Chris Mumford is the PR Content Manager for Western Governors University (WGU).
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The first time I walked into a classroom with flexible seating, I was intrigued. There were stability balls and stand-up desks, and students were sitting on bean bags chairs and milk crates. This is when I realized how far our education system has come. The traditional classroom setting is changing, at least in some school systems, and classroom design has become a major focus.
How you structure your classroom design can impact not only the way you teach but also the way your students learn. In fact, researchers at the University of Salford Manchester found that classroom design can actually boost learning for students. According to the results of the study, the physical characteristics of a classroom can affect how successful your class is.
Further reading: Get a Clutter-Free Classroom the Kon-Mari Way
For instance, if you have a traditional classroom setup with all the desks facing forward in rows, students may not have the ability to easily participate in group work. Arranging the desks in groups or using tables can help your students collaborate. This can also make a difference in how students see the board and communicate with their peers.
Students also tend to perform better when the environmental factors are to their preference. With that in mind, try to provide spaces in your classroom that are well-lit and areas that are dim. If you can't adjust the room temperature, allow students who are always hot to sit by the windows, and encourage students who are always cold to bring an extra sweater to school.
Today's classrooms educators have found that students work better and longer when they are comfortable. But is there a classroom layout that works better than others? I considered the three most popular designs to see for myself.
A spin on the traditional classroom layout, this design places two desks together in the classic row format. This allows students to collaborate with their peers easily. However, like the traditional classroom layout, the students in the back usually get left out. Research suggests that clustered desks are effective when you want students to interact with one another, and if students are working on individual assignments, seats should be arranged to minimize peer interaction. Luckily, this layout is easy enough to adjust by just pulling the desks apart.
In this design, students' desks are butted up against one another in either a half-circle shape that faces the front of the classroom or a complete circle. This creates a sense of community where all students are free to actively participate. It also allows the teacher to see and speak to all students. Many middle school and high school classrooms utilize this setup because it helps motivate students to participate. However, this design may make shy students uncomfortable, and if the whole circle arrangement is implemented, it can be difficult to ensure that every student can see any visuals you may use.
Instead of classic desks, this design uses stand-up desks or tables. Instead of chairs, students sit on stability balls with feet, wobble seats, crates, mats, or bean bag chairs. The ability for students to bounce or move around in their seats while working can help oxygen flow to the brain, which is a great way to increase their energy and focus. But you'd need access to enough seating options to allow students to choose which seat works best for them, and if you work in a school system that can't afford to implement flexible seating, this design option may not be the best choice for you (unless you want to pay out of pocket, which I wouldn't recommend).
I've found flexible seating to be the most effective. My son struggled for years to sit still in school, and it wasn't until this year, when his teacher offered stand-up desks and stability balls, that he was finally able to concentrate and excel. The ability to choose which seat he uses for each subject has motivated him to participate more.
Further reading: How to Organize Your Classroom
At the end of the day, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to how you arrange your classroom. What works for one teacher may not work for others. With classroom design's proven effect on learning and teaching, it's important to find the best layout for you and your students. Who knows; you may even invent a new layout that, much like flexible seating, shakes things up.