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Can Good Classroom Design Help Students Learn?
Teachers know that changing their classroom layout can shake things up, and recent research supports this: classroom design influences students’ behavior. More surprisingly, the classroom has a significant and lasting effect on students’ performance.
Good classroom design can boost students’ performance by 25 percent
Researchers at the University of Salford have been assessing the influence of classroom design on student performance. The University of Salford’s School of the Built Environment studied 751 students in 34 classrooms, evaluating their classroom environments and tracking their academic performance over the course of one year. The study measured many facets of classroom design:
- Classroom lighting: Access to natural light; the ability to adjust light levels
- Noise levels: Students’ ability to hear the teacher; amount of outside sounds
- Air quality: Temperature, air circulation, odors from the outside the classroom (cafeteria, etc.)
- Use of color
- Orientation of the classroom and flexibility of space
- Available storage
Researchers noted that, “All things being equal, the academic performance of a child in the best environment is expected to be 25 percent better than an equivalent child in the ‘poorest’ classroom environment.” They suggested that these design factors be taken into account as best practices for future building design.
Classroom design that benefits students — and teachers
While teachers are often faced with a fixed classroom design that would be unreasonably costly to change, several of the design features in the study — natural light (if available), noise control, and even color usage and classroom orientation — can be considered when creating a classroom layout. Other design features, including movement in the classroom and visual cues, can aid student performance as well.
An effective classroom should be safe, comfortable, and allow for students to take full advantages of available classroom resources. The National Center for Quality Teacher and Learning (NCQTL) provides a list of helpful classroom design resources, including articles, books, and websites.
See the classroom from a student’s perspective
Pre-K and elementary teachers may want to get down to their students’ physical level and look around to ensure that they have maximized their classroom space and that students know what to do and what is expected in the classroom. It’s also is important to remember both physical and content considerations in design. Physical considerations should include allowing students room to move — but not too much. While some space allows for smoothly flowing traffic and the protection of personal space, too much gives students a chance to run, kick, or act out.
The NCQTL also suggests that classrooms have areas with home-like features such as pillows and rugs. This increases the level of comfort in the classroom while allowing sensory students a small crash area or space to withdraw. Both controlled student movement and comfortable features can also help to mitigate the noise levels of a classroom, which increases concentration and learning.
Change the classroom layout to fit class projects
Room features are also relevant to what students are learning. While it can be tempting to set up a classroom in August and maintain it until the end of the year, changes in curriculum warrant changes in classroom design. Students notice even small changes to the classroom, so adding new features throughout the year can provide a fresh perspective.
Some topics of study are more collaborative in nature, so desk setup and traffic flow may change as the curriculum changes. Most importantly, if students are struggling in a classroom environment, small changes to classroom setup to help those students can make a huge difference to their success.
Limitations to the perfect classroom undoubtedly exist in terms of building design, available natural light, and even funding. However, creativity combined with an eye toward curriculum and student needs can help maximize learning. Investments in classroom design should be considered carefully because of their payoff in student performance.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.