10 ways teachers can innovate their classroom’s layout and design

Melanie Laing

After graduating in the late eighties, Melanie begun her career within the manufacturing sector, working within bakeware, storage, and coatings industries before joining Akzo Nobel to work within marketing across Europe. After holding the role of international marketing director, Melanie progressed to a global innovation role for the coatings giant. Melanie left the globe-trotting behind to join Innova as a director in 2007. Melanie works across the commercial area for Innova paying particular attention to Sales, Marketing and Design departments.

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As shown in articles by the likes of Kriscia Cabral, classroom design and layout play a big part in a pupil’s learning. Melanie Laing of Innova Design Solutions gives her top ten tips on how best to innovate the classroom.

The decision to improve and modernise classrooms offers teachers the opportunity to create a space which truly meets their needs and those of their students. But where do you start? And how can you ensure the changes you make have a real impact on staff and students?

1. Inspire teaching and learning

Getting students and staff involved in developing a classroom which inspires and engages them will reap many rewards. Effective and stimulating design creates a more productive learning space and in turn will produce motivated, confident and inspired learning. Exciting colour schemes and themes, coupled with imaginative design and cutting-edge furniture, can motivate students, staff and parents alike.

Involving the teachers and pupils in the design process is critical. By listening to teachers and students and really understanding their needs, you can create a space which performs on all levels.

2. Build in flexibility for learning

Teaching styles have changed significantly over the last decade, and classroom design now needs to adapt to reflect and support new ways of teaching and learning. Many schools are looking at ways to create a more grown-up feel in classrooms which not only improves behaviour, but also aids the transition from secondary school to college.

With so many teaching methods available (group teamwork, presentations, ICT), it’s important to consider how a classroom space will be used. Furniture which can be easily rearranged by teachers is a key factor in improving student learning. As the number of ways to teach increases, classrooms must be able to provide good circulation to allow for interaction and collaborative teaching. A crowded, cluttered space does nothing for ease of movement, communication or concentration.

Learning spaces need to have the flexibility to support one-to-one tuition, independent study and group discussions. It’s worth noting flexibility doesn’t have to mean loose furniture: fixed furniture installations can also be used in various ways if correctly designed. Science labs, for example, can be designed to follow the Hot Corners concept, which maximises student-teacher interaction by ensuring students sit facing the teacher at all times and enables group collaboration, practical and theory work.

3. Introduce ergonomics

Are you sitting comfortably? Choosing ergonomically-designed furniture which encourages good habits such as a healthy posture can have a real impact on student behaviour. From ergonomically-designed seating to saw-tooth benching in ICT spaces, a comfortable working space is essential in encouraging student productivity and learning. Students who sit at uncomfortable desks and chairs are more likely to let their attention wander. Size also matters: it’s important to select furniture that’s the right size and height for the age group who’ll be using it.

4. Adapt to new technology

Classroom design has adapted significantly to changing technologies. More than ever the focus is on interactive, collaborative learning, and less on “chalk and talk”. Classrooms have to be flexible to accommodate technology in independent study as well as group discussions.

Visual and interactive learning spaces are becoming central to teaching with the introduction of smart boards, touch screens and green screen technology. Smart phones and tablets are increasingly used as tools in lessons. Classrooms need to be ready to adapt to new technologies, allowing seamless cable management, providing secure storage spaces and ensuring sufficient power sockets where necessary.

With improvements to ICT infrastructures and wireless networks, the internet is readily available and accessible throughout school buildings. This enables access to video applications, Skype and even apps such as Aurasma which allow teachers to unlock digital content from around the world for students to explore.

5. Encourage collaboration

Don’t keep it in the classroom, create spaces which help students and staff to break out and explore new ways of working. The learning pyramid demonstrates that participatory teaching methods such as group discussions and student collaboration are 90% more effective than lectures and reading. Group working and live projects are fast becoming effective methods of teaching which allow students to interact and work together to solve problems or work on a task.

Providing learning spaces outside of the classroom is just as important to a student's academic development as the traditional classroom setting. From break-out spaces with modular seating to creative use of corridors, cyber cafes and multi-functional libraries, creating spaces which allow collaborative working enables schools to foster a culture of teamwork.

6. Create zoned areas

Getting in the zone by creating well-defined areas for specific tasks helps to break up the classroom space and allows teachers to cater for a range of activities such as group-working and individual study. Organising the classroom in this way improves efficiency and ensures the relevant resources are easily accessible in each area.

7. Cut the clutter

With classroom space at a premium, places to store books and equipment are crucial. Storage is essential for ease of access to lesson materials and ensuring equipment can be stored safely. Effective storage also reduces the number of distractions, enabling students to fully engage with lessons.

8. Get organised with a teacher wall

Many schools are choosing to use teacher walls, which provide a focus to the room and maximise storage, meaning the rest of the classroom space can be used more flexibly.
The teacher wall can hold anything from interactive whiteboards, filing systems, and displays to power and data cables, making it a practical solution suitable for any classroom space.

9. Promote the right environment

A study conducted by the University of Salford identified a number of factors which impact on learning spaces, with the sensory environment chief amongst them. Examples of sensory considerations that need to be taken into account in the design of an effective classroom include:

Heating: An ambient temperature is key to comfort and optimum performance. A constant temperature is the ideal as students cannot work to their best if too hot or too cold.

Lighting: The correct type and level of lighting also plays its part in creating an environment conducive to learning. Classrooms should maximise the use of natural daylight, and adopt LED lighting to cut energy-usage. Poor lighting conditions can create glare on screens, leading to eye strain and irritation.

Acoustics: How well students are able to hear and how well teachers project their voices to communicate is paramount to the learning experience. Background noise from sources such as heating systems must be kept to a minimum. Adding acoustic ceilings or wall panels can have huge benefits, boosting pupils’ ability to hear what they’re being taught.

10. Make your walls come to life

Studies have shown that increasing the number of design elements in a classroom generates a greater level of interest in students and encourages maximum absorption of the subject. Combining different colours and textures can animate the classroom environment, creating a higher level of student engagement and a positive learning space.

Tempting though it is to save money by painting all your classrooms the same shade of magnolia, colour can be an easy way create a more harmonious space if used correctly. The right colour scheme can transform the school environment into a stimulating and exciting place. Adding light to practical workspaces can make them more welcoming, whilst using different shades and tones helps to inspire creative thinking.

Using technology to project photos and video onto classroom walls, creating an ‘immersive’ experience is another way to increase student engagement. From erupting volcanoes to the trenches of World War One, teachers can use technology to bring lessons to life and offer pupils a greater level of understanding than can be achieved by simply watching a video or reading a textbook.

Teachers should also see their classroom walls as an opportunity to motivate and reward students.Colour can help to emphasise special features such as display areas, and used alongside inspirational quotes can help to highlight student achievement and foster a sense of reward and recognition that can contribute to the creation of an effective learning environment.

How do you make the most of your classroom’s layout? Let us know in the comments

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