Learning Environment Affects Students' and Teachers' Abilities

Did you know… Environmental factors have significant effects on pupil and teacher well-being. Poor quality lighting, ventilation, acoustics and furniture all have a negative effect on student achievement and health. In recent years, there have been a number of research studies published on the impact of lighting, air quality and acoustics on learning.

  • Lighting — Studies by Alberta Education (1991), Kuller and Lindsten (1992) and Heschong Mahone Group (1999) demonstrate a correlation between lighting and student achievement.
  • Air Quality — Studies by the EPA show a connection between IAQ improvements, such as increasing fresh air and removing pollutants, and improved academic performance. Controlled studies show that students perform school work faster as ventilation rates increase.
  • Acoustics — Much of the education that takes place in classrooms hinges on oral communication. When we miss or mis-hear, we automatically “fill in the blanks.” While adults can perceive information that is only 50 percent intelligible, a child will not understand most of what is said.

Unfortunately, school furniture is an environmental factor that is too often overlooked, especially considering the fact that students spend 15,000+ hours sitting down during their school years. Too often, ‘one size-fits all’ has been our mantra — the same furniture selected for all classrooms and learning spaces across multiple campuses. While a simple purchasing policy, the result is furnishings that are not task-oriented, fit for the purpose, or fit for the changing size of today’s students.

School furniture and equipment should...

  • safeguard the physical well-being of students through appropriate ergonomics and the ability to adjust to individual student’s physical needs.
  • be flexible both within the subject area and within the individual lesson and promote creative teaching and learning experiences.
  • be designed to minimize time spent on setting up and arranging spaces, freeing teaching staff for curriculum delivery.
  • encourage excellence by facilitating the widest possible range of teaching and learning strategies.
  • reflect the move from teacher-focused to learner-focused education.
  • help contribute to the institutional message about the value placed on staff, students and the processes of teaching and learning.

Furniture that meets the needs of children, teachers and schools and is well designed will benefit all — from better classroom environments, to improved student comfort, behavior and health.

— Sources include the Furniture Industry Research Association.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

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