A few years ago, I conducted an audit of a school setting to provide recommendations about the layout of the school and how it contributed to behaviour of the students.
The teachers found that many of the playground issues between students, occurred after the bell rang and students moved from the playground to the classrooms.
One high level hotspot was where a bottleneck occurred because of the placement of gardens and demountable classrooms. It was in this particular area and during a short period of time, where more students were hurt and more verbal and physical fights broke out.
Because the students were physically forced into closer proximity than was comfortable, they jostled each other as they ran back to class and the inevitable outcome was greater misunderstandings between students leading to relationship issues.
To remedy this situation, the school simply had to change the pathway. That means, make it wider, move some garden beds for the students to transition from the playground to the classroom in a calmer and safer manner.
This same approach is necessary across all areas of school.
The classroom environment can contribute to problems between students as well as reduce student engagement and learning. When teachers and schools give careful thought to how the environment is arranged, authentic learning is enhanced and incidental behaviour issues can be prevented.
An organised, uncluttered space is free from distractions and keeps the focus on the learning. Students need to be able to move around the space quickly and access resources easily.
Consider the most effective way to use shelving, tubs and storage in desks to maximise learning time. For example, if your kindergarten students are constantly knocking over the book boxes because they walk too close to them, then perhaps you need a different storage system.
Or if your Year 8 class wastes time when handing out materials, then you could consider having resource stations around the room which students access when they are ready.
Because movement breaks need to be incorporated into the structure of the class for optimal learning, students getting out of their seat can be a good thing!
2. Consider Sensory Needs
All people have sensory needs and if you are too hot, too cold, hungry, tired or thirsty your performance will be inhibited. For students to learn effectively, they need to be comfortable physically, emotionally and psychologically.
And teachers need to begin with the physical comfort and safety. While visual aids are necessary to help students organise their environment and how to use it, huge amounts of visual stimulation is distracting and meaningless.
Consider what you need to display and what is unnecessary.
Likewise, be aware of noise, smells and proximity of students to each other in various settings. Decide how each of these elements contribute to an improved learning environment for your students.
3. Use Space Flexibly
Traditional classrooms were set up with the students looking towards the teacher with very little interaction with other students.
This physical layout mirrored the belief that the teacher is the font of all knowledge and that learning occurs by listening to the teacher and passively taking in the information.
21st Century learning promotes a balance of learning together, taking space to self-regulate when necessary and being an active learner.
Experiment with different desk configurations, make open spaces for students to sit on the floor together, create cosy areas for quiet reading or thinking and design calm spaces for students to ‘reset’ and then re-join the learning.
4. Focus on Creativity Rather Than Productivity
Think about the variety of ways that students can access learning and provide a physical environment that supports problem solving.
Prioritise collaborative learning so that students learn effectively from and with each other.
Rather than focusing on learning content, teachers need to provide students with tools to access information, critically analyse the information and hypothesise about the implications of the information.
Make fun a natural part of the learning environment with effective use of music, lighting and colour.
In any learning environment supportive, positive, validating adults contribute to the success of students from Kindergarten to Year 12 and beyond.
Even in adult learning, a connection with the lecturer or presenter enhances learning outcomes.
Build positive relationships with students by being approachable, encouraging and consistent.
As Miriam Clifford (informED) states,
“Generation Y wants their learning to be playful and exciting. Classrooms should be spaces that students don’t want to leave. “