Before you go further…
Think about the way in which you have organized your classroom (or plan to do so).
What factors influenced the “look” of your room?
How did you determine the placement of desks, tables, shelves, rugs, computers, learning centers, etc. What criteria or reasoning affected the placements of these items?
What things are posted on your walls, doors, windows, and other vertical surfaces? What hangs from your ceiling, or is clipped to wires crossing your room?
(Far above head level, I trust.)
|I remember the opening of the “new wing” at our high school on the fringes of a large city in the southeastern United States. Oddly, our special education unit was left in the “old building” while the advanced classes were all held in the new building. Our kids complained about not being educated in the new and updated part of our campus. Those complaints subsided within weeks as we heard the increasing complaints. The “climate controlled” building’s heating and cooling was monitored and adjusted at a central control facility miles away. Teachers would call this facility saying “We’re sweltering in here.” or “We’re freezing in here.”, only to be told that they must be wrong in their assessment: The instruments at the central facility indicated that the environments were a comfy 70 degrees (Fahrenheit scale).
Also, there were no windows in the building in order to better control the climate (It prevented those darned teachers from opening windows to adjust the temperature, thus throwing their whole centralized system into a tizzy). Kids hated the new wing and referred to it as “the dungeon”. Irritation turned to fright/excitement when we experienced a power outage and kids were told to sit in the absolute darkness of their classrooms (with steadily increasing temperatures) for over an hour. (I said that they were told to sit. You can imagine the things that reportedly happened in the ink-black darkness). Meanwhile, those of us in the “old building” worked by the sunlight coursing through our window (which we opened).
Give Me Room
You’ve been a learner in many environments: School classrooms when you were a student, conference meeting rooms, auditoriums during your college days (Remember those drowsy-eyed Friday mornings when you were enrolled in “Psych 101”?), and so forth. Some were conducive to learning and the sharing of information/knowledge. Other settings were not conducive to absorbing what was shared (Like the hot, overcrowded rooms next to the raised mass transit rail line under the flight path from the local airport…The type of settings I’m usually provided when I conduct staff training workshops for groups of teachers).
The classroom, and how its furnishings and contents are arranged, can be a powerful teaching tool, or an undirected and unrecognized negative influence on learning. While the student-teacher relationship, the educator’s instructional skill, and his/her proficiency in positive behavior management are the most important factors in promoting high achievement and pro-social behavior, the physical and social systems in classrooms are inextricably intertwined (try saying those two words eight times fast).
Your room is not merely a benign homogeneous cube, but rather a network of varied and interconnected micro-environments. Even if it appears to be simply a large cube containing seats, some kids have a better view of the board or the teacher (or the birds on the window sill), some parts of the room are hotter or colder, and some places are better lit than others.
Historically, the teachers of younger children seemed to be more cognizant of the influence of the classroom environment on such things as movement, learning, behavior, and the support of teaching goals. More so nowadays, teachers who instruct above the pre-kindergarten and primary grades are recognizing the need to arrange items and “decorate” the classroom in a manner that facilitates positive interaction and learning.
Herein, I’ll present the best of all possible worlds with respect to organizing and arranging one’s classroom. Often, these recommendations can’t be implemented for any number of reasons: The resources aren’t available; the shape and size of the space prohibits “best practice” with regard to design and arrangement; the room does not belong to you for the entire day, making it difficult to “personalize” for your students and subject area; and so forth.
Here's an example of an "empty room" with it's non-modifiable items. How might you furnish it for 22 students and a teacher? Where would you place the accompanying desks that you see below the classroom? What would you want to consider in their placement?
*Click on the box to reveal the image of the "empty" classroom.
Image reprinted with permission of the IRIS Center (OSEP grant H325F01003).
The Physical Environment
The room to which you’re assigned consists of non-modifiable and modifiable features that are then enhanced by the placement of furnishings and other items. We can modify our assigned space in order to accomplish a number of objectives. For example, a carrel (3 sided space into which a student sits facing the vertical surface ahead…perhaps two small book shelves extending perpendicular from the wall, creating a small, enclosed “office” for a distractible worker) can be used to shelter an individual pupil. Or, we might push together individual desks or meet with a small group of students at a round table in order to create cooperative interaction. In another case, we might widely separate the desks of rivals in order to decrease their negative influence on one another.
