How your classroom is organised can have a serious impact on how you teach, and how your pupils learn. The lines of tables many classrooms and schools have as the default layout is not necessarily always the most conducive to learning.
Classroom setup can mean moving the physical furniture around, putting up or changing displays, or rearranging how the children themselves are seated around the classroom or grouped together. Changing these aspects of your classroom can impact the curiosity of your pupils, their engagement with the lesson, creativity, wellbeing, motivation, and ultimately student outcomes.
Whilst classrooms arranged in the traditional layout of rows of desks facing the teacher’s desk facilitate good organisation, paper passing, textbook/laptop use, and ‘sit and listen’ teaching, some studies have shown that this layout hinders collaboration between students and discussion.
If your classroom allows for it, you can rearrange the furniture, displays, and groupings of pupils to the benefit of everyone, improving happiness and outcomes for everyone.
As a teacher (with limited time and resources) how can you incorporate alternative classroom setups into your everyday career?
Think about how the subject you teach can be influenced by your classroom setup, and how flexible you can be with the layout and decoration of the classroom. For example, in an ICT classroom, computers and their desks will need to be the focus and will be difficult or impossible to move – in an arts classroom, however, you’ll have more room to be creative with wall displays.
Consider what resources your pupils will need to use. If your lesson relies heavily on the use of textbooks, you will require desk space for your pupils, but discussion-led learning may benefit from a layout which does away with desks altogether. In this instance, consider putting the tables around the edges of the classroom and the chairs in a circle in the middle to create a fun and stimulating discussion environment.
Also ask yourself – do the students need to see each other during the lesson? Do they need to work in groups? Working in groups can be better facilitated with nested tables, and students can see each other better when the students are in a horseshoe-shaped configuration. If you will be using the board, you will need to make sure all students can see it in whatever configuration you use. Try sitting in different seats around the classroom, and think about how effective your teaching will be from different seats.
If you have a group of students who will be working on a separate task to the rest of the class, they could benefit from a nested group of tables to work without distraction from the other students.
When you are considering the physical layout of your classroom, make sure you think about the requirements of the SEND students in your class. An autistic student, for example, might have an established preferred place to sit, and changing it without notice could cause distress. You could section off an area of the classroom with bookshelves to provide a quiet “time out” space when needed, for students who are sensitive to stimuli. If your class has children with physical disabilities, you will need to rearrange your classroom with access in mind.
A dull classroom can make your pupils bored and unstimulated, and decorating the walls with bright displays will make your classroom a more engaging environment for the children in your class. Basic learning displays which are age appropriate for your students can assist in learning, but be careful not to make your walls distractingly cluttered. You should also leave space for the children to make the classroom their own by hanging their work throughout the year.
Find the balance with your decorations and reap the rewards. “A balanced layout with wall displays” can increase student progress by 23%.
Aside from the furniture and decoration, you should also take the general environment of the classroom into account. Think about the temperature, light, and air quality. Something as simple as opening a window can have huge effects on your pupils’ learning and reduce behavioural issues by making the environment more comfortable.
Don’t be afraid of asking your pupils for suggestions about the setup of your classroom. Letting students become a part of the process gives them a sense of ownership and community in their learning, and gives you insight into how your pupils like to learn.
The layout of your classroom tells your new students about your teaching style and philosophy. A more open and creative space tells them that you are an approachable teacher, so don’t be afraid to make changes!