So, I’ve been thinking about room design again. I thought about it a lot those last few years I taught 5th grade. I did some massive overhauling of my classroom set up and got in the habit of rearranging desks and tables regularly depending on the teaching and learning format of the lesson. It was worth the time and effort.
Then, I moved to edtech in the upper school, didn’t teach for a year, and when I went back to teaching a class, I was teaching my one section in someone else’s room. In theory we were sharing the room, but I was just a visitor for the most part. Somewhere in there, I forgot about all that room design thinking I did. Or rather, I wrongly thought well, they are high school students, it won’t be such a big deal. And, since it’s not really my room, it’s hard to rearrange and then return the room to its former set up all in 48 minutes. It will be fine.
Ok, well fine is rarely my goal. And, as I have written about this year, the older kids may be bigger, but there are kids in many ways. And, teaching these big kids means remembering all sorts of important pedagogical information, including room design. Here are things I know and need to remember about room design:
- The format of the desks and tables signals the kind of interactions you expect. Don’t want people talking, don’t put them close together and facing each other.
- Seats (either at tables or desks) should be close to where ever instruction is happening. So, where the teacher desk is needs to support not hinder this. In a couple of the rooms I have shared, the location of the teacher desks has made it very hard to move around and get the students close to the board when that is desired.
- In a 1:1 (laptops for us) environment, I need to be able to see screens and move around easily.
- No arrangement is THE arrangement. It is THE arrangement for THIS learning experience.
- The students can be trained to rearrange the room into a few formats quickly. Putting in some time on this in the beginning is worth it.
- Telling students that the particular arrangement is for a particular purpose is good.
- Being annoyed at students for talking when you have them sitting in groups facing each other is like being mad at the refrigerator for not having food in it. This is my responsibility.
Late in this school year, I finally got back on the room design bandwagon. Since I had my class meeting in literature circles for a lot of the semester, I had to do some rearranging and that got me back in the habit of considering the best arrangement for any given class.
For example, when we had presentations towards the end of the day on the two days before spring break, I made sure the set up the room in formal rows of tables with a table in front for the presenters. It looked formal and said we have two distinct roles in the class today. The presenters were positioned close enough to the projection hook up that they could easily sit or stand, project, and see the room.
During our recent article writing time, I finally set up the room to signal this is independent work time. The tables were separated and in a ring (though not connected) around the room, chairs were set so that students faced out (towards the windows or walls). Other classmates were therefore less of a distraction and, added bonus, I could see the screens. I made this clear it was very purposeful and that this was to be work time. Some students, with lots of room in the center, decided to make themselves comfortable and work lying down, as they do at home. But, they were working.
And then everyone just worked beautifully. Not everyone made good use of the time, but those who did not use the time were not distracting to those who were working. Victory there.
Time to put room design back in the front of my brain.