Room Arrangements

Posted by on Oct 5, 2009


*This is a reflection post required for my JHU-ISTE Leadership program.

This week we were asked to evaluate various room arrangements found within a classroom.  It is quite intriguing to explore the various ways teachers choose to set up a classroom and what it communicates about the methodologies and pedagogical practice in play in a given setting.  It seems there is great variety in the methods teachers use when determining exactly what setup to utilize, and the practice yields a myriad of implications for students as they engage the learning process.

The tradition room arrangement with students all sitting in rows is decreasing in frequency from my observations.  More unique arrangements are being utilized in an attempt to foster more collaborative learning environments.  There are certainly still classrooms that employ the traditional, and it seems that set up is more common at the secondary level than at the elementary.  I believe this is the case for a multitude of reasons, one major reason being fewer teachers actually have their own classrooms in middle and high schools, thus, there is less opportunity to change the environment entirely to meet the teacher’s style.

It was quite apparent that most of the rooms that held a traditional arrangement, and did so for the duration of a class, were more invested in the direct instruction model.  Some teachers did begin in the traditional arrangement, but then allowed for movement of the arrangement once group work or partner work began.  Rooms that were arranged in a more unique manner were often centered around student discussion or student inquiry, and there was little time spent on specific direct instruction.  One room even had students getting comfortable in bean bags and non-traditional seats, almost like something seen in a library, and when I was in the classroom, a Socratic discussion was taking place amongst the students about a specific piece of literature.

It was clear that in most cases, the teachers accounted for the daily traffic patterns that take place in a class period.  The traditional setting has students moving only when they entered the classroom to take their seats and then again when they left the classroom.  The unique arrangements often had students moving freely throughout the class, and the furniture may have served as obstacles in a given arrangement, but the students didn’t seem bothered by this in the least.  One room was arranged in a double horse-shoe shape, and students in the center were constrained somewhat by the outer portion of the horseshoe.  This seemed to bother some of the students as they weren’t able to move their seats or move away from their desks freely.

This exercise proved quite interesting.  I was intrigued at how much I learned about a teacher simply by observing the arrangement of his or her space.  I’m sure many supervisors observe the same when conducting formal or even informal observations of a teacher.  I wonder how responsive teachers would be to dedicating a staff meeting or a portion of an inservice day to discuss and explore potential variety in the arrangements of a class.  I would also gather that supervisors could use what they observe about class arrangements to provide specific staff development in the learning and teaching practices that may result from various arrangements.

The final part of my observation was focused on the computers available in a given classroom.  Here again there was great variety.  Some classes had four or five computer stations sitting on tables at the back of the room.  Other classrooms shared a pod of computers in a common area just outside several classrooms.  Some classes had checked out a computer cart of laptops, and they were using those resources during the lesson at their individual desks.  There was great variety of setups depending on the physical setup of a given school.

It would be interesting to continue with this observation activity in the future as resources and pedagogy change to see if the change results in new ways to think of arranging the learning environment.

Thanks to Courosa for the use of the Flickr image.


  1. Eric
    October 6, 2009


    Thanks for the reflection — these are Important observations, especially to those of us who get so caught up in the minutiae of the average school day and forget about such vital details. Though it seems that I personally spend a lot of time trying to see my subject matter through my students’ eyes, I admittedly rarely think of what the physical spaces in my school look like to them.

    And even though I do have a more ‘student-friendly’ seating arrangement, your post made me realize that my instruction doesn’t always match my desk setup. I appreciate that.


  2. Dean
    October 6, 2009

    Clarence Fisher talks in great depth about his studio approach. I talked to him about that here:

  3. Damian
    October 6, 2009

    I think that room arrangements are very important–so important I almost threatened to quit at school when renovations were going on and we were told that all science rooms would have built-in lab tables so that any science could be taught in any science room. I argued that a chemistry lab would never work for a physics experiment set-up and vice versa. I finally won, but it took a lot of explaining that shouldn’t have had to happen. We just needed the flexibility of a traditional lecture space, a theater, a place for demos, a place for labs, a place for group work, and a place for equipment and computers. That was a lot to demand of a space, but I think it works out pretty well, even if we do get a workout everyday (and sometimes every other class period) from the changes that are required. But, it’s important, so we just do it.


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