In a recent article published on the website edutopia, teacher and educational journalist Mark Phillips discussed the subject of the physical environment of classrooms.
Detailing his experience of working with a school, Phillips recalled the teacher’s frustration at the lack of engagement from her pupils. He visited the class and found that, ‘it was in the unfinished basement of an old school – cement floors and walls, ceiling-to-floor poles throughout the room. It was more like an interrogation chamber than a classroom.’
After a few weeks of redecoration, new carpeting, walls showcasing photos and paintings, the environment was transformed and so too the motivation of the pupils. This might be an extreme example – not every classroom needs such an overhaul – but the morale of the story remains true. How can pupils and children be expected to be inspired and stimulated if the classroom they inhabit is poorly constructed?
Arranging classroom furniture needs thought – how can teachers maximise the space to ensure children are comfortable, happy and enthusiastic? How can they make it a place they want to be in, and stay in? Here are a few tips.
Don’t seat children in rows – those sitting in the front can’t interact with those positioned behind them, unless they turn around, which can lead to disruption. Putting chairs in rows is fine for a college lecture but not a vibrant primary school class, for example. Instead, to foster an atmosphere of community, organise smaller desks so that a maximum of four pupils can be seated and see each other at all times. This encourages interaction.
Make sure there is sufficient room around each desk arrangement, enough for pupils to walk past comfortably. This is a must for safety reasons – to avoid any collisions with desks, or tripping over of table legs – but also so that the teacher can stroll around each group throughout the class. Remove any potential obstacles. Walkways are important.
Traditionally, the teacher’s desk has always been placed at the front of the classroom. This way, the teacher can see each and every pupil easily. But think about this for a moment. This means there will be pupils seated towards the back of the room and therefore further away from the teacher. The children in the front are more easily supervised perhaps, and can communicate more conveniently with the teacher. Maybe those at the back won’t benefit from the same level of interaction.
Instead, consider an arrangement with the teacher’s desk at the heart of the desk arrangement. Clearly, having pupils seated behind the teacher is not a good idea but to either side, and within the line of sight, works well. The perfect layout has all desks within a very similar proximity to the teacher; pupils in a ‘horseshoe’ set-up with the teacher at the centre.
The layout of desks is the main consideration when planning and arranging classroom furniture but aside from that, the teacher should also look at including other items within the space. Make room for a ‘breakout’ area, a space where children can sit together and enjoy reading time. This area could feature soft furnishings to sit on, whiteboards, and a library.
Finally, be imaginative. School classrooms don’t have to be the dull areas they perhaps were a couple of decades ago, when desks were brown or grey. Brightly coloured chairs will appeal to younger pupils, bold colours on walls too. Websites like Pinterest are great places for inspiration on classroom design.