Layout Ideas to Make Your Classroom’s Learning Environment More Student-Centered

When people think about classroom design, they may imagine costly renovations, shiny new furniture, a fresh splash of paint, or new light bulbs. Cosmetics help, but a lot more goes into the physical space that supports a student-centered learning environment. And it doesn’t have to cost a thing.

Seating arrangements, furniture selection, space allocation, lighting, and space size are just a few of the variables to consider when thinking about classroom space design. The right combination of settings can have a direct and positive impact on students; Research shows that certain changes can increase student participation and engagement.

Above all, changes should be planned out and aligned to a larger vision that you, your team, or your school have for student learning. With that in mind, here are some of the guiding principles to help you get started:

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Be more deliberate about furniture configuration.

Start off by taking inventory of what’s available and create your floor plan from there. If tables are in stock, are they being used efficiently? If not, consider repurposing, downsizing, or removing them. This will provide flexibility to try different seating options, like pushing a row of desks against a wall for an independent learning space or together to form a collaborative work space. It’s easy to lose sight of the extra furniture in the room, but taking stock is often the first step toward freeing up space.

Make room for movement.

However you configure the furniture, make room to circulate easily without having to squeeze between tight areas or through clutter. This allows teachers to more easily transition into a role of facilitator during small-group work. For the student, no one likes sitting still and being cramped all day. Make sure your students have enough table space for laptops and notebooks without restriction.

Ditch the teacher desk.

This may seem radical but teacher desks are remnants of a more traditional classroom design. They should be one the first items to consider when creating a student-centered learning environment. Teachers who do it find that their stuff can easily be stored away in lockers, cupboards, and or other built-in storage areas. Available desks and tables are good places to do work, or it could be an opportunity to set up a new room–or reconfigure an existing room– dedicated to teacher work places. In a collaborative teaching environment, that could be a great place for conferencing and common planning meetings.

Utilize multi-purpose tables.

If removing the large teacher desk isn’t an option, then how could it be moved or repurposed to support a vision for a student-centered learning environment? Rectangular tables or extra desks, if they’re available and uncluttered, can be used for a designated spaces, like collaborative or creative work.

Create unimpeded sightlines.

Teachers and students should be able to see everyone else in the classroom. That may sound like an easy task in an open classroom, but projector carts, columns, or bookshelves can all present visual barriers. Ensuring a clear line of sight across the room is a small way of encouraging student participation, especially during group discussions. It also doesn’t hurt to avoid blind spots in order to keep tabs on activity throughout the room.

There is no prescribed method in which a classroom should be set up. It’s important to reassess the changes to see what is working and what can use more attention. At the end of the day, classrooms are as unique as the students learning in them. Flexibility is key, and remember nothing is permanent. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

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Vera Tran

As a Senior Manager of Site Operations at New Classrooms, Vera Tran supports the implementation of TTO across the nation and works with partner schools to design Math Centers that best support student learning.