“Bad” space makes for poor learning

As a teacher, I couldn’t function when it was really cold or hot.  And neither could the kids.

One unfortunate year I taught in a classroom that constantly had issues with its thermostat.  For weeks the heat would mysteriously shut itself off after about 8 a.m.  My students would ask to wear their coats all day long, shivering.  Parents would complain, and the school tried again and again to fix it.  And I’ve been in many classrooms with no air conditioning during heat waves when the students couldn’t were sweating, irritable, and unfocused.  During another year I did have a window AC unit, but it was so loud that I would often have to shut it off.  Another year my classroom faced a busy street, and my lessons were constantly being interrupted by loud conversations outside.

It’s not shocking to me that student learning growth can be affected by the design of a classroom space.  British researchers determined that classroom environment can explain more than 70% of the variation in student performance by class.  The conditions that were examined included lighting, room orientation, storage, air quality, and room temperature.  From the article about the study in the Huffington Post, I have no idea how they controlled for all of the factors that could impact learning, but even so, it’s an intriguing area of further research.

Although he’s more of a journalist and not a researcher, Jonathan Kozol has been writing for decades about the effects of crumbling, ugly, poorly resourced schools on children’s emotional and academic lives.

What do you think?  Should a great teacher and a determined student be able to teach and learn no matter what the external conditions?

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