For the past three years, I have been very interested classroom layout, and how that plays out in student learning. During my Masters Program, a professor briefly mentioned the effect a physical layout can have. Recently, I was asked to help a teacher reorganize her room to remove the pods and place the tables against the wall (so students do not work with or even look at each other). It created a more “ordered” environment, but at the same time reduced student interaction and cooperation.
When I was first learning to teach, the classroom layout was something that I never considered to be important to my instruction. As I have continued to grow in my practice, it is overwhelmingly clear that classroom layout and lighting can play a significant role in how students work in class and the atmosphere in the classroom. My first classroom was laid out in traditional rows. After my first year teaching, I wanted more cooperative learning in my classroom and went with a “U” shaped design. The following year I had a circular layout. Now I am quite content with small groups at islands. Over the years my classroom layout grew as I grew in my practice and comfort with students.
In my current school, I see this same metamorphosis in our younger teachers. Each teacher has worked with different classroom layouts to try to incorporate more blended learning and group work. This takes many forms, but almost all of the classroom layouts were in a circular shape with islands for students to work at. In my experience from classroom observations in the building this layout leads to classroom management problems. As each teacher grows into a cooperative classroom culture, they need to grow into a layout that is conducive to their own teaching style.
The thing that stands out to me more than anything else is a sense that the traffic patterns of each room have not been analyzed by the teachers who are using them. It takes considerable time for teachers to circle the rooms that I observed. Students have picked up on this as they know that they can misbehave for several minutes before the teacher will arrive to discipline them. This is great oversight as it doesn’t allow teachers to have easy access to the classroom which then decreases teacher oversight and facilitation.
I believe that one of the things that is often overlooked in observations and professional development is the way that classroom layout effects instruction. In my district and my school in particular, no attention is given to layout and classroom function (unless it is in a horrible state of disarray). I feel that classroom layout is something that should be overtly taught to pre-service and in-service teachers. Without a coherent vision and purpose to the layout of the learning environment, the classroom will not succeed.