When designing your classroom, consider:
-The age of the students (affecting the nature and size of the seating, materials to be stored, areas needing to be developed for various activities)
-The number of students (affecting the necessary number of seats, books to be stored, etc.)
-The activities to be conducted (Don’t think about “math” or “phonics instruction”. Kids don’t math or phonic. They draw, construct, measure, role play, write, etc.)
-The placement of electrical outlets, windows, door(s)
Certain hints and tips to consider:
-Situate recreational and computer areas away from instructional areas.
-Place materials to be accessed by students in areas away from where other students are working.
-Place materials needed for your teaching near the areas where you conduct that instruction (for easy access which avoids non-instructional moments during your lessons).
-Place hazardous or fragile items in a locked, protected, or marked-off area.
-Remember that you typically view the environment while standing. Your students usually view it from a sitting position. They can’t see inside boxes that you can view. “Low” bookshelves are “high” to those who are sitting. Be sure to sit in seats in different parts of the classroom to view the classroom from your pupil’s angles of sight.
Carving It Up
Most texts that address classroom design recommend splitting the room into different types of instructional environments. At its minimalism, two separate spaces; one for large group instruction, and one for small group gatherings. Some teachers identify the various area boundaries with colored, foot-wear resistant tape.
CARTOON OF KIDS AT HIGH BOARD HERE
I Need My Space
One thing over which we have no control is the size of the room. The amount of space per student affects instruction, methodology that is used, and interpersonal behavior. As per the latter effect, we know from studies of rats and humans who are crowded into spaces, that they become irritable and nasty…unless they’re gathered for a short-term event of mutual interest. (For example: music concerts, charismatic speakers, etc.). Our kids must spend about 6 hours per day, five days a week together in close quarters. Not all of them are enjoying the moment’s activity for which they are gathered.
When architects design buildings, allocated space is figured by the funds available, the purpose of the facility, and the anticipated time of occupancy. Containment cells in local jails allow about 48 square feet per prisoner (Please don’t ask me how I know this fact). Back in the 1960s, the United States was concerned about nuclear attack from the Ruskies (American slang term for the residents of the former USSR based on the Russians’ term to which they refer to themselves). Some of you oldsters will remember the drills: In case of nuclear explosion, curl up under your desk and wait for the “all clear” signal. I often think that the reason we curled up was so that we could kiss our endangered butts goodbye. Fallout shelters to protect the population against nuclear explosions and fallout were built with 6 square feet of room per individual. They were designed to be short-term facilities. After a couple of days of cramped cohabitation, we’d squint in the sunlight as we all came up to the surface to start a new world. OK, enough ancient history.
Now consider an average school room. It’s 30 by 30, or 900 square feet. Divide that space by 30 kids, and you get 30 square feet per pupil…when it’s unfurnished. Consider too the space near the door that can’t be used for occupancy. Then figure that the teacher usually hogs a lot of space up front. The result? Each student has a space of 18 square feet for 6 hours. That’s about the size of two telephone booths. Speaking of phone booths, as a former special education teacher, I was given corners, hallways and former storage spaces, that when filled, reminded me of the photographs from the 1950’s; you know…the one’s showing attempts to stuff as many people as possible into a phone booth. In the words of one of my former pupils: “Mr. Mac. How’re we supposed to learn in here? We ain’t got no a--room in the classroom!” (To figure out what was said, rhyme the hyphenated word with “classroom”)
In many of our classrooms, given the necessity of movement, there are constant incursions into one another’s space. That lack of personal space can create the negative effects found in those studies involving rats and humans: irritation and angry outbursts.
While things are changing in the way of school design, many districts continue to use the old buildings, or they purchase and refurbish old buildings that have been used for other purposes (the local jails, etc.). It appears as if schools are/were built with little forethought about personal learning space. I understand that it’s a holdover mentality from the early industrial revolution period in which individuals were important only as a member of a class of laborers. Most of the consideration was given to “the boss” (us).
