Design and Layout

The Layout of Classrooms – Connection and Flexibility

by dontregartha May 3, 2017

Flexibility allows for a range of different setups for learning to be achieved in the same space. Teachers have long facilitated multiple and diverse activities in one classroom without moving the furniture, such as group work for a literacy lesson, followed by paired work for Maths, then a ‘wet’ art session, all whilst pupils are working at the same row of desks. The Gratnells Learning Room approach encourages teachers to consider furniture that allows for multiple configurations of tables and chairs to take this one step further.

A challenge for schools, especially as learning spaces seem to be getting more compact, is ensuring that pupils and staff can navigate their way round the room easily. Having to squeeze your way past people or furniture immediately gives the feeling of being cramped and reinforces a restrictive atmosphere in the room. Getting the most out of your space in terms of agility and dynamicity is directly determined by the contents of the room and how it’s arranged.

Tables: Many schools use standard sized rectangular tables for all learning activities at every age range. The problem is these occupy a massive floor footprint in every room and immediately restrict the classroom’s overall usable area. The surface area of these desks is often unnecessarily large anyway. Often the tables are also so deep that a third of the space is barely used as pupils cannot reach this far, and when pushed together in clusters the issue multiplies; an expanse of dead space sits in the middle of the group working together, meaning conversations need to be louder. As a result more schools are radically rethinking what they want furniture to be able to do before they purchase it.

One classroom can contain different types of tables, configured in different ways for different activities. Independent work, group work, or pair work should have a dedicated furniture and seating layout strategy to support them. Once implemented by the teacher and known to pupils, interchange between activities can be managed quickly and efficiently, with the entire class working together to achieve this.

More furniture suppliers are increasingly developing ranges of tables of different shapes and sizes; often smaller than before. Rectangular tables, for example, do not just come in one standard size for schools, but can be bought in narrower widths. As well as aiding different learning activities, smaller tables have the benefit of increasing the circulation area in the classroom, giving more floor space without compromising surface areas used for learning and working. Tables are also becoming more lightweight than before, and therefore easier to move for both teachers and pupils.

Chairs: More schools are at last recognising that the quality of the chair that pupils sit on all day is extremely important. Young pupils are not designed to sit still all day: the more uncomfortable the chair, the more they fidget; and the more they fidget, the more they get distracted from learning.
As such, more companies are producing ergonomically designed chairs for schools, often in a range of colours and sizes depending on pupils’ height. Others are designing chairs specifically adapted to the growing body, which allow pupils to flex and move as part of the chair design. They literally give the pupil permission to stretch, rock and fidget while learning and working. This results in greater concentration and longer periods of work.

ICT Devices: The choices are endless with the growing range of technology devices available to schools, whether it’s laptops, chromebooks or tablets. For a number of years, laptops have been stored and transported using heavy trolleys, shared between more than on class. But in many schools this is already outdated.

Shared equipment, especially in ICT, often results in frustrations and failures. When no one actually ‘owns’ the kit, no one has responsibility for it. So when it arrives for use during a carefully planned lesson, laptops have not been charged or keys are missing. This results in frustration for staff, wasted time, irritation, disappointment and distraction for pupils.

An alternative and more effective strategy is for smaller sets of kit to be dedicated to each room – such as half sets of tablets and Chromebooks. This means one class has ownership and responsibility for its devices – resulting in greater care and upkeep. It also means pupils have free use of them as and when necessary for the activity they are doing, as opposed to ‘booking’ their use, promoting independent learning and creative thinking without limits. Some schools have even trained successful pupil ICT technicians, designated for each class.