Improving classroom efficiency and improving effectiveness of teaching through classroom design is a cornerstone of successful teaching. With these 10 classroom designs for improving efficiency and effectiveness, you will see more positive student behaviour and be able to get back to concentrating on stand-out lessons and learning.
1. Multi-Purpose Flexibility
Efficiency of a classroom is rapidly improved once it can be used by various classes, teachers and subjects without needing to compromise on layout. Whether it’s the change in teaching style required to switch between a small A-Level class and a rowdy lower school set, or a complete change of subjects and/or teacher; the space needs to be flexible.
There are two ways to account for this; provide layouts and spaces which are static and, depending on the tasks planned or class of students participating, teachers can arrange to use classroom A and classroom B between them.
Class A shows a set up suited to didactic teaching and individual or paired working; suitable for teaching of theory and completing written tasks. Class B is a more interactive classroom, suited for group work, debates, performances, presentations.
Alternatively, teachers can retain ownership of a single classroom but make sure that the design allows flexibility and easy changing of layouts to suit the day/lesson’s specific needs.
With lightweight furniture that can be easily moved, teachers and students can alter the class easily. Layout 1 shows a set up suited to didactic teaching using the front rows and individual chairs then allows individual or paired working in the traditional rows. Layout 2 is more suited to group tasks and movement of bodies around the tables thanks to the “spare” stools which can be pulled up to tables as and when they’re needed.
2. Incorporate Different Working Areas
As you can see in the above images, another way to use classroom design to improve efficiency of learning and effectiveness of teaching is to intelligently plan the use of space and set up different areas of the class for different types of learning.
Speaking to our educational clients, a number of staff have admitted that they get so engrossed in their teaching at their current school or college, becoming “used to keeping up with the treadmill” of the academic year, that they come to accept the layout of their building and rooms as unalterable.
Just because it has always been that way doesn’t mean it has to stay.
Some simple tweaks can inject some extra efficiency into the class and it’s done by incorporating trends that are being applied to working offices all over the world. The latest studies on human productivity and morale in the workplace have found that having one static and solitary place to perform all your tasks throughout the working day is detrimental to both morale and output.
Transferring this back to the educational setting, modern educational practice teaches the need to vary tasks and teaching styles over the course of a lesson to help with engagement. But the classroom itself rarely changes and this can undermine all the good work that teachers are trying to incorporate.
Get around this built-in resistance caused by the layout of a classroom by splitting it up into what are essentially different work areas. It’s a technique commonly used in Outstanding infant and junior schools, but can be used with older learners also.
Often used in primary school classrooms, allocating areas for group discussions (debates for older learners and reading time for infants, for example) and allowing students flexibility with where they work in the classroom can help promote ownership and responsibility too.
3. Direct Traffic Easily
Once routine classwork is underway or prolonged student-led tasks are being completed, it’s important that you design a classroom layout to allow easy mobility around the room. There should be no obstacles for the teacher moving around the room in order to allow easy behaviour and problem resolution.
Timeless studies (such as Kohn, 1996 and McLeod et al., 2003) profess the need to allow the teacher to move around the room. Every little obstacle slows down passage of movement and incrementally reduces teacher control.
Furthermore, it’s important to have a layout which reduces congestion of bodies at peak times; start and end of class, work submission, inbetween tasks when changing location, pre-task collection of materials, and (depending on type of learner) passage to things like spare paper or the pencil sharpener.
The orange lines show the teacher’s route around the classroom to see students and their work. Note how doorways are kept clear too and there is floor space to access shelves and other storage areas.
4. Well Insulated
Now, moving onto the more infrastructure related items of classroom design. Given that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one of the first things taught when teaching people how to teach others, and physiological well-being is the base layer of the pyramid, it’s shocking for how long classrooms are left to go cold.
Probably due to a fear of the potential cost of a refurbishment (which is unfounded) insulation aspects – cavity, glazing, roofing – are all-too-often neglected when it comes to fixing priorities within the school building. Also, and very understandably, teaching resources are given priority.
But, back to Maslow’s hierarchy, all the potentially brilliant learning which could take place can be undermined by a poorly insulated building. Drafts and cold air can reduce learners to tired, disinterested bodies waiting for nothing more than the chance to warm up.
Upgrading glazing, doors, heating systems and cavity (wall and roof) insulation are quick wins when it comes to improving classroom design.
5. Heat Absorption Well Managed
Likewise, in the warmer months, many school buildings are accepted as being too hot. All the same problems can arise in the summer term too, but due to rising temperatures as opposed to cold drafts.