Today, we try to fit modern devices and instructional procedures into the old boxes. This retro-fitting often resembles the act of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole (or me into my tiny white water kayak). We try our best to accomodate computers and teaching machines (some of which actually work), team teaching arrangements, volunteers and teacher aides, individualization of instruction, learning centers, kids leaving and returning from auxiliary services, and so forth.
Now, I’ve got to admit that the traditional classroom holds some comfortable associations for me given my childhood experiences (although the principal’s office is excluded from that comfortability…given my experiences there). They also promote teacher-focused attention for large group lessons. However, teaching and learning is undergoing change. So then…let’s talk about education as it is being experienced today.
Despite constrictions, it can benefit you and your students to consider the modifications offered below. Even though the teacher is the one who makes the classroom environment an effective one, the more our rooms look like workshops, libraries, or conference centers, and less like playgrounds (or prisons), the fewer the problems that will be experienced.
Take Your Seat
Close your eyes and walk into a school room (Just pretend with this exercise…don’t actually do it…I don’t want anyone tripping over the garbage can). Open those the lovely orbs and take a look around. You will immediately know what sorts of activities occur therein.
Are there rows of seats facing a large open space in front of a chalk board? That arrangement indicates that there is a great deal of large group instruction led by an authority figure. Are there 4-6 desks pushed together with chairs facing another seat across the desks? This arrangement would indicate that the teacher utilizes a great deal of small group work or allows students to assist one another on tasks. (It could also indicate that there are too many kids assigned to that space, and that the teacher is trying his/her best to fit them all in.) Are the seats arranged in a semi-circle, indicating that group discussion is a standard practice? Are there dusty and broken chairs and desks stacked up on top of one another? This arrangement means that you’ve walked into the custodian’s storage closest. Turn around and find another room.
*Click on the box to reveal the image of the various classroom arrangements
Image reprinted with permission of the IRIS Center (OSEP grant H325F01003).
What influences and factors affect how you arrange student’s seats?
Seating tip: If a youngster is going to be “pulled out” during a lesson for special services (counseling, speech/language instruction), arrange his/her seating so that s/he is nearest to the door. For example, a student who will be summoned by the occupational therapist during learning center time would be assigned to the center closest to the door. If the student will be leaving during “rug time” (when students gather and sit on a rug to engage in a learning activity), have him/her sit on the outside of the group and closest to the door.
Research on rows versus “clusters” in the arrangement of student desks
Row seating does seem to promote attention to individual work. In one research study (Axlerod, et. al, 19** ), students were on task 62% of the time when sitting in clusters (small groups of seats pushed together). When the seating was switched to a rows arrangement (seats in line, one behind the other), students were on task 82% of the time. They then switched the seats back to a cluster arrangement. Students were on task 63% of the time. When the seating was again switched back to a rows arrangement, the students were on task 83% of the time.
There are so many factors that could play into the results that were reported above, but it’s something to consider. If you plan to do a lot of group work, be sure to look through the page on this site (www.BehaviorAdvisor.com) titled “Cooperative learning”. Assigning roles to each participant in a group keeps the group focused and assures that everyone contributes and learns.
Assigned seating in rows is often preferred by teachers at the beginning of the year (and during testing) in order to provide order and structure. Preparations are made for other seating arrangements that will be utilized, and rules for co-habitation presented before changes are made.
Some teachers like to have flexibility in seating. Their students will help to move seating into an arrangement that matches the activity and instructional style for that lesson. If you plan to conduct this transitioning of seating, you’ll want to practice those routines (as you would with routines for any recurring event), praising and otherwise positively recognizing students who are moving correctly (versus berating kids who are failing to follow the routine in a prompt manner). Prepare them for the move by asking questions prior to the move such as: “Where are you going to go?” and “How do we hold the chair properly in order to prevent a scraping noise on the floor?” Practice, practice, practice…and PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE (using the advice on praising descriptively that can be found inside the page on this site titled “Nice ways to build self discipline in kids”).
