that students focus on when looking up from their work should a medium hue in the same color range.
3) Strong or primary colours should be avoided, however, soft colours such as green or blue may be used in other areas of the classroom.
4) Discovering a child’s colour preferences and using those colours may be beneficial.
5) Personal applications of colour may be easily added through study carrels, coloured reading lenses, and coloured paper.
6) Using different coloured tape for boundaries or to serve as a means to locate charts will benefit students with and without disabilities.
When it comes to setting up our classrooms, there is no one right way, but rather several right ways. Teachers can rely on their autonomy to make decisions about their classroom set up. Their decision can be based on their preferences, their past experiences, and now with the assistance of the internet, evidence-based research too. What colours will work best in your room for you and your students? You decide!
Gaines, K. S., & Curry, Z. D. (2011). The inclusive classroom: The effects of color on learning and behavior. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences Education, 29(1).