Student outcomes are the most relevant factor when it comes to measuring the success of a learning environment. Though classroom design has an important influence on learning achievement, the majority of time is spent on traditional methods of enhancing the learning progress, such as executing standardized tests, professional growth for educators, and advancement or mediation courses for students. Thanks to a growing awareness of the profound impact classroom design can have on the educational achievements of students, opinions on classroom design are changing, as educators are making strides toward constructing optimal learning environments with the goal of meeting the educational needs of various groups of students.
I found that as a classroom teacher, allowing students to choose the spots they found most comfortable to work in helped students concentrate and allowed me to concentrate on facilitating learning, not managing behavior. – Jennifer Stringer
When creating classroom designs suited to enhance the educational experience of all learners, educators are focusing on cultivating student growth in creativity, collaboration, and communication. Along with the initiative for personalized learning, a core focus of modern classroom design is flexibility. Flexible classroom designs allow learners to make choices, experiment with learning techniques, and ultimately discover how they learn best. A flexible classroom layout also supplies teachers with a greater capacity to effectively respond to different students’ learning needs. Flexible classrooms usually incorporate some type of group discussion area, a variety of seating options, and a flexible space, which can be adjusted for many specialized activities. With the central goal of providing the space for students to explore, share, and create collaboratively, flexible classroom arrangements provide the means for a variety of group set-ups and lesson formats in hopes of addressing all students’ needs.
Alyson Gembala (Twitter), ChildhoodExplored.com – “My favorite classroom I’ve ever taught in is covered in children’s art. It is a preschool classroom, and kids are loudly and joyfully learning all the time. They can reach everything they need to create art or inventions or things I hadn’t even thought about. Teacher of course set up lessons and activities, but the students are empowered to learn through play and problem-solve for themselves. The curriculum is created based upon the interests and developmental needs of the students, so it’s different every year. We always keep the doors open, and children are free to go to other classrooms or even outside during their learning time. The school was designed so that adults can be stationed in various places and the kids could be free to learn where they feel curious.”
Shantala Boss (Facebook), MS, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Registered Play Therapist, – “A child’s learning can be impacted by many different factors and the ambiance of a classroom does play a very important role. Muted colors and lamps or natural light create a welcoming, positive environment for children. Fluorescent lighting has the opposite effect. Another idea is to add plants to the classroom. Plants are a natural mood booster and studies have shown they can reduce stress and anxiety.”
Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT, Author of the book, Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life’s Most Difficult Challenges and Changes – “As a play therapist, I look at space from a relational stand point. So, if the space is warm and inviting and creates connection between the kids, then this will also help with learning because they feel comfortable here. When I think of warm and inviting spaces, I think of bright colors, carpet, pillows, toys, books, art… open spaces, but also nooks where a kid could go read a book or play with a toy, if they needed some downtime/alone time.”
Dr. Mimi Shagaga (Instagram) (Facebook), Licensed Clinical Psychologist, – “Physical environments in the classroom can have a significant impact on learning. Research has indicated that classroom organization, access of supplies, lighting and even the color of a classroom can boost academic achievement levels. Additionally, crowded classrooms with more students have been linked to lower levels of achievement. Research has also indicated that classrooms with windows, particularly with views of some type of landscape have been linked to better performance on tests. It has also been found that these types of classrooms have led to less mental fatigue and better performance in the areas of attention and focus.”
Enhancing flexibility means adhering to the educational requirements of all learners and encouraging unity within diverse groups of students. As a design featuring small tables for group work and shared table-top presentations, the concept of collaborative spaces highlights group learning activities while being flexible enough to ensure all students’ needs are met.
Kathryn Starke (Twitter) (Instagram), Urban Literacy Specialist/Author/Keynote Speaker, Creative Minds Publications, LLC – “I specifically look for tables or groups of desks to promote classroom collaboration and literacy based and curriculum extension-based centers around the room to encourage critical thinking. In addition, I always look for an organized, welcoming reading area that promotes a love of literacy and culture of reading in the classroom. Above all, I want students to walk into a classroom that motivates, supports, and inspires children of all ages to try their best, ask questions, and share their knowledge.”
Jennifer Stringer, (Twitter) (LinkedIn) – “An important aspect of classroom design is allowing for flexible configurations and spaces. As adults, we know we might be more comfortable reading in our favorite chair or standing while we work. Students should have those same opportunities. I found that as a classroom teacher, allowing students to choose the spots they found most comfortable to work in helped students concentrate and allowed me to concentrate on facilitating learning, not managing behavior.”
Ari S. Yares (Facebook), Ph.D., NCSP, – “Classrooms that have a variety of seating options ranging from desks to shared tables to places to sit and read or huddle in a small group allow a teacher to tailor the learning to fit the students’ needs. I’ve seen the introduction of bean bag chairs create spaces for more “fidgety” kids to sit comfortably and engage in the learning more actively. At one of the schools that I was a principal for, we replaced the lab tables in the science rooms. In one room, because of the amount of available space, we had to go with more traditional rectangular lab tables in rows. In the larger room, we were able to order hexagonal lab tables and space them out around the room. Learning in the first science room stayed more frontal with less collaboration while learning in the room with the hexagonal lab tables tended towards more active, more collaborative learning. The furniture really set the tone for the room.”
Ability to Move
Research has indicated that allowing time for movement is one of the best means of enabling children to obtain more control over their behavior and immerse themselves in the material they are learning about. Giving students the option to bounce and turn as they are sitting in class can improve their ability to remain focused throughout the school day. Moveable furniture such as Hooki Stools and Zenergy Ball Chairs can be an asset to a flexible classroom, providing learners with the opportunity to learn and retain information more effectively.
Salpy Baharian (Twitter), M.Ed, Co-Founder, Teacher.org – “In the primary elementary grades, it is imperative to provide opportunities to MOVE. When training new teachers, I would always advise K-2 teachers to create a space for a large rug or carpet near the whiteboard where instruction takes place. Proximity is key. Young students should be close to “action” when new material is being presented. For example: Children are seated on the rug when new material is being taught. Just as kids start to get squirmy, it is time to transition children back to their desks for the extension of learning (guided practice or independent practice). This setup provides opportunities for young students to move. Additionally, the rug allows teachers to be close to their students when new learning occurs. In my years in the classroom, I have seen young children thrive in this classroom design.”
Jerry Mintz, Director, Alternative Education Resource Organization – “We have a whole constellation of educational alternatives that have dealt with this in many ways. They use a lot of outdoor space. Children are free to wander around. I know of one public alternative in which the students could leave class at any time and go to one of several designated spaces. One public alternative democratic school in Israel has a huge central soccer field around which the school complex was built. So, you can see everything that’s going on from everywhere.”
Adam Cole (LinkedIn), Author, Educator, Performer – “The typical layout for an elementary classroom is a grid where the desks all face the front. Over the course of a year or two I quickly decided I’d rather put the children in a circle facing one another. This had several interesting consequences.
The children can now always see every single person in the room, and everything they do is presented to the group. This means no one is at risk for disappearing or having their presence go unnoticed. It also sends a stronger message to children who are asked to “sit out” for poor choices because they are noticeably no longer in the group until they return.
This kind of setup therefore is ideal when a group-mindset is looked for, such as group improvisations or performances. Children can take turns improvising around the circle or can all improvise together. This can easily be adapted for language and story work as well, and the power of the circle when used correctly adds support to their efforts.
Even better, the center of the circle can be utilized for one or more of the children to “perform” for the group. Or, if the whole group is to perform or participate in anything that requires movement, the space is open for them to enter and explore. Needless to say, their movement can be directed in a way so that it is less linear, with more curves, crossing of lines, and interactions between people, or it can be directed so that everyone is in a circle going one way or the other like a river.”
Children with Learning and Attention Differences
When it comes to helping children with learning and attention differences, such as Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it is crucial for children to be allowed to learn in a way that aligns with what their minds and bodies need to sustain attention. Furniture such as the Alpha Better Stand-Up Desk and Wobble Chairs can act as a means of releasing restlessness for children with ADHD and other attention differences. This provides them with a viable way to expend their energy and improves focus levels throughout the school day.
