Deciphering Classroom Layout

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Whether it’s your first year teaching or retirement is on the horizon, picking a classroom layout is always one of the first things to consider when designing a classroom. There are so many variables to consider

  • Age of students
  • Size of classroom
  • Number of desks
  • How much flexible seating
  • The layout of the projector, class phone, etc.

The list goes on and on. It may be a bit of trial and error to get it right, but the perfect classroom layout is everything when it comes to efficiency in the classroom.

Do you share a classroom with another teacher? Is it a blank canvas for your own design? Are your hands tied (some classrooms, the desks are literally screwed to the floor)?

All of these factors need to be taken into consideration in your overall vision of how your room will look upon completion.

Group of Young Students Studying together, High View

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What do you want to achieve with your classroom layout?

When someone walks into your classroom, the first thing they notice is how things are laid out. It says a lot about your teaching style, expectations on student participation, and your teaching philosophy.

You may not get to choose your actual classroom, but you do have the option of optimizing it as much as possible for what you want to achieve within those walls.

If you plan to embrace student-centered learning, as you should if you want your students to achieve at the highest possible level, then there needs to be flexibility in the arrangement of the seating.

students huddled around one another, working on a project

If students are working on an assignment where they need to collaborate, there has to be an option to do so efficiently. If they need to work on something independently, is there a way for them to do that in a physical position that is optimal for him or her? What about if you need to work with a small group on a topic while the other students are working…is there space for that?

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These are questions to ask for any grade level, not just elementary. I would go as far as to argue that it is even more important to have concrete answers to these questions at the high school level than any other one.

In “A Passion for Progress: Becoming a 100% Student-Centered Educator”, there is actually an extensive discussion of a way to take the dimensions, furniture, etc. in your classroom and working them digitally on a computer until you have something that seems like it will work.

This takes away the labor-intensive option of just moving items around your room until you find something that fits. You’re exhausted as it is trying to prepare for your students. Don’t expel more energy than you have to!

The Research Behind Classroom Seating

Believe it or not, a lot of extensive research has been done over the past several decades to determine if the layout of a classroom truly makes a difference in student learning.

When the concept of the traditional classroom was created, with rows of seating where everything was done as if in an assembly line, we were an industrial society, preparing our students for the assembly line.

FACTORY WORKERS

We aren’t doing that anymore. We are putting Generation Z at such a disservice if we do (and here’s why).

In 2011, Amanda Careena Fernandes, M.ed., Jinyan Huang, Ph.D., and Vince Rinaldo, Ph.D. of Niagra University studied seating arrangements and their effect on student achievement. You can read the results of the study here. After their study they concluded:

The classroom environment is a very diverse and highly dynamic setting. Teacher perceptions about students are
often influenced by the conditions which are presented to them. One of the most obvious and constant factors is that of
seating location. In turn, students’ seating locations are greatly affected by the seating arrangements provided to them.

Fernandes, A. C., Huang, J., & Rinaldo, V. (2011). Does where a student sits really matter? The impact of seating locations on student classroom learning. International Journal of Applied Educational Studies, 10(1), 66-77.

They legitimately proved that student achievement is directly affected by an efficient, well-thought-out classroom layout.

Even more recently in 2016, Mariola C. Gremmen, Yvonne H. M. van den Berg, Eliane Segers, and Antonius H. N. Cillessen completed a study titled, “Considerations for classroom seating arrangements and the role of teacher characteristics and beliefs“.

This article focused heavily on classroom management and the effect a seating arrangement has on student achievement.

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This article is amazing because it takes into account all the different factors and variables in play for our classrooms on a daily basis…factors that weren’t issues when our predecessors were in the classroom.

The compiled all the data they found with these factors in mind and concluded that:

“Using more well-considered seating arrangements can improve students behavior and learning. It can thus be concluded that teachers need to become more conscious about seating arrangements as an important part of classroom management. Teachers need to be informed about the possibly preventive and intervening effects of a seating arrangement on students’ academic and social behaviors. It can be a helpful tool for teachers, who have the difficult task to place all students in the classroom. In addition, it can help teachers in achieving the goals they have to achieve within their education nowadays.”

Gremmen, M. C., van den Berg, Y. H., Segers, E., & Cillessen, A. H. (2016). Considerations for classroom seating arrangements and the role of teacher characteristics and beliefs. Social Psychology of Education, 19(4), 749-774.

Educational researchers are now taking note of what classroom teachers are saying (often exasperated) about the needs of our classrooms and what we have to work with.

And they’re agreeing with us through research and careful observation.

Designing Your Classroom Layout

As fantastic as it would be to have some type of formula to know exactly what your individual classroom needs, it’s just not plausible.

Every single class that walks into our rooms are unique. You know how different the dynamic of students can be from one class to the next. Our rooms need to reflect that.

On that note, here are some ideas to keep in mind:

  1. Students need to move. There is so much research about why our students today need more movement in the classroom than generations before them (and it’s a bit alarming, to be honest). We need to make sure we consider that when coming up with a classroom design (and yes, that includes every grade level).
  2. No two students learn the same way. Think of yourself. You may work well sitting at a desk…or you may work better sitting on your couch. Our students are no different. Consider looking into some inexpensive flexible seating options to help facilitate this (ad).
  3. You may not get it quite right the first time…and that’s okay! I can’t tell you how many times I think I’ve gotten my classroom layout perfect for the first day of school, and then I realize that it’s just not quite right for my students. Tweak as you go!
  4. If you’re still struggling to wrap your head around this, feel free to check out A Passion for Progress: Becoming a 100% Student-Centered Educator. (You can use the code “LAYOUT” to save 20%). It will guide you, step-by-step, through this entire process.

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