One of the most gratifying parts of being human is the fact that we are distinctly unique from one another. From choice of favorite color, to morning routines, to what we like to listen to while driving, to how we interact with those around us and what we’re known for by others -- we are inevitably each our own unique person.
Make no mistake, that is one of the greatest gifts of being human, right up there with breathing. This type of individuality is innate in each and every one of us; as such, we all inevitably have our own curiosities, quirks and needs, wants and desires. These apply across a wide array of areas in our lives, but one area where uniqueness plays a key role is how we learn, and what environment suits our learning the best.
This is true for both adults and kids -- some of us learn best when blocked off from all distraction, whereas others learn better when working with others and some of us learn better visually as opposed to experientially.
The point is, as distinctly unique individuals, your students each learn in personalized ways -- a topic we covered in our blog “5 Simple Personalized Learning Strategies For Your Classroom” -- and may need to interact with your learning environment in different ways in order to get the most out of their learning.
A good place to start when bringing a more personalized learning approach to your classroom is with classroom redesign. By involving your students in the process of creating a redesigned classroom you’re sure to maximize their engagement and ensure they get the most out of your teaching.
So, let’s get started, shall we?
1. Reimagine Classroom Seating
Give Students The Flexibility To Sit, Stand, Work Alone, Work Together, Etc…
Flexible seating has become a movement in education -- even though the idea itself has been around for quite some time, it’s starting to gain a lot more traction recently. The reasoning? It works to maximize student engagement, plain and simple.
Traditional seating simply does not work for a good amount of students, whereas flexible seating gives every student the opportunity to work in whatever setting works best for them.
So, how do you bring flexible seating to your classroom? Start with the flexible part of it -- you need to have the versatility to offer your students many different options. Can they work standing up? Can they work on the floor? Can they work with one another? Can they work by themselves if they want to? These are some of the big questions that drive flexible seating.
Consider designating different parts of your classroom for various learning objectives. For example, one area could be used for collaborative work, while another would be closed off for those students who would rather work by themselves. Provide an area for students to work while standing, and an area for them to sprawl out on the floor if they so desire. The point is, give them flexible options.
Next, take into account the seating part of it. For standing areas, you obviously wouldn’t need seating, but for the floor, you may consider bean bag chairs -- or pillows -- so that students can roll to the floor if they want to. Collaborative spaces may need a table, and individual spaces need some seclusion. You can use existing furniture to create these spaces as well. For example, you could flip a table on its edge and create a fort where a student can work alone.
Bottom line -- sometimes students don’t work best in the spaces where they think they will, so monitoring the seating arrangements will be key. However, it’s also important that each kid gets to try all the options after you implement flexible seating, so they can learn where they are most productive. Involving them in the process to begin with also ensure that students have a voice in how some of the flexible seating is arranged.
2. Reimagine Classroom Wall Space
Use Your Walls As Space For Kids To Ideate, Create And Collaborate
What do your kids currently see on the walls of your classroom? Do you keep the same layout on your walls year in and year out? Do you use them for decoration more than you use them to showcase student learning? Can students interact with the walls in your classroom?
Classroom walls can be some of the most powerful and impactful learning tools in your space. Using them properly can be difficult though.
When the mind wanders or is curious, often times we start looking around us and pondering. Many times we look at the walls that surround us in search of answers. Imagine if you could leverage that curiosity or wandering to your advantage.
By reimagining how you use your classroom walls, you can.
What if while your students were working on a project they could just take to the wall and put some sticky note ideation on it, hashing out their ponderings and engaging their creativity?What if there were whiteboards, plexiglass and writable surfaces all around them that they could use whenever they saw fit?
Empower and encourage your students to use the walls as a springboard for their ideation and a catalyst to their creativity and imagination. When the walls of your classroom become a canvas your students can use in their learning, you’re expanding the boundaries of their learning surface to be limitless, and thus encouraging a limitless imagination -- out-of-the-box thinking is more possible when the boundaries of the box don’t exist.