Our goal is to increase the time spent on task by our students. Therefore, we should try to eliminate distractions that defeat our attempts to increase “time on task” (which increases achievement and appropriate behavior). This goal is especially pertinent for our more distractible students. When arranging your classroom, take note of the location of the doors (by which people pass and noise enters), windows, hamster cages, and lava lamps. Computer terminals and the students at them can be of great interest to those nearby. To prevent this high-tech equivalent of looking over others’ shoulders to read their newspapers, you can reduce the screen resolution or purchase a screen cover that allows only individuals directly in front of the monitor to view the images.
It takes a highly focused kid to fully attend to one’s work when reading groups are meeting nearby. A high interest center is alluring to those who wish that they were there. Consider their placement and the effects on others who are nearby.
As for our more distractible students, you’ll want to sit in their seats (when they’re not in them, of course) and determine which things might be pulling their attention from you. Perhaps the seats or students need to be relocated. You’ll want to be sure that you have easy access to your distractible students (in order to assist them, draw them back onto task, and positively recognize them when they are focused). Consider how you might change of the positioning, or block the view of the distracters. For additional strategies for these youngsters, see this site’s page titled “ADHD”.
Positioning the Throne
The location of the teacher’s desk exerts a great deal of physical and psychological influence upon one’s adoring masses. Some educators exclaim: “Teacher’s desk?! Who has time to sit down?” Whether one decides to have a teacher’s desk in the room at all is the first consideration. Why would you want to have one taking up much needed space in your classroom? If it’s there to rest your rear end while the kids are scrawling information onto a series of worksheets, then it’s time to pick up a book on the role of a teacher. If there is a great deal of open space in your classroom, then an large desk might be useful during planning periods when you are completing forms or making quizzes, or to separate learning areas. It might also be used to direct traffic flow, create a certain “feel” to an area, etc.
Few teachers perceive a need for a desk. Many see it as a physical and symbolic barrier between them and their students, something that is contrary to their mission of reaching and teaching kids. They can always find a seat at a table, or use a student-sized desk for most purposes. However, some teachers find a need to use it for the containment of supplies and materials. In that case, they push it over to a wall or into a corner of the room so that it takes up minimal space.
If you do decide that a teacher’s desk is necessary, keep these things in mind:
-Be sure that you can monitor students in all areas of the classroom. It should be positioned so that you can monitor all your students. If some students must be outside of your line of site, be sure that they are your compliant and focused pupils.Can you see behind that bookshelf? Can you see all activity within that coat/storage closet?
-Your desk influences the movement of “traffic” within your room. Pupils will be coming to your desk to speak to you or obtain materials/supplies. Do those access paths create distraction to on- task students? Might moving students bump into those who are sitting? Does it cause congestion during certain times of the day (entry into the classroom, gathering book bags and coats at the end of the day?
-If it will store instructional materials, place it near the whole-class instructional area
-Consider traffic patterns near it, and the influence of it on traffic…especially if students are allowed access to items/materials
or turn in papers there.
Cartoon here: Teacher’s Desk
Harry and Rosemary Wong, in their wonderfully helpful book for new and struggling teachers (“The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher.” Mountain View, California: Harry K. Wong Publications), suggest that the teacher’s desk NOT be placed near the classroom door. Can you guess their reasoning?
|Click here for the answer
What are some considerations regarding the placement of computers?
-location of electrical outlets
-location of internet access box
-positioned away from chalk dust, water, magnets
-positioned so you can view the monitors (especially if the computer has internet access)
-place a limit on number of students allowed in that area
-be sure that the users have a purpose/task and a time limit
Things to Consider
When Arranging Your Classroom
Our goals are to:
-promote attention, structure, access, and orderly movement
-make efficient use of the available space
The things that effect our decisions include:
-Number (and nature) of students
-Size and shape of room
-Placement of non-movable items such as:
-windows (if any)
-chalk board/ dry eraser board
-height of ceiling
-Types of lessons/activities that will ensue
-full class presentations by the teacher
-small group work
-large group discussions
-Will students make great use of materials/equipment? How will they be distributed/accessed?
-tables or desks
-desks and tables
-CD player/Radio/Tape player
-Are environmental modifications necessary for disabled students?
