Arranging the Classroom
Arranging a Positive Learning Environment that Meets the Learning Needs of Students, the Philosophy of the Teacher, the Content Area of the Classroom and the Age of the Student
Although we usually think of classroom management as the placement of furniture and desks for instruction, the classroom is also the setting for social interactions of making friends, learning to follow classroom procedures, and other administrative activities. The classroom is also the setting for developing six basic functions of social interactions: security and shelter, social contact, symbolic identification, task instrumentality, pleasure, and growth. This framework provides a way for analyzing the elements of classroom arrangement (Weinstein, 2003). Before the school year begins, one task that faces teachers is that of arranging the classroom to maximize instruction, to meet the needs for social interactions, and to provide an organized and efficient learning environment. New teachers face an amazing number of factors in classroom arrangement. Teachers must deal with things like the placement of furniture in the classroom, the classroom dimensions of the room, placement of students' desks, the placement of the teacher's desk, window location in the classroom, electrical and computer outlets, bookcases, shelving, and many others. Finding a place to start begins with a review of one's personal philosophy and setting up the classroom to reflect those beliefs. For example, if the teacher's philosophy includes students working together in groups, the desks or tables in the classroom should reflect that belief. According to Evertson (2006), teacher reflection on the following questions helps to focus on the factors that contribute to the arrangement of the classroom and the kinds of activities that take place in the classroom:
- What instruction activities will take place in the classroom? Considerations include age of the student, the subject area, learning activities, the physical restraints of the actual classroom, and the furniture.
- What materials will students need for instructional activities? Many materials will be shared among students and certain activities will need special arrangements.
- Does your class have students with special needs?
- How much movement is necessary to meet the academic needs of students?
- Will students need special materials like reference materials or computers?
- How flexible is the classroom arrangement? Will it change during the day or the class period or will it remain the same for the entire day (Evertson & Emmer, 2009)?
The decisions that a teacher makes will impact the success of instructional activities and how smoothly students flow from one area to the next during that instruction. Problems with the storage of materials can cause students to bottle-neck in certain areas as students secure supplies. When this occurs, there are opportunities for students to interact inappropriately and disrupt the learning activities. The way that the classroom is arranged sends a message to students about how the teacher expects students to interact in the classroom. If teachers line the desks in rows facing the front of the classroom, the focus is probably on the teacher, the overhead, or the white board. If the desks are grouped in clusters or pods, the teacher probably expects students to talk to each other and solve problems together. Arranging the classroom is not an easy task because it is a matter of accommodating 20 to 30 students and the teacher for as much as seven hours each day. This process can be simplified by considering the "Five Keys to Good Room Arrangement".
- Make classroom arrangement consistent with one's personal goals and activities. Align arrangement of the classroom to reflect personal ideas of how a teacher teaches and how children learn.
- Keep high traffic areas free from congestion. The areas of the classroom where students tend to congregate or use frequently can be problem area for students and for the teacher. The pencil sharpener, the trash can, the water fountain, bookshelves and other high-use areas should be separated from each other and have enough space for students to move around easily.
- Be sure that the students can be seen easily by the teacher. Monitoring by the teacher is critical to good classroom management. A teacher should make sure that students are visible at all times and that the teacher's view is not compromised by bookshelves, filing cabinets, or other classroom furniture. Check for blind spots when a decision is made regarding placement.
- Keep frequently used teaching materials and student supplies readily accessible. Teachers who organize materials for students and for themselves save valuable instructional time, have an easier time preparing for instruction, and avoid "down-time" that provides opportunities for off-task behavior or distractions.
- Be certain students can easily see whole-class presentations and displays. Teachers who plan where they will provide instruction and where students will sit during the process maximize time in instruction activities and reduce time students are unfocused or inattentive (Emmer, Evertson, & Worsham, 2006).
One additional consideration in classroom management is the use of the wall and bulletin board space for seasonal and instruction presentations. Students tend to lose interest in materials on the wall after a few days, so rotate materials or make the bulletin boards interactive so that they maintain student focus. Seasonal displays should be used for special occasions and never remain displayed after the season has passed (Evertson & Emmer, 2009).
Reviewing the keys to good room arrangement will help the teacher design a plan that meets the philosophy of the teacher, that considers the placement of essential materials to maximize learning opportunities, and that meets the requirements of special needs students (Emmer et al., 2006).