From pre-Kindergarten to university, today’s classrooms are much more dynamic than their predecessors. The need to overcome student learning obstacles has encouraged more professionals to pursue creative solutions within their own classrooms. The result is an approach to classroom design that forgoes tradition in favor of a focus on the very individuals who are most affected by its principles – the students themselves.
2020 Trends in Classroom Design
Now that classroom design has once again been recognized as a crucial factor in student engagement and the process of learning, educators are resuming yet another role – that of classroom engineers. Studies show that developing a positive learning environment is a worthwhile endeavor. A Holistic Evidence and Design, or HEAD, study published in UK journal Building and Environment showed that three overarching factors – naturalness, individualization, and stimulation – showed a 16% impact on student success rates.
Naturalness – or an attention to the way light, sound, temperature, natural elements, and air quality – is largely in the hands of the architects that design school buildings, although teachers can achieve comfortable lighting and introduce natural elements and organic shapes on a classroom level.
However, teachers can control the use of color and interesting materials to provide the appropriate amount of stimulation. Similarly, HEAD’s “individualization” focus on allowing students to take ownership of classroom work, encouraging learning connections between students and the school community, and providing the flexibility a classroom needs to promote multiple learning styles within, is an intuitive task for an educator.
In today’s schools, a number of classroom design trends have emerged, giving educators a growing number of ways to incorporate student-focused design into classrooms of all shapes and sizes. These are the top five, according to our slate of experts:
1. Flexible Seating
Perhaps one of the first ventures into modern classroom design, flexible seating was introduced in special education classrooms as a way to solve a particular problem – allowing a student with special needs a way to sit and work on a project that provided the movement, comfort, or physical accommodations necessary for focus and engagement. Quickly, flexible seating became popular as a way to allow inclusion into a typical classroom and then as a way to help engage students regardless of ability in classrooms throughout the US. Since, flexible seating has become one of the most-adopted accommodations; in fact, flexible seating options accounted for nearly 14% of funding requests in 2016, up from just 2% in 2010.
While some seating is flexible in the literal sense – designed to provide motion or tactile stimulation for students who need it, other options simply provide students with the flexibility to choose a seating type that works best for them. Options like soft seating packages, loungers, and even bean bags and floor seats give students the freedom to choose, boosting engagement and buy-in.
One of our experts, Mike Hanski, discusses flexible seating:
“One thing that caught my attention is the more flexible seating for kids. Stools and rocker chairs have a slightly rounded bottom to allow students to just gently sway when they get fidgety. Thanks to new studies showing how more movement helps stimulate the brain, classrooms today have adapted accordingly, and thankfully so.”
2. Adaptable Learning Spaces
Today’s classrooms are increasingly used for a number of different purposes. With multiple groups utilizing the same spaces in different ways, it’s more important than ever to ensure the furniture allows for any number of different arrangements and activities. The result is a classroom that meets the needs of many within a single space.
Portable, flip-top style desks and tables allow furniture arrangement in multiple configurations depending on the group occupying the space at the moment. Even better, many of these modern flip-tops nest and can be moved out of the way altogether for activities that demand all the space a classroom has to offer. Expert D. Gilson shares how he’s prevented shared spaces from becoming depersonalized and emphasized connections with the school at large:
Professor, Missouri State University
“One of the things that often stinks about college classrooms is how depersonalized they are since they’re shared by so many classes and instructors. Our school is trying to combat this by installing multiple bulletin boards within each classroom and asking instructors to decorate them with images, posters, quotes, and other things relevant to the course they’re teaching in that room. It may sound silly, but it goes a long way to brighten up what would otherwise be a sterile space.”
3. Flexible Learning Spaces
While some spaces must adapt to the requirements of multiple groups, other classrooms are showcasing the many ways students can learn within them, such as with standing height table packages and workspaces or tilt tables. Easily movable furniture allows students to work in pairs or groups, and even show initiative or creativity on innovative dry erase tops. Other elements like demountable walls can divide a room to provide multiple work zones based on the current needs of the class.
As more and more schools – including 73% of colleges – embrace active learning and science-based learning concepts, the need to incorporate hands-on elements during instructional time as well as during special or exploratory periods has increased as well. Since many schools with advanced STEM or art programs continue to share these resources among classrooms, the use of mobile makerspaces has jumped in popularity. These mobile, hands-on stations allow classrooms to accommodate DIY lessons while remaining in-position for the activities of daily learning.
Here’s what expert Brandon Foster has to say regarding flexible classrooms:
“Schools have already started shifting towards technology, but stationary furniture was a hindrance in creating a collaborative work environment. Now schools are considering mobile furniture in classrooms. It does not confine students to limited areas, and sessions become more interactive. Moreover, students group easily in group activities and become separated when they are said to work independently.”
4. Privacy Zones
Broader acceptance of concepts like social-emotional learning (SEL) has helped educators understand many students’ need to simply spend time alone. Whether this need stems from trauma in the student’s past or a desire to get away from an ongoing conflict – or even if the student just finds him or herself more able to focus and engage with work in a more remote setting, it’s important to provide private areas throughout the modern classroom or on existing work tables themselves.
Private areas allow individual students to take ownership of the tasks they’re undertaking, a key point outlined in the HEAD study. As a result options like movable nooks and dividers can provide students with just the right amount of privacy while they stay on-task or take a breather.
Expert Brandon Foster agrees: “Schools are also considering demountable walls as they are handy in creating casual task areas for students where students are not required to sit formally and do their activities freely.” Expert Mike Hanski adds, “I’ve also seen some study pods, or what some refer to as ‘cocoon zones.’ This makes their learning environment more comfortable, which makes it more conducive to taking in new information.”
This trend is about introducing natural elements into the classroom, including natural lighting, materials, and textures. The HEAD study concluded that attention to naturalness in the classroom accounted for a full 50% of the positive growth students received as a result of innovative classroom design. As such, more educators have found value in incorporating the outdoors into what has previously been a high-tech, artificial space. Take a look at what our expert Sarah has to say about natural, child-led learning:
Primary Teacher and Blogger, arthurwears.com
“From an Early Years point of view, educators are starting to realize and value the child – led approach to learning. There is also a big movement towards natural and heuristic resources, creating a calm yet ‘real life’ environment for the children.”
Utilizing wooden furniture with natural finishes is one of the most accessible ways to promote biophilia in a classroom; substituting wood elements for metal or veneer in media stations is another way to inject some nature into an otherwise stark setting. In addition, the use of potted plants, stone, and even water features can add the outdoors to the educational setting. For shared spaces, educators are finding still other ways to incorporate the earth into classroom design.
Read how our expert Paul Norrell brings the earth into the classroom in a creative, yet functional way:
Owner, 1-World Globes and Maps
“We are hearing from a lot of elementary teachers and history teachers looking to have a full wall dedicated to a world map, or a world and US map. This trend seems to be gaining in popularity among educators.”
Educational Trends In Action
Today’s educators know that dedication to student engagement includes attention to the learning environment students experience. Whether primary school or university, big-budget or grassroots, schools and classrooms across the educational spectrum stand to increase student engagement by incorporating these student-focused classroom design trends in 2020. Even more importantly, the students themselves will experience a variety of research-backed benefits.
No matter which type of school you serve or which educational theories you subscribe to, leverage a few of these trends in the upcoming months. The rewards will prove well worth the effort.