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IES Grant

Title: Classroom Environment, Allocation of Attention, and Learning Outcomes in K–4 Students
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Fisher, Anna Awardee: Carnegie Mellon University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,571,973
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305A110444
Description:

Co-Principal Investigators: Ryan S. Baker (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) and Howard Seltman

Purpose: There is a paradox in the relationship between current knowledge about cognitive development and current practice in the design of classroom visual environments. It is well-documented that distractibility decreases markedly with age; however, younger learners (i.e., K–4 students) frequently learn in classrooms containing large amounts of potentially distracting visual materials not relevant to the on-going instruction (e.g., colorful posters, alphabet charts, maps, etc.). Loss of instructional time due to off-task behavior is a well-established problem in educational settings, and a negative relationship between off-task behavior and learning outcomes has been documented in many contexts. Designing effective, easy to implement, and scalable interventions to reduce off-task behavior has been challenging. The goal of the proposed research is to study in-depth the classroom visual environment, a malleable factor with the potential to influence distractibility, off-task behavior, and ultimately student achievement. The proposed project will specifically focus on studying the degree to which visual materials that are not directly relevant to the ongoing instruction present a distraction for young learners, the degree to which off-task behavior related to the classroom visual environment influences learning, and the effects of the classroom environment from a granular level. Researchers will investigate how the specific features of visual displays in classroom environments influence distractibility, the mediating role that student effects play in different forms of distraction, and the degree to which students may habituate to the classroom visual environments.

Project Activities: The research plan for this project consists of six studies; some of which will be observational, and some experimental in design. In Study 1, the research team will describe the range of patterns of attention allocation during instruction in K–4 students and examine the relationships among patterns of attention allocation, classroom visual environment, socio-demographic features of students and teachers, and learning outcomes. During Study 2, researchers will manipulate the features of the visual environment in a laboratory classroom to examine possible effects of the visual environment on attention allocation during instruction and learning outcomes. In Study 3, the researchers will examine the relationship between teacher interventions to reduce off-task behavior and types of off-task behavior. During Study 4, the research team will examine how children adapt to the visual environments in their classrooms over time. In Study 5, the researchers will carry out an in-depth observational study of K–4 classroom visual environments to determine the relationships between student distractibility, the content of classroom displays (e.g. academic, motivational, safety, etc.), and the visual elements of classroom displays (e.g. color, contrast, text, image, etc.). Finally, in Study 6, the team will examine the role of affect in mediating the relationship between the classroom visual environment and attention.

Products: Products from this study include a thorough description of the role of the classroom visual environment on distractibility and off-task behavior related to learning outcomes in grades K–4. Peer-reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in several different settings, including urban elementary schools in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area; the lab school of Carnegie Mellon University (the Children's School); and in the researchers' laboratory.

Population: Participating schools will represent low, middle, and high socioeconomic status populations. Grades K–4 will be involved. Approximately 34 percent of the sample will be African-American students, 1 percent Hispanic students, and 57 percent Caucasian students.

Research Design and Methods: The proposed research will consist of six studies, including naturalistic observations in genuine educational settings and controlled randomized experiments in a laboratory setting designed to approximate a kindergarten classroom. Study 1 is intended to establish the baseline for the patterns of attention allocation during instruction across a wide range of K–4 students and examine the relationships among patterns of attention allocation, classroom visual environment, and learning outcomes. The team will observe off-task behavior and gather information about the classroom visual environment, demographic information about the students and teachers, and student learning outcomes. In the second study, the team will manipulate the visual environment in a laboratory classroom to examine possible effects of the visual environment on attention allocation during instruction and learning outcomes. The team will create both high and low distraction environments. Unlike most elementary school classrooms, the low distraction classroom will only include information in the visual environment that is directly related to the lesson currently being taught. Using observations of typical classrooms, Study 3 will examine the relationship between teacher interventions to reduce off-task behavior and types of off-task behavior. Study 4 will examine how children adapt to the visual environments in their classrooms over time. In Study 5, the researchers will complete a fine-grained exploration of the relationship between the specific characteristics of classroom visual displays. Finally, in Study 6, the research team will examine the role of affect in mediating the relationship between the classroom visual environment and attention.

Key Measures: Key measures will include: protocol-based observations of student behavior and student affect, assessments of learning outcomes, and photo-based coding of classroom visual environments.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will employ a variety of statistical techniques to analyze collected data, including hierarchical linear modeling and hierarchical multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA), random effects MANCOVA, hierarchical logistic regression, random effects growth curve modeling, and data mining methods.

Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Erickson, L.C., Thiessen, E.D., Godwin, K.E., Dickerson, J.P., and Fisher, A.V. (2015). Endogenously and Exogenously Driven Selective Sustained Attention: Contributions to Learning in Kindergarten Children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 138: 126–134.

Fisher, A., Thiessen, E., Godwin, K., Kloos, H., and Dickerson, J. (2013). Assessing Selective Sustained Attention in 3– to 5–Year-Old Children: Evidence From a New Paradigm. Journal Of Experimental Child Psychology, 114(2): 275–294.

Fisher, A.V., Godwin, K.E., and Seltman, H. (2014). Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children: When Too Much of a Good Thing may be Bad. Psychological Science, 25(7): 1362–1370.

Godwin, K.E., Almeda, M.V., Seltman, H., Kai, S., Skerbetz, M.D., Baker, R.S., and Fisher, A.V. (2016). Off–Task Behavior in Elementary School Children. Learning and Instruction, 44: 128–143.

Proceeding

Almeda, M.V., Scupelli, P., Baker, R.S., Weber, M., and Fisher, A. (2014). Clustering of Design Decisions in Classroom Visual Displays. In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 44–48). New York: ACM.

Erickson, L.C., Thiessen, E.D., Godwin, K.E., Dickerson, J.P., and Fisher, A.V. (2014). Endogenously- but not Exogenously-Driven Selective Sustained Attention is Related to Learning in a Classroom-Like Setting in Kindergarten Children. In In Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 457–462). Quebec: Cognitive Science Society.

Godwin, K.E., Almeda, M.V., Petroccia, M., Baker, R.S., and Fisher, A.V. (2013). Classroom Activities and Off-Task Behavior in Elementary School Children. In Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2428–2433). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.


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