Is Your Classroom Organized for Learning?

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.School’s over! As you clean table tops, take down anchor charts, and sort supplies, pause and take a look around your classroom. Will you be leaving a space that worked well for most of the year’s learning activities, a space you happily anticipate returning to in the fall? Or did the room seem to somehow get in the way of your teaching and students’ learning?

Students spend more time in classrooms than in any other part of the school, so the way these spaces look, feel, and function has a huge impact on how comfortably—and how much—they learn. With the past year fresh in your mind, now is a good time to reflect on what makes any classroom a great space for learning, how well your own classroom worked this year, and what you might do to make it work better.

Classrooms That Welcome Students

Furniture that fits student’ bodies; materials that suit their developmental capabilities, interests, and learning styles; uncluttered areas where they can work alone or with classmates; displays that reflect their work and ideas—these are the building blocks of a space that welcomes children and supports their learning.

Such student-centered spaces entice children to:

  • Develop a sense of individual and group ownership of the room
  • Actively engage in and enjoy their learning
  • Work cooperatively
  • Move about responsibly and independently
  • Value and care for materials and equipment

Although most of us don’t choose the classrooms we teach in, we usually do have a measure of control over how we equip and arrange them. The checklists that follow will help you zero in on elements you might want to add or change to make your own classroom more welcoming and learning-friendly.


Organized With Children in Mind: Classroom Snapshots

  • In a classroom full of exuberant five-year-olds, the teacher removes bulky furniture to make room for large-muscle activities like block building and water play.
  • A teacher raises a couple of tables on wooden blocks so a child using a wheelchair can write comfortably and have some choice about where to sit.
  • For eleven-year-olds, who crave autonomy and interaction with peers, a teacher arranges desks in clusters and also provides tables and floor pillows so students can choose among places to sit when working independently.
  • A child with attentional difficulties can choose to work in a teacher-created “corner office” consisting of a small table, chair, and tabletop screens fashioned from manila file folders.
  • Upon inheriting a classroom previously used by fourth graders, a second grade teacher provides plastic cubes for footrests so children can sit more comfortably in too-big chairs.

Classroom Organization Checklists

There’s no magic formula for creating a well-organized classroom. That’s because what works well depends on students’ capabilities and needs, the space you have to work with, and your vision for how learning should look, sound, and feel. And what feels like a perfect fit one year may feel less so the next as you respond to changes in curriculum and adjust your teaching practices for each new class of students.

That said, though, these checklists do include important elements to consider as you organize your classroom space to welcome all children and support their best learning. You can use one or more of the checklists to zero in on aspects of classroom organization you’d like to improve. Choose the reflection time that works best for you: as you close out the school year; during the summer, when you can think and plan at a more leisurely pace; or at the end of the summer, when you’re preparing the space for a new group of students.

Does the classroom have spaces for:

__  Partner work

__  Small-group work

__  Whole-group circles in which everyone can see and be seen

__  Messy work

__  Quiet, independent work

__  Relaxing work (spots where children can lie down or sit on the floor to read, do math, or draw)

Furniture

Are tables, chairs, bookcases, cubbies, etc.:

—  Sized properly for children

—  Comfortable

—  Suitable for children with special needs

—  Clean and in good repair

—  Appropriate for multiple uses throughout the day

—  Easy for children to move into different learning configurations (be sure to teach children how to move furniture safely)

—  Arranged to:

  • support classroom routines
  • allow for efficient transitions
  • enable children, including those with special needs, to move around easily and safely

Do You Really Need a Teacher Desk?

Often the teacher’s desk is the largest piece of furniture in a classroom. It’s also often the least used—except as a repository for items we haven’t had time to put away! If your desk takes up too much space, consider replacing it with a smaller, easily moveable table that has multiple uses.

Before moving your desk out, make sure you have a filing cabinet or bin and one or two “Teacher Only” shelves where you can store the stuff that formerly lived on and in your desk.


Materials

Are materials:

__ Relevant to children’s work and appropriate for their age

__ Clean and in good working order, with all parts present

__ Easily accessible if children use them independently

__ Inaccessible if children do not use them independently

__ Sorted and stored in bins or boxes or on shelves

__ Kept near the workplace where they’ll be used

__  Clearly labeled with words, graphics, or both

Displays

Do displays:

__  Consist mostly of children’s work (vs. commercial products or your creations)

__  Include students’ names and portraits (photos or drawings)

__  Reflect students’ age, interests, and current work (edit displays regularly to keep them fresh and relevant)

__  Hang at children’s eye level

__  Include work from all students

__  Focus on process (consist of both drafts and polished work)

__  Show class as well as individual work (class work might include rules, learning goals, and favorite songs, activities, or greetings)

Positive Time-Out Spaces

Are the time-out spaces (at least two, if possible):

__  Used for no other purpose

__  Away from the action but placed so the child can see and hear classmates

__  Within your view from any point in the classroom

__  Supplied with items that can help children calm themselves (a comfortable chair or pillow; a small basket of calming aids such as stress balls or puzzles; a student-generated list of helpful hints for regaining self-control; a poster, photo, or student’s drawing of a peaceful scene)

A Space That’s Ready for Learning

A well-organized classroom sends a clear and positive message to students: This room was created for you, with your specific needs in mind, because you and your learning are important. With good organization, any classroom, even one that’s small or oddly shaped, can feel comfortable and functional. Without it, even a generously sized room can diminish students’ sense of ease and autonomy and limit their learning.

As you reflect on ways to improve your classroom’s organization, keep in mind that you needn’t change everything at once; just one or two small, simple adjustments can have dramatic effects. So have fun choosing one or two checklist items to work with. See how they affect students’ learning. You’ll likely be so pleased with the results that you’ll soon be ready to try a few more.


Related Articles:

Classroom Spaces That Work

Furniture for the Classroom

Solving the Space Crunch

A Comfortable Way to Work

Ask Yourself Why

Our Classroom Walls

Displaying Student Work

Getting the Most Value Out of Displays

Tags: Classroom Organization

One Reply to “Is Your Classroom Organized for Learning?”

  • My sister recently started teaching sixth grade and she is thinking about adding some furniture besides the tables and chairs to the classroom, so I am glad that I found this article. You make a great point that you should choose furniture like cubbies and bookcases that are sized so they will be accessible and easy for the kids to use. Also, I think it would help my sister to have furniture that is easy to move so that she can split the class into groups easily without a lot of hassle and time. I will make sure to share these tips with her!

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