Flexible seating is one step in creating a versatile classroom, leveraging wall space is another. Designate different sections of your classroom walls for various learning objectives and challenge the obsolete bulletin board, letting your kids own the walls and move onto them with their own ideas.
3. Reimagine The Heart Of Your Classroom
Gather And Connect As An Entire Class
We’ve all heard it -- challenge your role as the sage on the stage, and at the front of the classroom, and become the guide on the side instead. It’s an awesome concept, and it works when implemented correctly, but how do we implement it?
Flexible seating is a good way to start because it allows you to create places to learn everywhere in your classroom, instead of making rows of desks that point to a focal point. With flexible seating, you’re eliminating any particular focal point and thereby designing a classroom where the heart of the classroom is the entirety of the room.
However, flexible seating is just one step in the process, we must also be willing to relinquish control over the room, and become a part of the knowledge discovery, instead of leading it.
Reimagining the heart of your classroom begins with learning areas that are diverse, and that span different areas of your room. However, you must also become a part of the room, instead of owning the center, or front, of it. That includes your desk as well. Consider moving your desk to a strategic area of the room -- in the back, or even out of the room completely -- in order to leverage this heart of the room strategy even further.
Essentially, a podium is not the heart of your classroom. The heart is the collaboration that takes place between you and your students and the collaboration that takes place among them.
4. Reimagine How You Use Your Classroom Supplies
Create A Supply Headquarters That’s Accessible At Any Time
Whether it’s smelly markers, crayons, pens, pencils, tablets, laptops, construction paper or Chromebooks, creating a headquarters for all your supplies that’s accessible at any time is another way to maximize student engagement.
For one, it organizes the resources students can use to supplement their learning into one area. The accessibility also encourages students to use them when they need them, and for whatever purpose they deem necessary, instead of being directed by you when to use a certain resource for a specific project.
Creating this space encourages students to think of how they use resources for projects differently. Instead of being directed to use resources, they are able to think critically about how a certain resource will benefit what they are working on, and become self-sufficient with how they supplement their learning. It leaves the power in your kids’ hands to decide how a certain learning objective should be completed, and teaches them to be eclectic with how they choose to interact with their learning.
In other words, you’re challenging your students to own their learning, and decide on their own what resource they need for a project. You’re also allowing students to choose resources that work specifically for their style of learning, and create completed projects that are unique to them.
5. Involve Your Kiddos In The Process
Ideate, Create And Implement Your Redesigned Classroom Together
What’s the best way to maximize student engagement with classroom setup ideas? Involve your students in the process of redesigning your classroom.
Bring it up with them first and tell them you’re planning on making the classroom a bit different, and that you’d like their thoughts on the process. Obviously this will be a little different depending on what level of education you’re teaching at, but it’s possible at every level.
The point is, you don’t want your students to walk in one day and see an entirely different classroom setup without first being aware of your intention to make changes.
Ask your students what they enjoy learning about at home, and where at home they usually do that learning. Discuss with them what they think is missing from the walls of your classroom, or what else they’d like to see on the walls. Ask them each what they enjoy as hobbies on the side -- this is a good starting point for considering how certain students will use flexible seating and a supplies headquarters.
Mostly, just encourage creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking and most importantly, make them aware that you’re redesigning the classroom for them, and that their input is key to the situation.
Redesigning your classroom can be difficult and time consuming, but it’s not impossible. The five strategies above are a great place to start, but your own ideation on the subject will be invaluable as well.
At its core, classroom redesign is about one thing -- the fact that students are all unique, and need to be stimulated in different ways in order to get the most out of knowledge acquisition.
We all seek access to knowledge in different ways, but the seeking mostly stems from the curiosity to discover.
A versatile learning environment is the best way to diversify your students’ access to that discovery, while also empowering their curiosity and imagination.
Thanks for stopping by! If you have any comments, suggestions or musings drop us a line in the comment section below.
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