Stephanie Butchart (Twitter), Founder and Lead Facilitator, – “As an educator my focus is with children under five years old with various developmental, physical, social, sensory, emotional and intellectual barriers. The climate of a classroom has a strong influence on a child’s ability to learn. Environments that are over- or under-stimulating can affect a child’s ability to focus and sustain a sense of vitality. Hyperactivity and passivity may be out of a child’s control if it relates to their interactions within a certain space. From the color of the walls to the texture of the floor, the height of door to the type of lighting…what we put into our classroom climate shows in our children’s responses to it.
Certain children are more sensitive to their surroundings. Overcrowded spaces, excessive overhead lighting, loud or high-pitched sounds, cluttered rooms…these are all common examples of over-stimulated rooms. Over-stimulation can lead to difficulties concentrating, maladaptive behaviors, avoidance and anxiety. Snoezelen multi-sensory rooms are interesting in this case. This type of therapy adapts the climate of a room to match the sensory input required to meet set objectives. Children who are under or over stimulated can find a balance in these rooms which provide tools to engage a child’s senses and opportunities to learn how to react to stimuli.
I suppose what we are looking for in our children’s classrooms is adaptability and encouraged expression. This will empower children to learn about which environments they do and do not like, where their specific reactions are rooted and what to do if they feel that way in future circumstances.”
Cristina Sandoval, Mental Health Manager at QueensCare. “We are a subcontract with Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and we provide mental health therapy to children 0-18 (with Medi-Cal). Before I came on board in 2016, our offices were white with old art pieces and old book shelves with books we didn’t use. Needless to say, that was the first task. Our new adolescent room has a willow tree and some teal walls while our younger child room is yellow with Dr. Seuss trees and decoration. We use these background decorations in our therapy sessions as grounding exercises and it’s been pretty successful. A client we had before and after the redecorating phase shared that she liked the change and felt more calm. She came in and smiled and wanted to role play right away. One younger child said he thought he was coming to see the doctor when he would see our white walls, but after he saw the new rooms, he wanted to play and was able to leave mom’s side for a bit.”
1) Small campus, classroom size
2) More individual attention
3) Frequent breaks and longer time on assignments
4) Frequent check-ins with a counselor
5) A behavioral modification program, where rewards are given for positive behaviors”
Sharon Saline (Twitter) (Facebook), Psy.D., clinical psychologist and author of What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew: Working Together to Empower Kids for Success in School and Life – “Kids with ADHD and other learning differences benefit from classrooms that help them develop the executive functioning skills they need for academic and social success. Classrooms that are too chaotic or cluttered make it tough for them to focus and monitor themselves. These students are especially sensitive to overstimulation—whether it’s visual, auditory or interpersonal. This means that classrooms that are chock full of decoration—art, maps, charts, etc. can be overwhelming and agitating to them. Likewise, sitting at tables with peers makes it harder for them to concentrate because they are easily distracted by other kids’ noises, side-talking or movements. Individual desks and walls with some blank spaces help to calm them so they can settle into doing their work more easily.
Having specific areas to put things and routines for getting them there are essential to keeping these students on track. Kids with ADHD do best when everything has a place. Having color-coded folders for various subjects or projects, boxes or cubbies for younger kids to place lunch and coats and lockers with shelves for teens makes it easier for them to stay organized and know where things go. Offering them gentle direction in doing these tasks and reminders to check their lists lead them to accomplishing them. When they need stuff later on, they can find it more readily. Visual cues are especially helpful: post-its or lists on their desk assist them in remembering what needs to be done and where to put things.
Setting up classrooms with these simple guidelines actually benefits all learners. Executive functioning skills develop over time—until folks are 25 years old. So, most kids benefit from strengthening them, not just those with ADHD and learning differences.”
Implementing design changes within a classroom can have a profound influence on establishing a positive learning experience for all students. Increasing flexibility and encouraging exploration, sharing, and creation can dramatically enhance a student’s sense of well-being at school and cultivate a learning environment in which both students and educators can reach their highest potential.