Utilizing Classroom Design
Designed spaces have activities that are envisioned when laying out the furniture and objects that make up the area. Shopping occurs in a grocery store, so the layout is arranged in aisles with shelves that can easily be reached. On the other hand, a bank is where financial transactions take place, some at a teller’s window and some in a cubicle. Thus, the space is laid out with variable functions in mind, from waiting for a teller in a queue to waiting for a banker in a seating area. In the same way, different activities occur in different parts of the room and their layouts should mirror those intended actions.
First and foremost, each student needs a home base to call their own. The home base will be the place students use to complete independent work, where they start each day, and where they naturally gravitate to when not in a class activity (Rohrer & Samson, 2014). While this might seem obvious, its importance cannot be overstated. When students have a home base, they have a stake in the classroom and its success. They control a little part of the environment and this ownership positively affects classroom behavior and engagement.
For most classrooms, a student’s home base will be a desk, though some opt for larger tables for groups of students. Either way, there are various factors to consider when determining each student’s home base. First, some students might have some behavioral concerns that dictate the proximity of their home base to others in general or with specific students. If, for example, a student shows a proclivity toward grabbing items of others’ desks, touching them, or even darting out of the classroom unexpectedly, thought should be given to the ideal location of their home base. Also, the size and shape of the classroom, in addition to permanent fixtures such as sinks and cabinets, will dictate where desks or tables can be placed with adequate space to move about the room (Rohrer & Samson, 2014).
How the desks, if those are used for students’ home bases, directly impact how students interact with each other and the teacher. In the traditional setup, desks are placed in columns and rows. The students face the front of the room and have their backs to one another. Sometimes referred to as the sage on the stage, this configuration is useful for lecture-style classrooms. Conversely, this arrangement tends to limit student-student communication and supports a learning environment in which one person, namely, the teacher, is the one who holds all the knowledge. Also, it tends to disengage students the farther they get from the front.
Another popular arrangement, albeit one that typically requires a smaller number of desks to make it manageable, is the horseshoe or double horseshoe. The benefits of these arrangements are that some students (those on the sides) face each other and discussion is easier between students themselves and between the students and the teacher. However, most interactions are between opposite sides, so the bases of the horseshoes have no counterpart to interact with. Additionally, the double horseshoe configuration has the limitation that the inner horseshoe students have their backs to the students in the outer horseshoe.
Finally, some teachers prefer to place desks in groups of four or in pairs. When students are assigned projects or frequently work in groups/pairs, this setup is advantageous. It also communicates a learning community that expects students to collaborate and learn from each other (Classroom Seating Arrangements, 2017). Classroom expectations and behavior management, however, require careful maintenance when desks are grouped together. Discussion, whether on-task or off-task, is greatly increased and the ambient volume is generally higher than in classrooms with a traditional arrangement. Some teachers prefer to start the year with rows and columns to help create a more stable, quiet environment and later choose to rearrange the desks into groups or pairs to transition to a more cooperative learning environment (Classroom Design and Layout (Guide), n.d.).
Parts of the Room
Other than home base, which is of primary importance in arranging the classroom, there are other areas that should be considered based on the grade level and content of the class. Most elementary classrooms include a small group area, sometimes with a horseshoe or rectangular table, that is used primarily for reteaching with individual or small groups of students. The small group area should have writing materials and physical manipulatives as needed.
In primary classrooms (grades PK - 2), a whole group area is utilized for interactive lessons delivered to all students simultaneously (Rohrer & Samson, 2014). Typically centered around a large rug, since that is more comfortable than sitting on linoleum tiles, the whole group area often is placed near the main whiteboard or video display to easily facilitate teaching demonstrations. This space is designed to be more collaborative and not for independent work, since students will most likely not have anything to write with or on in this space. Rather, the teacher uses this area to deliver content and ask questions, encouraging student discussion and the development of oral language. This space should also have access to writing materials, manipulatives, and anything else needed for demonstration.
The other essential area is a teacher work area. Usually a larger office desk, the teacher work area is a place to plan, check emails, grade papers, and take care of the general needs of the classroom. This space should be fairly small and ensure an open view of the room. Nothing should impede the ability of the teacher to scan all parts of the room from their work area (Rohrer & Samson, 2014).
While most rooms have other parts, such as a sink, lab area, or classroom library, they are dependent upon the grade level and subject of the classroom. When setting up or rearranging their rooms, teachers can use the following questions to reflect on their design (Earp, 2017; Rohrer & Samson, 2014; Tom, 2019).
How many students do I have?
What furniture is available?
How do I need to structure my desks?
Do I need various sizes of chairs and desks to accommodate my students in order for them to sit with their feet flat on the floor, knees bent at a 90° angle, and elbows resting on the desktop for writing?
Do any of my students need a work area for part of their day that is separate from other students?
What safety or medical issues should I consider?
Where are the electrical outlets and the network drops?
What information do my students need to know (e.g., date, assignment, classroom procedures)?
Where are math, reading, and other academics taught?
Does there appear to be an area for whole group instruction? If not, should there be?
Where are the individual work areas?
Where does small group instruction take place?
What education artifacts do the students need (e.g., word walls, literacy resources, bulletin boards, anchor charts)?
Is this the best use of this space?
Does the way I’m using this space contribute to the success of my students?
What will inspire my students every day (e.g., quotes, posters, awards)?
Where will I display student work?
What does my classroom look like from a student’s perspective?
Does every desk have a clear view of the board/video display?
Classroom Design and Layout (Guide). (n.d.). Classroom Design and Layout (Guide). https://www.educationcorner.com/classroom-design-layout.html
Classroom Seating Arrangements. (2017, May 8). Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/ClassroomSeatingArrangements
Earp, J. (2017, March 16). Classroom layout – what does the research say? - Teacher Magazine. Teacher Magazine. https://www.teachermagazine.com/sea_en/articles/classroom-layout-what-does-the-research-say
Rohrer, M. W., & Samson, N. M. (2014, March 17). 10 Critical Components for Success in the Special Education Classroom.
Tom, T. (2019, May 3). Classroom Management for an Effective Learning Environment - TeachHUB. TeachHUB. https://www.teachhub.com/classroom-management/2019/05/classroom-management-for-an-effective-learning-environment/