“A Little Bit of This and Not Too Much of That...”: Is There a Recipe for Class Display Load Level in Elementary Schools?


Source: Journal of Learning Spaces Vol 6, No 2 


The classroom display in elementary schools, usually, manifests the teacher's effort and vision. However, upon entering an elementary school classroom one will usually encounter a visual overload. How can teachers determine the appropriate amount of elements that would be on display? How can they know what is the accurate recipe for a pleasant and efficient display? It seems that, in practice, this might resemble your grandma’s cake recipe, which was passed down from generation to generation. “Just put a little bit of this and not too much of that…” This article addresses these questions and provides best practices recommendations in an appendix.


This article begins with a survey of the literature, separated by key elements to consider. Most teachers have not learned how to properly construct a classroom display, how to properly shape it in accordance to their educational goals and the classroom’s spatial characteristics, or how to properly execute their design. A recent study (Milo-Shussman, 2016) found that 65 percent of teachers (n=207) never learned how to plan, execute, or construct a display involving pedagogical content. Moreover the research found that 30 percent of teachers noted that their display was the product of their own personal experience, 21 percent stated that it was the product of their own intuition, 17 percent noted that their display was the result of observing other teachers, 10 percent said that an art teacher assisted in the process, and 9 percent noted that various websites were their main source of inspiration.

Elementary school educators are measured and evaluated on the quality of their displays by the school’s administration, parents, and other teachers. Much like Grandma's cake recipe, there is no substitute for teacher experience and sensitivity. Because of the many expectations placed upon teachers, the rising numbers of students experiencing attention disorders, and in consideration of recent findings (Milo-Shussman, 2016) arguing that displays in elementary schools are educational and social tools that support students’ individualistic socio-emotional learning - there is room for teacher training on this important issue.

In conclusion, it is necessary to understand that there is no accurate formula that can determine the ideal number of elements for classroom displays. This, of course, depends on the display’s background color and the colorfulness and type of each of its elements (texts, pictures, drawings, maps, graphs). Much like when baking, certain rules exist. However, the final result depends solely on the baker, in this case, teachers.

At present, teachers can be pulled between contradictory expectations and recommendations. While perceived or real pressure to impress from school administrators, fellow teachers, etc. may drive displays towards visual overload, the research literature provides evidence and recommendations for moving away from such expectations toward more pedagogically-sound approaches. Therefore, the following best practices recommendations are offered.

Updated: Jul. 19, 2017