547. Setting Up the Classroom

Part of the job of planning a school year has to do with the physical arrangement of the classroom. It used to be simple; the desks were bolted down to the floor, and the classroom was going to look the same year after year. I’m not saying that was the best arrangement. I’m not even saying it was good. But teachers didn’t need to spend much time thinking about how to arrange the room.
My classroom never looked the same two years in a row. In fact, I often changed the arrangement during the school year, as I learned how the children in my class learned best, and therefore how I was going to teach. Sometimes I had two arrangements – one for large group lessons, and one for projects. The children were in charge of moving the desks or tables from Arrangement A to Arrangement B when we were about to change activities. It took about a minute (when the system worked well).
A large part of the “August dreaming” I’m involved in now (see my essay entitled “August Dreamers”) has to do with helping teachers decide how to set up their rooms. I’m helping third grade teachers with that more than I’m helping the fourth grade teacher I’ll be working with. I know their teaching styles, and I have ideas about how the arrangement of the classrooms can reflect their styles.
For example, one teacher set up tables so that all of the children would face the chalkboard. The tables surrounded a rug on which children could also face the chalkboard. Having spent a year working in her classroom, I knew that most of the time children spent in her room was spent on projects and other work that didn’t require children to all look in the same direction. That was one of many things I admired about her teaching.
Then what was her reason for setting up the room as if everyone was supposed to be looking at her, or at the chalkboard? I think she had temporarily forgotten how successful her last school year had been. I think that as many teachers do, she had forgotten about what had gone well, and was thinking about a few children who had had trouble concentrating. I think she hoped children would be able to concentrate better if there was a “front of the room” they all faced.
I reminded her about her teaching style, and about her successes, and she proceeded to set up the tables in a way that made group work and individual work easier. The rug still lay in front of the chalkboard, so she could still gather the children together for large group lessons, but the room more closely reflected her teaching style.
You’d think that teachers who have been teaching for many years in the same room would have decided on a room arrangement that made sense. No. Most teachers I know struggle with room arrangement at the beginning of each school year. Partly, it’s because change for change’s sake sometimes feels good. And partly, it’s because no year is perfect, and most teachers are always looking for a better way.

Comments are closed.