Installing film coating to existing windows or new intelligent glazing and/or window blinds can alleviate the power of the sunshine turning classroom into greenhouses. And an upgrade to the airflow of the building as a whole can stop the building becoming stale due to the heat of a warm summer’s day.
Both of the last two design features contribute to the physical comfort of the people in your building. Another aspect to consider is the furniture you employ for them to work at. Choosing the right tables and chairs for learners is vital and a one-size fits all approach should be avoided.
Going back to the alternative working areas idea, different furniture types are available. If you have been tasked to complete a group task, utilising various large resources, it’s hardly fair being asked to complete it on a desk designed for an A4 notebook and perhaps a small textbook.
If you undertake double period lessons or expect learners to be seated for more than 40 minutes, it’s vital that you choose the right type of seating. If not, learners will be more interested in trying to find a comfortable way to sit than partaking in learning.
Look at this classroom, from a teacher in America who we spoke to. Students are free to choose where they sit and have a range of options in terms of types of seating. The teacher, Amber Merrill, has also coated the tables to allow students to write on them – which helps and encourages creativity.
Here’s what Amber had to say about her dynamic and choice filled classroom set up, “Students always have a ‘home base’ that they receive input on. If they want to stand, it’ll be at the standing table. If they prefer to ‘sprawl’, it’ll be on the floor.
“But throughout the day, they move around a lot based on what we’re doing. If a student gets up and moves to another group to help or ask a question, that’s encouraged.
“My classroom expectations are still very high. In fact, I’d say they’re even higher than when I had desks because they have more freedom. If they abuse that freedom, they lose the privilege of fun seating. That’s usually the concern teachers have.
“I chose to replace my rigid desks with flexible seating because I want to foster student engagement and collaboration. In the maths classroom, we’re learning to be problem-solvers. That means relying on others’ expertise, trying new approaches and, most importantly, making mistakes!”
Visibility is a two way street. Teachers need to have clear lines of vision to all students – and vice versa – in order to maintain good classroom control. Learners need to be able to see the presented information and other collaborative resources, in order to experience them as effectively as possible.
It’s important that the basics aren’t forgotten when it comes to classroom design; the teacher should be able to see what all learners are doing at all times and all learners should be able to see the teacher and what is being taught to them.
Whilst allowing student choice when on task is great, remember that what students and teacher can see whilst writing/working/note-taking is important. Simply re-arranging certain desks can make sure both parties can see each other. If desks like the ones at the back of the classroom (image above) are used, keep them exclusively for computer based tasks.
Hearing what is being said can be an issue for learners if the layout and design of a classroom is unwittingly putting obstacles in the way. This is amplified if there are any learners with hearing difficulties.
Low hanging decorations and resources can actually act as acoustic barriers and mask or distort what is being said, particularly when other learners are speaking or a YouTube video is being played. Secondly, once again, learners having their back to the teaching is a major obstacle to clear and audible hearing and is just poor classroom design if it has to laid out that way.
Proper space planning and perhaps alternative types of furniture can fix this.
Although it might typically be an end of term or end of summer holiday task, fresh and relevant displays are vital to making sure classroom design is effective and efficient at promoting engagement and learning.
This is something that should be student-centric, with their work being the core of any display in order to inspire and motivate. This is echoed by many academic writers and put neatly in Strong et al.’s Handbook for Qualities of Effective Teachers.
10. Promote Learner Ownership
Those student-centric displays are a part of promoting leaner ownership of the classroom. Obviously they’ll become (though may not admit it, depending on their age) proud that it is their class who is producing standout displays.
Another aspect of classroom design which can promote learner ownership is to tactically let learners choose the classroom layout. You may wish to offer pre-approved suggestions but when it is time for learners to take over and start completing tasks, either in groups of individually, try letting them alter the classroom to suit how they want to work.
Trial and error will follow – and should probably be encouraged – and you likely need to leave time for tidying and rearranging at the end, but it can quickly build a sense of ownership of their learning space. It’s also a great way of being flexible with your classroom design and layout in order to promote communication and collaboration between your learners.
Some Of These Ideas Need More Work
Although we have tried to include as many practical quick-wins as we could, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that some classroom design ideas can only be implemented with new furniture or a change to internal wall layouts, or other infrastructure changes.
Check out our guide to help you work out exactly – if any – level of refurbishment your school or college needs. From a refresh of decoration and furniture, right up to full rebuild, all options are covered with ways and means of finding out what is most pressing in your own individual building.
Take a look by downloading the free guide now: