I talk to a lot of educators about their thoughts around pedagogy and if their ideas align with their school’s overall culture. Unsurprisingly, almost every teacher I speak to is very clear that the previous century’s classroom layout really isn’t conducive for engaged, interactive learning.
But all too often the overall culture of a school makes it difficult for many teachers to be able to move away from that old school image. The common reasons given are lack of time and lack of budget. Which may be another way of saying ‘addressing the classroom environment isn’t a top priority for us right now’. This can be a cause of great frustration to those educators who understand or have experienced first hand, that the very environment that students spend the majority of their time in really does impact their attitude to learning, their focus and engagement levels, the skills they gain and ultimately their success.
These conversations are welcome and powerful because although change is happening, there are still some mindset issues that are slowing it down. There’s an assumption that these kinds of changes need significant time and money, when really they need leadership, commitment, and some direction. So let’s address what’s tangibly possible, starting from where you are right now. Ultimately what we’re talking about is making learning environments student-centered rather than teacher-centered, and this really doesn’t involve seismic change.
This is what I’ve learned over the years from educators directly and seen backed by research.
Be more deliberate about furniture configuration
Have the flexibility to create both independent learning spaces and collaborative work areas with in your classroom. Options would be to move desks around, possibly against a wall for independent learning, or positioning them together to form a collaborative workspace.
Allow room for movement
Studies show that optimal learning happens when students are able to move. Try classroom configurations that allow ease of movement between different areas, so students can discover how they learn best. Or think about introducing standing desks. Make sure everyone has enough table space for their books or laptops so no-one is cramped.
Think about ditching the teacher desk
This may seem radical, but this should be one of the first items to consider removing when creating a student-centered learning environment. This idea of educators not having a set desk allows for a more student-centered collaborative style of teaching – and it’s also a less hierarchical approach.
Utilize multi-purpose tables
If removing the large teacher desk isn’t an option, think about how it could be moved or repurposed instead to support a vision for a student-centered learning environment. Rectangular tables or extra desks, if they’re available and uncluttered, can be used for designated spaces, like collaborative or creative work.
Create clear sight-lines
Teachers and students should be able to see everyone in the classroom. That may sound like an easy task in an open classroom, but projector carts, columns, or bookshelves can all present visual barriers. Ensuring a clear line of sight across the room is a way of encouraging student participation, especially during group discussions. When possible, having natural light or views of the outside surroundings – particularly of nature – is highly beneficial to keep students calm and focused.
There really is no prescribed method in which a classroom should be set up, it doesn’t need to look a certain way; overall flexibility is key. This is where modular furniture can be a great advantage to aiding flexibility, meeting students’ different needs and finding successful workable solutions. The best approach is to try things out and regularly reassess the changes to see what is and isn’t working. Ask your students! They can have incredible insights and be full of surprises.
By Bridgitte Alomes. Founder and CEO of Natural Pod – Originally posted on LinkedIn