What Turns a Room into a Classroom?
Teachers now use the classroom as a forum for delivering lessons using visual, auditory and other kinaesthetic teaching techniques to enhance pupils’ achievement. On a practical level, it is clear that there are many keys to the door of success in a classroom that turn it from a simple space into a ‘class’ room.
Fundamentally furniture needs to be adaptable and manoeuverable. In my visits to international schools in Europe, I have been struck by the generous size of each classroom, the tall ceilings and clean cut lines of each room. Particularly memorable is the school where learning continued in the corridors, with carefully thought out learning zones, ranging from play furniture for the younger children, to extended library or discussion space for older students, allowing free flow for students who were not confined to sitting still at a desk for the formal delivery of a lesson.
It can sometimes be a challenge to provide classrooms of appropriate size for each group. However, even if a class is small, if they are in a restricted space they can be harder to manage and support than a large class in a large space. This is particularly the case if the desks can only have a particular layout or spacing because of room design. The need for the teacher to move easily around the room is important, so that they can circulate and spend equal time with all students. Each child must have their own working space, and not be perched on the end of desks, which I have seen in a number of schools.
The size of the classroom is also valuable for allowing space for tidiness. A tidy room and organisation of the classroom shows a teacher who pays attention to detail and will invest time in obtaining order. Mess and an untidy classroom projects chaos and this, of course, can affect the perception of a department or school. Effective classroom design inevitably relies on space and appropriate resources for organisation. When I first became a school leader, I used to despair over the hours spent in meetings discussing classroom and outdoor storage, not recognising at the time how vital effective and attractive storage is to the management of a classroom setting.
Ideally, a classroom should offer the ability to move the seating and chairs around. In my current school, the children have expressed clear preference for those classrooms which have padded chairs. They are softer, more comfortable and aesthetically more pleasing than plain plastic chairs you see in so many schools today. Poor quality seating is an issue for pupils with back problems and indeed all students’ concentration will be affected if they are uncomfortable.
Sometimes brand new schools that are purpose built have made the decision to create square or rectangular rooms that are all exactly the same dimension but the uniformity and lack of quirkiness can make it harder for each learning area to have a personality. I believe students prefer rooms that they perceive to have a warmth and character.
The best classrooms I see provide good access at all points in the room to the white board. All students need to be able to view the board, wherever they are sitting. Desks should be robust enough to withstand spillages and not mark or stain. If desks are easily cleaned, children respect them more and they are nicer surfaces to work on.
Like homes, classrooms have a personality. In the best of schools, you feel this as you walk into a classroom. A room that lacks any personality or individuality feels colder and less welcoming. The room that celebrates learning, has posters, students’ work, plants etc, is the room that is more attractive to be in and, I would suggest, is as a result, more conducive to learning. Where it is clear that the teacher and the school have invested time, energy and funding towards creating a comfortable, inspiring setting, that investment, I believe, is rewarded in higher levels of engagement and success. This is coupled with a recognition that this environment reflects the respect and care a child will receive.
Classrooms need to be Aladdin’s caves of learning, exotic but functional, fun but simultaneously serious and most importantly, inspiring yet practical. Can we make a horseshoe pattern swiftly? Can we make one huge desk to become a United Nations type assembly? Can we quickly make a cafe format two chairs to a desk for peer to peer assessed quizzes? Such questions are asked by the very best of educators, and responded to with positive enthusiasm by School Leaders who trust their staff, their experience and their passion and know that by providing high quality versatile furniture and investing in the classroom environment, they are enabling those magical teachers to do what they do best; to inspire, extend and enhance the joy of learning in all the wonderful young people we are privileged to work with.
Dr. Harriet Sturdy, Founding Principal Cambridge International School – UK