“I wanted my students to feel more relaxed and comfortable while they were working on tasks in my classroom.” These words were spoken by Hinsdale 3rd Grade teacher Christine Goodling when asked about the recent transformation that has occurred in her classroom involving new seating choices and a more flexible furniture arrangement. Mrs. Goodling continued, “I wanted to create a classroom that was more visually welcoming and engaging, while promoting more collaboration and freedom for the students to work anywhere they pleased.”
This might not sound groundbreaking, but there has been an influx of recent research centered around learning space design and school classrooms. Beyond just making classrooms look appealing or eye-catching, educators around the world have started looking holistically at how schools, classrooms, and other learning spaces can be transformed for optimal student engagement. A well-designed and thought out classroom space can provide care for students and teachers alike. These spaces can alleviate outside stressors on students and allow them to focus on learning, while other spaces can be arranged to promote collaboration, creativity, or places for quiet, pensive thinking.
Using the book, The Space: A Guide for Educators by Rebecca Louise Hare and Dr. Robert Dillon, Mrs. Goodling and I set about on our journey to transform her classroom into something more learning-centered and student-friendly. We started with a few guiding questions:
First, we identified a variety of seating options for each space we were going to create using wobble stools, exercise balls, camping and gaming chairs, as well as keeping a few traditional chairs in the room should a student still prefer one of those to use. We next identified what we thought each space in the room should be and removed items that were a hindrance to creating an open, flowing, and flexible arrangement in the classroom furniture. Around the room, places for students to work were created on flat surfaces by applying whiteboard surface film to areas like columns between windows, on the front of the teacher’s desk, and on the sides of carts and other furniture around the room. A few tables were brought in and replaced student desks, while pillows and beanbag chairs were added to the reading carpet area for comfort.
To make these changes more meaningful and lasting, the final step in the first phase of our classroom transformation process was to sit with the students and review all of the new areas, seating choices, and classroom arrangement opportunities there were now. The students worked as a class to identify names for each station, like the Chat Café. They also collaborated to come up with expectations and norms regarding what was acceptable at each location around the room, and this helped to foster a sense of involvement and ownership in these new classroom spaces. The students have welcomed this change, saying that the new arrangements and options make them feel “more comfortable,” “able to focus on our work better,” and “gives us choices for where to work and how to work around the room.”
By Ryan McGinnis, CA BOCES Professional Development