It’s important to create a space that enables students to perform to the best of their abilities, to amplify their engagement and ensure they get the most from their learning experience.
Likewise, a space where students can pay the maximum amount of attention, respect other students and absorb the lessons being taught makes life so much easier for teachers to do their job to the best of their abilities.
Creating a successful classroom can be challenging due to elements beyond the control of teachers (age of facilities, natural light, floor space versus class size, etc.) but there are also a number of simple things you can do to craft a ‘successful’ classroom without creating too much fuss or disruption.
Arrange desks purposefully
Rows of desks lined up facing the teacher looks good in films and TV and, for many people over the age of 40, it’s the kind of set-up they experienced in their younger school years. The reality, though, is for today’s learning environment, rows of desks are as out-dated as rote-learning.
Today’s teachers often employ a U-shaped (sometimes referred to as semi-circle) or clustered desk set-up in their classrooms. This kind of desk arrangement is ideal for engaging students in group discussions and interactions, while desks clustered in groups of two or four are great for directing focus to a group or collaborative work.
Both of these set-ups play a part in establishing greater engagement between teacher and students. A study of German fourth graders found that “students asked more questions in the semi-circle than in row-and-column arrangement[s].”
Minimising distractions is an obvious step to take in creating a successful classroom. While there may be limitations on how many distractions you can effectively minimise, there are still many ways you can limit their impact.
Can all of the students see the whiteboard/blackboard (e.g. are taller students inadvertently blocking the view of smaller students)? Does sun glare have an impact on student devices? Is the room too warm or, conversely, too cold?
Stephanie Faris writing for Quill.com suggests the first step for teachers is to take an objective look around the room.
“Consider the perspective of each student and look for items that might draw their attention away… As you choose [colours] for your walls, rugs and bulletin boards, note shades that are most conducive to learning. According to [experts like Andrew Elliot a psychology professor at the University of Rochester in New York] bright colours like red, emerald green and sapphire make it difficult for people to concentrate. Instead, make sure the colours that are within the range of vision are more subdued. Save bright colours for your reading and play areas toward the back of the room.”
Adding some personal touches to the classroom space can play an important role in creating a successful classroom. Don’t be afraid to let your personality come out in the way you decorate bulletin boards, your desk or reading spaces and the like.
A safe, welcoming and calming environment is a great way to get the most out of students and minimise their concentration breaks, so items like plants, art and posters, and cushions all have a role to play in capturing and keeping a student’s attention.
Ask students to help
Involving students in the set-up and decoration of their classroom is also a excellent tactic to employ in crafting a successful classroom. Students are more likely to have a greater investment in the space when they have had some tangible contribution to its creation.
Maybe the arrangement of tables and chairs is something that you do on your own but involve the students in planning and then decorating other areas of the space. When students feel comfortable in their surroundings, they’re more inclined to focus on learning and improve their concentration and attention levels.
Involving your students in the decoration process is also an opportunity to gain some insights into their personality, creativity levels and interactions with their classmates.
As well as the physical learning space, there are a number of approaches that teachers should apply in terms of how they manage the classroom during lesson time.
Engaging Students: Creating Classrooms that Improve Learning – a study authored by Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann for the Grattan Institute – explains how having some preventative and responsive strategies in place can play a role in creating a successful classroom.
According to Goss and Sonnemann, some of the preventative strategies that teachers should use include making it clear they have high expectations of their students – what they call “an expectation of success” (p21) so that self-esteem, engagement and concentration improves whenever a student achieves success.
Another pillar involves strong relationships between teachers and students (p22).
“It’s not about whether students ‘like’ their teacher,” Goss and Sonnemann write. “The studies show that the best teacher-student relationships form when the teacher gives strong guidance and shows clear purpose, as well as concern for the needs of others and a desire to work as a team.”
“Mutual respect is important; teachers should recognise students’ rights to learn, to feel emotionally and physically safe and to be treated fairly. Empathy is vital, but strong relationships also require teachers to maintain a healthy emotional objectivity towards their students.”
Teachers also need to establish clarity and structure about what they expect of the students: “explicitly state the learning goals, define and explain classroom procedures, direct activities and minimise distractions.” (p23)
Active learning is also important for establishing a better classroom. Involve the students in discussion and allow time for problem-solving in different-sized groups. These opportunities for collaborative work lend themselves to boosting achievement, as well as improving interpersonal relationships and attitudes to learning.
Encouragement and praise, corrections and consequences are what Goss and Sonnemann describe as responsive strategies. Letting students know they have done great work, providing positive feedback to students or giving awards are also necessary in the classroom. It’s important that the praise is specific and genuine but equally important not to undermine student responsibility.
Likewise, corrections and consequences are important strategies to employ in a classroom – a clear lesson demonstrating that actions have consequences, just as they do in the real world.
It’s imperative teachers don’t just jump straight into the ‘punishment’ phase but, instead, make it clear to a student that their actions aren’t appropriate for your classroom, giving them an opportunity to change the way they behave. Like praise and encouragement, the reason, if it comes to it for punishment needs to be clear and direct. The explanation should also highlight to the student how their bad behaviour impacts on others in the class.
Bear in mind, a ‘successful’ classroom will work for the majority of your students. However, those students with complex needs and issues, for example, may not always fully respond to these approaches.
A well-considered classroom is an important part of attracting, keeping and maintaining student attention. With more attention being paid from the students in your class, the more likely you are to establish a space where children enjoy the learning process; a space where they are fully engaged with what they’re being taught.