The design/set-up of your room communicates a message that tells students how you expect them to participate.
The Four Guidelines
1. Keep high traffic areas free of congestion by separating them widely
-group work areas
-pick up and drop off areas for books/papers
-textbook storage areas
2. Stand in different parts of the room to be sure that you can see all of your students.
-What sorts of things might interfere with your visual monitoring?
-How do you position yourself while helping students?
3. Be sure that all of your students can see you as you instruct. Do so by sitting in their seats (and slouching down to their height).
4. Keep frequently used material easily accessible.
-How do you do so?
-surface storage on shelves (versus deep closet storage)
-baskets on tables
-placed on your desk or special table
Typically, learning centers are project-based areas to which a student or a few students are directed when they complete assigned work. They are useful for teaching, review, or re-teaching of material. Students read the directions for accomplishing the task and engage in its pursuit. The tasks are structured in a manner in which students can be self-directed and can work with little or no teacher observation or input (Dare I say “interference”?). The projects/tasks are typically interesting reviews or extensions of previously taught material (although some teachers use learning centers for initial instruction). The center might consist of one independent activity, or it might contain several sequential or related activities. Students work through the tasks in order to develop a skill or concept, or apply it.
Learning centers should be enticing in their appearance, contain clear directions for engaging in the activity, and allow for self checking and self correction of mistakes. The centers might serve as an activity for one day, or a number of days or weeks. You should regularly consider whether the center is still of interest and benefit to your learners.
You might hear the term “learning station”. Sometimes the term is used synonymously with “learning center”. At other times, a “learning station” is considered to be one segment of a learning center. There might be several “stations” within a center. Each would stress one skill, concept, or interest.
Developing a center
-Assure that the center/station has a clear purpose. You should be able to state this purpose in the form of a behavioral objective. For example: “Upon successful completion of the assigned task, the student will have demonstrated the ability to ****** by constructing/writing/drawing…..”
-Assure that the directions are simply stated and comprehendible to your learners. For non-readers, you might use pictures/photos of the steps of the task being addressed, or record the directions in audio form.
-Assure that the tasks match the abilities of the students assigned to the station/center. Perhaps offer options for completion that reflect different levels of knowledge/ability. Consider “Bloom’s Taxonomy”. (If you’re unfamiliar with these different levels of “knowing something”, conduct an internet search on the topic)
-Assure that the stations have a high interest appeal for the participants (in subject matter, format, type of task, etc.)
-Students should be able to self correct if mistakes are made
-Students should be able to self evaluate their performance on the task
-Your learning center should have a variety of stations/tasks that are meaningful and enjoyable for the participants
-Consider having open-ended options which allow the students to pursue their own interests related to the material you have been teaching.
Activities and Discussion Questions
1. Observe in a teacher’s classroom (perhaps your own) while the kids are in transition (coming into the room at the beginning of the day, preparing to leave the room at the end of the day, moving between centers, etc.). Does the traffic flow smoothly, or do areas of congestion appear? Is the smooth or congested traffic flow due to the arrangement of furnishings, or is congestion due to the need for a routine procedure to structure movement? (or both) If there are areas of congestion, how would arrange for fluid traffic flow at “high use” times?
2. If you’re a teacher, which factors influenced the arrangement of furnishings in your room? How did you determine the placement of desks, tables, shelves, rugs, etc.? If you’re training to become a teacher, interview a head teacher regarding these questions.
3. If you’re a teacher, which factors influenced the “decorations” in your room? How did you determine the placement of charts, student work examples, etc.? What items hang from the ceiling or are attached to vertical surfaces (walls, doors, backs of shelving units). If you’re training to become a teacher, interview a head teacher regarding these questions.
4. If you were offered the choice, would you select tables or chairs for your classroom? Would you make use of both? How and/or why?
5. Consider various common disabilities and challenges. What modifications might be made in classrooms to better accommodate students who learn, move, sense, or behave differently from your “typical” student?
6. Look into various rooms where groups gather. Considering the “looks” and arrangements, what are the purposes? How does the appearance/arrangement of the room affect comfort (physical and psychological)? What learning format is used? How do the room arrangements affect learning?
