Six Design Tips for a Student-Centered Classroom

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Get Rid of Rows! and Other Tips for a Student-Centered ClassroomWhat does your classroom setup communicate? Redesigning your space to the tune of students’ needs, rather than convenience or habit, can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

The July Education Update article, “Get Rid of Rows! and Other Tips for a Student-Centered Classroom,” offers six ways to create a flexible space that supports, rather than hinders, 21st century learning.

  1. Edit the Junk
    Decluttering is just one way to make the school environment—what some experts call “the third teacher”—more accessible. An organized classroom allows students to move around freely and quickly locate materials and supplies.
  2. Dump Your Desk
    “I don’t like the idea of the teacher’s desk, for the same reason I don’t like a necktie,” says instructional coach Blake Wiggs. “I feel like it represents an authoritarian role.” Teachers need workspaces, he assures, but they shouldn’t be the focal point of the room.
  3. Say Good-Bye to Solider Rows
    Seating arrangements have the power to nurture or derail collaboration. Although traditional “soldier rows” are ideal for tests, they compel students to “stare in the front [of the classroom] and not talk.” Experiment with seating configuration apps and sit in the chairs to see how the setup feels. Can students see the board? Can they quickly turn to their peers and work as a team?
  4. Give Them Guided Choice
    Even within routines, you can leave room for choice. Teacher Pamela Kennedy lets her 3rd graders pick a new seat every Friday. At the beginning of the year, “you’ll often see best friends sitting next to each other,” she admits. But if they talk incessantly and get three strikes, she leads a round of rock-paper-scissors that determines new seating for one of them. Eventually, the students learn to choose wisely.
  5. Vary the Furniture
    Teachers are often “limited by the kinds of opportunities and pedagogies that the [typical classroom] space”—and furniture—allow, notes school design architect Prakash Nair. Upgrading your furniture doesn’t have to be costly: A teacher in Singapore with no budget reconfigured her classroom with chairs, couches, high tables, and other furniture sourced from the community. Another classroom in Finland has “half as many chairs as they have students” to encourage kids to stand and circulate. Even swapping the attached desk/chair units with individual desks and chairs lets students move easily into formations that fit the learning activity.
  6. Create Comfortable, Functional Spaces
    Make room for “untraditional spaces” that let the creative juices flow. Add innovative reading nooks or areas equipped with comfortable seating where students can congregate. And consider “giving classroom walls to your kids,” advises high school teacher Nicholas Provenzano, by hanging up huge, flexible dry erase boards. Or paint the top of students’ desks with dry-erase paint.

For more design ideas, read “Get Rid of Rows! and Other Tips for a Student-Centered Classroom.”

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