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Having the right classroom setup is vital to creating an engaging learning environment, says Dr Harriet Sturdy

Turning a room into a classroom

Dr Harriet Sturdy, who has owned and run three schools in Cambridge, shares her expert tips for creating engaging classrooms

Posted by Hannah Vickers | June 06, 2017 | Interiors

Teachers now use the classroom as a forum for delivering lessons using visual, auditory and other kinaesthetic teaching techniques to enhance pupils’ achievements. With such a variety of teaching methods being used, it’s important that the learning environment is designed to support the curriculum, as studies have shown that the classroom affects a child’s education.

On a practical level, it is clear that there are many keys to turn a room into an engaging and educational space. Here are four ways to turn any room into a functioning and success-driven classroom.

1. Furniture needs to be adaptable and manoeuvrable

Ideally, a classroom should offer the ability to move the seating and chairs around to reflect and enhance what is being taught. Can a horseshoe pattern be created swiftly? Can we make one huge desk to become a United Nations-type assembly? Can we quickly make a cafe format pair of chairs into a desk for peer to peer assessed quizzes? This can only be achieved to if the furniture is manoeuvrable safely at speed, as otherwise valuable teaching time is wasted. Furthermore, if furniture is awkwardly put together, the imagination must work harder and the effect is lost. 

Investing in high quality and versatile furniture for the classroom environment enables teachers to do what they do best: to inspire, extend and enhance the joy of learning in young people.

2. Like homes, classrooms have a personality

In the best of schools, you feel this as you walk into a classroom. A room that lacks any personality or individuality feels colder and less welcoming. The room that celebrates learning with posters, students’ work, plants and more, is the room that is more attractive to be in and more conducive to learning. 

Investing time, energy and funding towards creating a comfortable, inspiring setting results in higher levels of engagement and success

Investing time, energy and funding towards creating a comfortable, inspiring setting results in higher levels of engagement and success. This is coupled with a recognition that this environment reflects the respect and care a child will receive.

When designing your classroom layout, ensure you dedicate adequate space to presenting student work and supplementary teaching materials, but don’t forget to make this area a changing display. Fresh décor creates a stimulating environment and encourages children to get involved in embellishing their space.

3. Classrooms need to be Aladdin's caves of learning, inspiring yet practical

Carefully thought-out learning zones, ranging from play furniture for the younger children to extended library or discussion space for older students, allows for the free flow of learning, so students are not confined to sitting still at a desk for the formal delivery of a lesson. For example, teaching with technology means that children can learn on the go or away from the desk.

Tablets can be used to improve learning rates and retention of information, as well as helping to vary how the syllabus is taught

58% of teachers surveyed last year said that technology increases engagement with students, suggesting that tablets can be used to improve learning rates and retention of information, as well as helping to vary how the syllabus is taught. For example, an art lesson can take place outdoors with children taking photographs, or even a maths lesson can be taught via an app.

If you’re worried that technology will become a distraction in the room, you can install a discreet tablet charging trolley which is mobile and lockable. Tablets can be stored neatly and re-charged in the trolley until they are next needed.

4. Robust yet comfortable furniture

Finding the balance between comfort and sturdiness can be tricky but is necessary for children’s immediate work stations. Desks should be robust enough to withstand spillages and not mark or stain. If desks are easily cleaned, children respect them more and they are nicer surfaces to work on.  

When it comes to seating, the importance of comfort shouldn’t be superseded by cost. In my current school, the children have expressed a clear preference for those classrooms which have padded chairs. They are softer, more comfortable and aesthetically more pleasing than the plain plastic chairs you see in so many schools today. Poor quality seating is a well-documented cause of back pain for pupils - and indeed all students’ concentration will be affected if they are uncomfortable.

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