Designing The Classroom To Enhance Learning

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Classroom design can have a significant effect on students’ academic progress, reports Adi Bloom in the Times Educational Supplement:

“Academics from the University of Salford in Britain examined how much pupils’ environment affects their performance, looking at whether certain types of classrooms encourage learning learning. Their findings were  published in the latest issue of the journal Building and Environment.

Researchers examined the academic achievement of 751 pupils, studying in 34 classrooms across seven schools. Their observations found that 73 per cent of the variation in pupils’ performance could be explained by environmental factors.

In fact, the difference between the academic performance of an average pupil placed in the worst classroom, compared with that of a pupil placed in the best classroom, was equal to the average improvement of a child during an entire academic year.”

Here, some of the environmental factors that influenced students’ learning:

• Classrooms that received natural light from more than one direction, and with high-quality electric lighting, benefited pupils.

• Design features that allowed pupils to feel a sense of ownership towards their classroom also helped them to learn.

• Comfortable—and larger—desks and chairs were an aid to progress.

• Pupils benefited from a range of activity zones within a single classroom, allowing different types of learning to take place at the same time.

• Other factors were found to have such a detrimental effect on learning—for instance, noise and temperature levels—that they rendered all other factors insignificant.

• While stimulation was important, so was a sense of order. ‘Young children may like exciting spaces, but to learn it would seem they need relatively ordered spaces, with a reasonable degree of interest,’ the researchers conclude.” (Unfortunately, the article is not available online.)

Much of this is common sense, and yet many of the spaces that children learn in are far from ideal, so attention to the issue of design is clearly needed.

What about the spaces that your children or students learn in—do they resemble the ideal described by the University of Salford researchers?

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8 Responses to “Designing The Classroom To Enhance Learning”

  1. Sheryl Morris says:

    Dear Annie,
    I think you would be fascinated with Montessori schools. Have you had the chance to research Montessori education?

    Absolutely the best way to learn about Montessori schools is to visit one.

  2. Al Meyers says:

    Classroom design is critically important to learning. I was particularly impressed with the research that Oulu, Finland, tried a few years ago regarding the “School of the Future.”

  3. Anndee Meyer says:

    I like this!

    Recently I was in a classroom that had so much stuff on the walls that I was distracted! I can only imagine how the students felt. Also, I still see the rows of desks?? Why is that still something teachers think is good? When will the tide change away from that type of set up?

    Thanks for the post!

  4. Walter Ratcliff says:

    Where’s the evidence of causation? How was this study controlled? How did the investigators rule out the Hawthorne Effect? I don’t want to in any way denigrate these fine building design ideas, but I hope you’ll be more careful in future.

  5. Pooja says:

    The new way forward is mobile learning, where you can get all your classroom knowledge on your handset.

  6. Aerin Guy says:

    Interesting stuff. The Reggio Emilia approach also looks at design-centered learning and how the environment meets the needs of the learners.
    In our school district, we are fighting a giant battle against closure of schools in the community. So many of us would love to school our kids in inspiring buildings and classrooms, but our priority is keeping the doors open, unfortunately! It is my hope that districts will consider the importance of the learning environment when undertaking facilities planning – whether that’s for building new schools or reconfiguring others. Thanks for posting this!

  7. I agree that this description is almost a spot on description of most Montessori classrooms I’ve visited.

    Would be curious to hear some more specific examples of “Design features that allowed pupils to feel a sense of ownership towards their classroom also helped them to learn.”

  8. Kathy Sierra says:

    Yep, this is one of the many reasons I love (most) Montessori schools. My daughter’s K-12 Montessori was in an urban neighborhood, but was built into a beautiful old house they’d remodeled to add a lot more natural light and private areas kids could work in. As long as you were taking the work seriously, and not disturbing any other students, you could work just about wherever and however you chose, from beanbags on the floor to high bar stools at a counter, to a quiet conference room, etc. Students transferring from that school into a public school after grade 5 were, on average, testing two full years ahead of their public school peers *with the same general demographics*. Not a scientific study, but not insignificant. Of course the physical environment was only one attribute of their approach to student learning. Complete lack of grades and homework, in my opinion, was also important, as was the overall approach to learning (manipulatives, focused on student interests, autonomous, mixed-age, etc. etc. etc. )
    I don’t actually know much about Montessori methods, so my daughter’s school may have been unique. I do know it was worth huge sacrifices to pay for it, and I knew it was worth it the moment I walked in. You could feel the neurons firing.

    I have worked at several tech and creative companies over the years, and the best always took great care to provide the best environment for both thinking and creativity. Some were expensively designed and built, but some were on shoestring budgets in a run-down warehouse. It was not about the money. If you can squish 30 young programmers into a small room and somehow make it feel inspirational and focused, I don’t know why we can’t do more in schools. But then, my daughter is in her first year as a public school teacher, so I’m seeing some of the heartbreaking truths of what it’s like to be a public school teacher today.

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