7. If you make use of a teacher’s desk, where do/will you place it? In the back of the room? In the front of the room? Somewhere else? Why did you select that position?
8. Expert recommendations say that items that create a high traffic flow near them (teacher’s desk, water fountain, etc.) be separated widely. Soooo….have you ever seen a classroom that didn’t have a trash can under a pencil sharpener? If you separate the pencil sharpener and the trash can, how are you going to handle the shavings that invariably rain down on the floor?
9. Studies have revealed that teachers give more attention to students sitting in the front of the room and down the center of the seating arrangement. How will you assure that all students have optimal access to your assistance and attention? OR…which students would you place in and out of the identified zones?
10. Identify the following listed items as being modifiable, non-modifiable, or a furnishing.
a. Mrs. Callas looks around her barren room and thinks: “These dingy, dirty walls and floors need a good scrubbing.” Her oldest son and his friends come to mind. She could probably convince them to be her work crew for the price of a pizza party.
b. Mr. Lally shakes his head in disgusted disbelief. What technician in his/her right mind would install the internet outlet and electrical outlets next to the entry door and near the water fountain?
c. Miss Khristin, a handy person with tools, builds a reading loft in her room. Kids climb “the reading ladder” to engage in silent reading.
d. Ms. Williamson works in a self-contained classroom for students with emotional and behavioral disorders. She arranges a bookshelf and divider to create a “time out corner” into which students are directed to go if they are having difficulties managing their behavior at that moment.
11. In addition to the factors mentioned above, consider the following suggestions. Evaluate your classroom (or one to which you have access) with this checklist (see below).
|Directions: Consider the following suggestions for room arrangement. Indicate whether your room meets these criteria. If you do not wish to implement a particular suggestion, devise a well-founded explanation the variance.
___Clearly marked (with number, name of instructor) so that visitors can find it
___An envelope, paper pad, and pencils for writing messages hang outside (or just inside the door) for others to write there messages to you (avoids interruptions)
___There is plenty of room just inside the doorway for children to line up without knocking things over
___Students’ academic work is displayed
___Displays are at the students’ eye level
___Displays have educational or motivational value (not solely posted for entertainment value)¬
___Instructional boards/screens are located within each student's visual range.
___The schedules for daily, semi-weekly, and weekly activities are posted
___The schedules are written so that students can comprehend it (or it has pictures/photos attached for non-readers)
___The schedules are current
___Some walls are left undecorated in order to provide a visual "rest" when students look up from their work to reflect and think
___Chipping paint, broken window frames/locks, malfunctioning electrical outlets, etc. have been reported (And you periodically bring the custodian’s favorite snack/pastry in order to enhance the chances of the repairs being made)
___Each student has his/her own workspace
___Each student's desk is appropriate in size and fully functional
___Each student's desk is arranged so that s/he can view instruction and readily participate in seatwork activities, teacher presentations, board lessons, etc.
___The teacher (and assistants) can move easily from one student desk/table to another
___If students are clustered/grouped together for activities/projects, the composition of the groups is arranged so that they can work cooperatively in a constructive manner
___Frequently used materials are stored at the students’ eye level or below
___Material containers are designed in such a way that they draw attention to the materials (not the containers)
12. Construct an actual learning center with at least five stations. If you make use of commercially available materials (games, worksheets, etc.), attempt to adapt them in some manner, or be sure that teacher-made materials are also in the center.
Write an accompanying paper that addresses the following:
a. The title of the center
b. The purpose of the center
c. Age range
d. Ability range
e. Modifications made for students with disabilities or other learning challenges
f. Materials used in the construction of your center (characters, backdrop, worksheets, game boards, etc.)
g. How you physically created the center (How did you construct it, make items for it, etc.?)
h. Method of record keeping (Who has used it; how often; performance/progress)
For the stations within your center, address the following for each one:
a. The objectives
b. Materials used
c. How you constructed it
d. The directions for the students who enter the station
e. Modifications to the directions for non-readers
f. Methods of performance evaluation
13. Go to http://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/casestudies.html and complete the activities related to management of students and classroom design.