It may be hard to believe, but our summer vacation is coming to a close, and it is already time to start thinking about heading back to the classroom.
With a new year comes a chance to try new tactics, including how to set up the classroom for maximum responsivity from students.
In fact, starting off the school year with a well designed classroom will set your students up for success. A study conducted by The University of Salford concluded that the environment of a classroom affected learning and academic progress by as much as 25%.
However, with overcrowding and budget cuts, it can be difficult for teacher to create their dream classroom for successful students.
Make use of what you’ve got!
Decide what seating arrangement supports your teaching style
Most math classrooms are interactive. Practicing math concepts is just as important as seeing them demonstrated at the front of the class. That’s why knowing what your main teaching style will be throughout the year will affect your classroom set up.
Design specialist, Trudie Lawrence from Envoplan, states, “A successful classroom design needs to strike the balance between the teaching method and learning styles that take place in the class.”
Plan ahead to make sure that you have:
- Room for yourself to walk around between student desks. You’ll need to get down beside a student often to help out on their own paper and show them things one-on-one.
- Space between desks and aisles for students to easily walk up to the board. It’s great to have students come up and work beside you or one another to share different methods, go over homework together, and show work where everyone else can see.
- Plenty of blank board space. Don’t clutter it up with posters, decorations, etc. You’ll want as much room as possible for as many students to work at the board as you can fit. I’ve sometimes had the entire class up working with dry erase markers at the board when I could fit them all!
Desk clusters are great to inspire more interaction between students for group work and peer assistance. Teenagers are peer driven and setting up desks into groups gives them a personal experience for interactions. Plus, students often benefit from helping one another practice and discuss questions they have about math concepts. Teamwork can be a great way to deepen learning and strengthen your students' grasp on the lesson.
A grouped setup of desks works well for collaboration on relays, team sorting activities, and critical thinking tasks.
As with all classroom setups, there are some drawbacks to clusters. They can create a loud environment and possibly be distracting for some students. Also, some students rely on the strongest student and only copy their work, turning into a social loafer of the group. However, these can often be avoided by moving students around as needed and making sure students also have to complete individual tasks and assessments. Be sure to separate them for tests and quizzes.
- Make the most of your room
Unfortunately a lot classrooms don’t have an overabundance of space to work with, so you have to make the most of the space that you do have. You want to make sure everyone can see the board and hear instructions clearly. Plus, it’s best to have the classroom set up so that everyone can walk around easily with as little disturbance as possible. Find arrangements that will maximize your area while creating an inviting environment.
- Minimize distractions
Try to have desks arranged so that possible distractions are not in students' direct line of sight. Don’t have seats that face windows, hallways, or even the pencil sharpener. All of these can easily distract a student from the lesson. Clutter can also be very distracting in a classroom setting. A few clever storage tricks can make classroom supplies easy to access and less of a mess.
- Keep the motivation in the classroom
Even if you have created the best syllabus ever and have a great idea for your setup, it doesn’t mean that the classroom should stay the same the whole year. Be flexible in the arrangement and re-arrange it as necessary. The classroom will change as you get to know your students' learning styles. It will also change as they grow and improve their knowledge in the subject.
If you’ve noticed your classroom getting “stale,” include the students in helping re-create the environment. Teenagers thrive on being included in decisions that affect their everyday life. Allowing them to be a part of making the classroom new will give them a sense of community and empowerment.
It is exciting, but also tiring to try to figure out how you want your classroom to look and run. But with a little thought and maybe some trial and error, you’ll find exactly what works best for you and your students.
Try something, and be open to switching it up as you learn what does not work for your students (or you!)
Not sure what classroom setup you want to use this fall? Check out this fun and useful Class Setup Tool from Scholastic. You can play around with desk layouts without all the heavy lifting with this interactive virtual tool.
- Keep decorations minimal
I’m not one to over-clutter the walls. Some people like to decorate ceilings, desks, walls, and even floors! I believe that everything should have a purpose. Try using student-created posters as decoration that doubles as a reference.
You can even blow up and post the kids’ favorite doodle notes in poster-sized format.
For bulletin boards, try something that doubles as a math challenge or is purposeful. You can display something like:
We’d love to hear from you on this too! What is your favorite classroom setup tip for other middle and high school teachers? Let us know in the comments below.