What really makes a classroom environment? As the prospect of having my very own class draws ever closer, I thought I would look into the different features a standard classroom can have and what makes them effective.
Group tables: are they effective?
All the classrooms I have seen on placements have tables in groups in order to encourage group work and while I have witnessed first-hand the effectiveness this has on collaboration, I do wonder if this layout is used to best meet the needs of the pupils or if it’s merely “the done thing”. Ultimately, classroom organisation should be child-centred where the different needs are considered and what seating arrangements will help maximise the learning of that particular group of children (Weigle, n. d.).
One disadvantage of groups of tables is that the teacher may be unable to see everything that takes place and there can be more opportunities for off-task behaviour, particularly if pupils become distracted by those at their table (Hallahan, 2017).
Table Rows: traditional and irrelevant?
Are table rows really a thing of the past when research has identified their effectiveness in developing individual work and more focused learners? Hallahan (2017) promotes the value table rows has on learning as this layout can set clear expectations to the pupils that they are there to learn and provides easy access for the teacher to spot off-task behaviour and low-level bullying that can go unchecked in group table settings. And what about group work? Well, depending on the particular classroom, tables can be moved to support this, pairs can turn round and work with the pairs behind them or pupils can use other spaces in the classroom for collaborative group work. Flexibility is key.
Chairs in Circle
This was a strategy I was not aware of until it was discussed in a recent tutorial. It can involve a common main area in the classroom with chairs formed in a circle where teaching inputs, activities and group-work takes place. This is often followed by the pupils being set to task at their tables which are located along the outer edges of the room with the pupils facing the walls for independent work (Teaching English, 2009).
This classroom layout involves group tables nestled in corners with pupils facing the wall in order to maximise focus in learning (Teaching English, 2009). It may pose problematic where the pupils have limited vision in terms of teaching time, however it could be used as an extra feature of the classroom where groups of pupils at a time can use it for independent/ collaborative work in addition to another seating arrangement (such as table rows or the horseshoe).
I would be very interested in seeing the effectiveness of this classroom arrangement in my own class, particularly as Weigle (n.d.) identifies the positives this has in her own classroom. It can promote flow, where the teacher is able to move easily between whiteboard and supporting pupils with their work. I also liked the use of the carpet area within the space where the pupils sit for discussion or collaborative work and use clipboards to aid writing (Weigle, n.d.).
Where should the teacher’s desk be? Weigle (n.d.) suggests that this should be the last arrangement in classroom organisation and planning and that it should not be located in the area that is the main focal point of the room. During our tutorial discussion, it was pointed out that this gives the children more ownership over their environment, particularly when their learning space is the first thing they see when they come in in the morning.
So what is the best layout for our classrooms?
Ultimately it is the layout that best meets the needs of the learners and as each class is different the same should be true of the classroom’s “blueprint”. The question is whether we base our seating plan on the needs of the children or simply because everyone else is doing it…
A Positive Ethos
Naturally, classroom environment is dependent on the stage of the class as well as the group of children themselves, so it is important to keep it flexible and change it up until you get it right. And to involve them in the planning process gives them ownership of their learning environment and might just instill in them a positive sense of achievement.
In my current placement school, the children in the class with ASN have a ‘calm area’ where they can go to allow themselves time to reflect and refocus. As I see the effectiveness this space has on these children’s particular needs, I am keen to try this in my own practice ensuring that it is used effectively (with expectations as to its use clearly outlined to the class) and purposefully (if indeed the pupils with ASN would benefit from it).
Ultimately, classroom environment is what your classroom says about you as a teacher. How you create it is determined on whether or not it is based on the needs of the children and their own respect for it is determined by how much they have been encouraged to keep it tidy and their involvement in its design.
Classroom environment is an important part of pedagogy and it can have a positive impact on learning and teaching. I am eager to try out these different classroom layouts in my own practice in order to see what will work most effectively in future classes. It has also opened my awareness of the importance of pupil-ownership and the values of care, trust and respect, I as the teacher, can promote and use to create a positive and thriving learning environment.
So, in conclusion, when setting up your new classroom always remember to:
- Be thoughtful
- Be flexible and open to change
- Be child-centered!
BBC ACTIVE (n.d.) How does the classroom environment affect learning? Available at: http://www.bbcactive.com/BBCActiveIdeasandResources/TheImpactOfClassroomEnvironmentOnLearning.aspx (Accessed: 18.01.18)
Moyles, J. R. (2007) Beginning Teaching, Beginning Learning. Maidenhead: Oxford University Press.
Hallahan, G. (2017) ‘Keep your horseshoes and radial groups. I’ll stick to rows – they’re better for learning’. Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/keep-your-horseshoes-and-radial-groups-ill-stick-rows-theyre-better (Accessed: 25.01.18)
National Autism Resources (n.d.) How to Set Up an Autism Classroom. Available at: https://www.nationalautismresources.com/how-to-set-up-an-autism-classroom/ (Accessed: 25.01.18)
Teaching English (2009) Classroom Layout. Available at: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/classroom-layout (Accessed: 25.01.18)
Weigle, B. (n.d.) Creating an Effective Classroom Setup. Available at: https://classroomcaboodle.com/teacher-resource/classroom-setup/ (Accessed: 25.01.18)