Research Summary

The holistic impact of classroom spaces on learning in specific subjects

Differing elements in and around the classroom impact students’ learning in math, reading, and writing

Environment and Behavior
2017

A study investigating how the built environment in and around classrooms influences learning rates in students involved 3766 primary-age children in 153 U.K. classrooms. For this study, the role of physical design was isolated from the influences of the pupils’ characteristics. Learning progress was measured over a one-year period for each of three separate subjects -- reading, writing, and math. The participating schools varied in age from 10 to 136 years and were located in rural, urban, and suburban communities.

Ten different physical design parameters were considered as possible influencing factors for the learning of each subject. These parameters were based on the three design principles of naturalness (based on light, sound, temperature, air quality, and links to nature), individualization (based on ownership, flexibility, and connection) and level of stimulation (based on complexity and color).

Data collected for this study addressed both the features of the classrooms and the individual characteristics of the students. Student characteristics included socioeconomic status, having English as an additional language, and having special education needs. Data was also collected on student age, attendance, and progress in each of the three areas of reading, writing, and math.

Findings indicated that individually the ten design parameters had a relatively small impact on student progress. Taken together, however, they accounted for approximately 10% of variability in student performance. At the classroom level, both light and flexibility were significant factors in all three subject areas. Light had a slightly larger impact on writing progress, while flexibility had a larger impact on progress in math. Flexibility was measured in relation to how well designed the classroom space is for the particular age of the pupils, whether it has a small group working area, and how well the space is designed for storage.

Level of stimulation parameters (complexity and color) influenced both reading and writing. For writing, links-to-nature was found to be significant. This parameter was measured in relation to natural elements in the classroom (wooden furniture and plants), views of nature from the windows, and whether there is direct access to an outdoor learning area from the classroom.

This study indicates that differing elements of the classroom environment impact students’ learning as measured by progress in reading, writing, and math. The findings also highlight some subject-specific variations in the optimal characteristics of the physical space provided for the students. The researchers suggest that “these findings could be used in practice by teachers as they move from one subject to the next and by designers in terms of creating opportunities for dynamically configurable spaces.”