Teach100 Mentors: How Customizable Is Your Classroom?

Just as every teacher has their own style of teaching, each also has his or her own style when it comes to classroom design.

An image from the Science of Classroom Design infographic

An image from the Science of Classroom Design infographic

And those choices matter. Remember this infographic?

From posters on the wall to books on the shelves, desk arrangements to desk lamps, teachers make a lot of choices about what their learning spaces look and feel like. It's a quick breakdown of the major ways can have an impact on how well students learn.

Students who are exposed to more natural light in the classroom, for example, score 26% higher on math and reading tests than those with less exposure to light. That's a pretty big boost.

But depending on your school, control over classroom design can vary with each teacher, and a lack of that control can render the statistics null and void.

So we asked our Teach100 Mentors: What's your classroom design like? How much control do you have over it? And if you think any one element is most important, what is it? Let’s see what they had to say! Do you agree? Disagree?

On Lighting

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 2.01.30 PM

“I have always especially appreciated using natural light to support the use of digital displays.” Melanie Link Taylor, MzTeachuh

“[My classroom has] fluorescent--all controlled by one switch.” Lisa Friedman, Removing the Stumbling Block

“The classroom element I would tell a new teacher to focus on the most would be lighting because it can make a difference in silent reading and computer areas." Mike Lerchenfeldt, The Light Bulb

"When we put our energy into something like lighting, which is a building issue (and such choices were likely made before we were hired) or AV equipment when we have no budget control, we run the risk of exhausting ourselves with frustration. Better to feel accomplished in what is in our control and demonstrate the value of such accomplishments. That could end up being the turning point needed for other, more complicated, pieces.” Lisa Friedman, Removing the Stumbling Block

On Seating

desk arrangement

“[I change desk arrangement] as needed by students, depending on the class. But desks are only part of the class setup: we have sofas and bean bags as well, and lots of students sit on the floor too.” Ross Parker, rossparker.org

“I have been pushing for more classrooms to implement the use of bean bag chairs to give the students a more relaxing location to do their in class work.” Jeff Bradbury, TeacherCast

“Desk arrangement is KEY! I've had my most off-task classes become collaborative and DYNAMIC when I adjusted the seating chart. Making great seating charts is like playing human Sudoku.” Carissa, mELTing Teacher's Activities

“Varied arrangements prepare students for the activity at hand, and differentiates the collaboration groups.” Melanie Link Taylor, MzTeachuh

“Alternative seating, tables, rugs, standup desks--anything that gives students choice in where they work will make the most difference.” Marcia, Learning in Bliss

“Desk arrangement matters most: teachers have control of how students will work and where students attention will be focused.” Todd Bloch, Sweat to Inspire

“New teachers should focus on having a classroom arrangement that allows for movement, and allows students to take ownership of the space." Jen White, Teaching Teens in the 21st

Noticing a gap between what you'd like to do with your classroom and what you can do? Write about it!

On Decorations

“For me it has always been important to get as much student work up on the walls as quickly as possible at the start of the year. I want the classroom to feel like a shared spaced, and for me this has always proven to be a simple, effective, and fun way to accomplish that goal.” Mike Karlin, The EdTech Roundup

“Wall decorations and desk arrangements are easiest to control for teachers, so that is a good place to start. You can accommodate students very directly by working with these means and adjust as needed.” Starr Sackstein, StarrSackstein.com

"Wall decorations are very cute, but are really the least important. Make decorations have a purpose rather than just for decoration!” Jen White, Teaching Teens in the 21st

Advice for New Teachers on Classroom Design?

“I think individual elements are important, but it is the way things tie together into a whole that matters more. I have had the same classroom for 5 years, and have spent a lot of time working on it. In the end, my students designed the desk arrangement, and I added in some free sofas and bean bags I managed to get. I have graffitied the walls, added some plants, adjusted the storage, moved my desk, changed the focal point of the room, thrown in a large TV someone gave away, and added some Internet memes. The overall effect is less classroom and more lounge, and this is conducive to learning. Every classroom should be different, reflective the school, teacher, students and context.” Ross Parker, rossparker.org

Want to become a Teach100 Mentor? Submit your blog to the Teach100 and sign up for our monthly survey and newsletter: