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Classroom Design Matters

Classroom Design Matters

Sep 01, 2017

By Keri-Lee Beasley

As a classroom teacher, one of the most exciting aspects of starting a new school year is organizing the classroom learning spaces. Where should the desks go? Can everyone see the board properly? Can everyone move around the room easily?

While I take a great deal of time thinking about the physical objects, I don't always spend as much time thinking of display areas in my classroom and how students will learn best using the materials selected for display. However, the classroom environment truly is The Third Teacher.

As my love and appreciation of design develops, I notice teachers who make a considerable effort to consider a holistic view of classroom design. Physical space, classroom displays, learning opportunities, student preferences, and movement of people all contribute to an engaging and positive learning environment.

Flexible Learning Spaces

Effective teachers cater to a range of learning preferences in their classrooms. Jaki Graham, a grade 3 teacher, uses a combination of traditional group desk formations, standing desks, low tables with cushions, and bean bags. “I want students to be able to choose a space to work at which suits them best,” she said.

Fellow grade 3 teacher Kim Duffy experimented with stand up desks and noted how much of a difference it made to her more fidgety students. “It really helped them focus,” she explained. Nicole Tripp, who teaches grade 4, has also provided the option of stand up desks for her students.

Comfortable Furnishings

Traditionally, a comfy chair was a privilege only given to teachers. However, educators now recognize that all learners enjoy working in comfortable environments. Teachers like Anne Marie Chow, a middle school literacy coach, organize armchairs, lamps, and couches in their classrooms to make the space feel more like home.

Heather Kingston, head of grade 6, creates an inviting feel in her room by using Turkish carpets, armchairs, and bright red couches and cushions.

If you were a student in these classrooms, you would likely want to settle in some of these places!

Theme for the Year

Some teachers select a theme, which sets the tone for the classroom experience in the year ahead. Middle school English teacher Paula Guinto has taken this approach for a number of years. One academic year, her theme was “Level Up.”

Her classroom featured retro-inspired game elements, from Mario Brothers to Pac Man, and invited her students to level up their thinking. Paula shared that the theme is a chance to set the tone and allow her to focus her energies on teaching and learning.

“Big picture though, it's really an act of love. I put a lot into it because I want the kids to know that I love them. That I value their space and the time they spend in it. That they inspire me to be creative, to be a learner, and to be better in what I do. It's a way for me to say, this space is safe, that I have your back, that from the very beginning they are the priority, and we're in this together,” she said.

Middle school English and humanities teacher Miles Beasley has worked with themes for a few years. Each theme was carefully chosen to pass on a message about the year ahead to the students he teaches. One theme was Dr Seuss's book Oh the Places You'll Go, which aimed to create a sense of excitement about the first year of middle school for his grade 6 students.

One year, Miles selected another of his favorite books—Wonder, by R. J. Palacio—to set the tone. It said to students, in this place, we care about each member of our community. How we treat each other is one of the most important aspects.

His teaching partner, Trish Waszczuk, helped select some of the precepts that featured in the book to be made into large posters to inspire the students.

Student Involvement

Great teachers like to get students involved in design, rather than have it solely be a teacher-directed experience.

Middle school English teacher Jabiz Raisdana had his mentor class put together a shelf to put plants on. They planted seeds and got their hands dirty, providing a real sense of ownership in the class decor. This community building and participatory environment reflects Jabiz's approach to teaching and learning.

Miles's Wonder theme also invites student participation. He plans to kick off the year by having students make Wonder-style self-portraits using the iPad so they can create classroom ownership by contributing their images to the blank walls.

Head of grade 1 Ben Morley and his team created inviting displays that encourage student exploration and creativity in their shared pod area. Each new unit got a brand new display.

These Reggio inspired pod displays spill over into the classrooms as well, with natural wood and other materials featuring.

Living Things

There is something about having living things, such as plants, in classrooms that make them feel more real. Aside from their obvious decorative and aesthetic qualities, plants have been used as the inspiration for poetry writing and lessons on responsibility.

As a parent and a teacher, I understand the effort that goes into the decisions around classroom setup, and appreciate the care and concern it shows for our children.

Additional Resources

20 Classroom Setups that Promote Thinking

Classroom Makeovers to Engage Learners

Stephen Heppell speaks here about Space: The Final Frontier

Ewan McIntosh speaks about the 7 Spaces of Technology in School Environments

This post originally appeared on Keri-Lee Beasley's blog. It has been edited for republication.

Keri-Lee Beasley is the director of digital learning at GEMS World Academy in Switzerland. With over 18 years international teaching experience in New Zealand, England, Indonesia, and Singapore, Keri-Lee has a passion for purposefully integrating technology to enhance learning across the curriculum. A leader in the field of international education and technology, Keri-Lee has been recognized as an IB PYP Workshop Leader, a Google Certified Teacher, an Apple Distinguished Educator, and Apple Professional Developer. You can find Keri-Lee on her blog and on Twitter @klbeasley.

Administrative Solutions Academic Achievement 21st Century Themes Reading/English/Language Arts

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Kim Carroll
Sep 12, 2017 at 2:58:09 pm

Pretty upscale--- now teachers can spend their hard earned money on couches, chairs, pillows, bookshelves in addition to pencils, paper, glue sticks. Clearly an upscale neighborhood school or PTA support--

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