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Classroom Arrangement

By: PEAK Learning Systems
How your classroom is arranged can have a big effect on your ability to effectively manage your class. This article discusses some ideas you should keep in mind as you set up your classroom.

This page talks about how you deal with the aspect of classroom SPACE, in other words, how you choose to use the space allocated for your teaching area.

There are many variables here. Many new teachers must share space, some poor souls have nothing but a wandering cart and go from classroom to classroom. Elementary teachers have different activity centers and types of tables or student desks than secondary teachers. Subject matter makes a difference, too.

Research on this subject seems to be limited, although it would seem to be an area of interest to new teachers and teachers interested in maximizing their effectiveness. After all, there's no college course on how to arrange your classroom. Add it to the list of things you'll learn with experience.

In part, how you arrange your room depends on what furniture you have at your disposal. Are there individual student desks or long tables? An overhead projector or chalkboard? Teacher's desk and computer desk? Bookshelves? If you don't have what you want ... can you request it or bring it in yourself?

Don't be afraid to experiment or use graph paper to "play" with different classroom arrangements.

Sit in student desks after arranging your class to get a student's-eye view of the room. Fix anything that becomes distracting or inaccessible from a student's chair.

Ideas on using classroom space

  • Don't be afraid to change it based on your instructional objectives.

    When we're doing poetry, we turn the desks toward the window and become inspired by nature; when we're doing small group work we move the desks into "flowers" of 4-5 students; for full class instruction, we put desks in "chevron" shape.

  • Don't change it TOO often.

    Let the students develop some ownership of their classroom space; allow time to adjust and thrive between changes in classroom arrangement.

  • Maintain the same seating arrangement during assessment as you had during the unit itself.

    Many students make associations between where they were when they learned something and where they are when they must recall it.

  • Try the teacher's desk in back.

    This promotes a student-centered atmosphere. It also allows space to work while keeping an eye on students.

  • Try to minimize teacher "personal" effects in the room.

    Some teachers bring in a personal refrigerator, a microwave, a coffee service, a snack box, and more. What message does this send? (Besides, all that stuff is in the lounge).

Our physical setting sends messages about authority, about ownership, and dictates interaction. Arrange your classroom in a way that accurately portrays your educational philosophy and ensures that your students can move around and interact the way you'd like.

In a 1987 article, Jon Saphier and Robert Gower provide these basic space guidelines:

  • Materials students use should be visibly stored and accessible
  • There should be no dead space which promotes random or illegitimate activity
  • Arrange the room so that the teacher can monitor quickly and easily (no blind spots)
  • Use vertical space for display and learning enrichments
  • Keep active areas distinctly separate from quiet spaces
  • Keep two active areas distinctly separate to avoid distraction and interference
  • Have clear and safe traffic paths no matter how your room is arranged

Things to consider

The overall message about classroom arrangement seems to be that it should be deliberate and well-thought-out. Reflect on what you are trying to accomplish and make your space work for you rather than against you. The things to consider may include:

  • Where will you put YOUR desk? Do you even want a teacher's desk in the room?
  • Do you prefer group tables or student desks? You may or may not have a choice. It may also depend on your subject and grade level. This one takes experience to decide, and you may even change your mind from year to year.
  • What activity centers are important to you? Elementary level may have many; secondary classrooms may have a reference area, a "student organization" area (stapler, etc.), and an "information station."
  • What storage do you need? Sometimes open bookshelves are important; at other times, you can shove things in drawers.
  • Will you have space to display student work?
  • Are there safety or fire codes you need to know? Blocking doors and windows are usually against codes. There may also be a rule regarding how many square feet per child, etc.
Reprinted with permission from Peak Learning Systems, Evergreen, Colorado (www.new-teacher.com).

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