Organizing a Productive Classroom

Although most of us don’t have a choice when it comes to which classroom we get assigned to, we do have at least some control over how we set up the environment in that space.

Effective teachers know the organization of the classroom environment helps to influence the behavior that goes on within it. As a result, student engagement (and learning!) increases, and the likelihood of misbehavior is likely to be very low.

Can you think of a time this would come in handy? 

How about during your next EES observation?

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When you look at Domain 2: The Classroom Environment, you could pretty much check off every box if you get intentional about this. The fact that “Organizing a Productive Classroom” is an MTSS PCM Strategy anyway just makes it a no-brainer for helping to provide your students with another solid Tier 1 element.

In case you need a refresher, here is the Domain 2 list from Danielson:

Domain 2: The Classroom Environment

2a. Creating an environment of respect and rapport 2b. Establishing a Culture for Learning 2c. Managing Classroom Procedures 2d. Managing Student Behavior 2e. Organizing physical space

With any luck, you’ll also hit this one:

Domain 3. Instruction

3a. Engaging Students in Learning 

As you read through the following list, think of your own space and maybe consider whether a spring cleaning (or even just a small “refresh”) might be in order. Key ingredients of a classroom that is effectively organized for optimal student engagement:

  • All students can see instructions without having to strain or engage in effort
  • Visual and auditory distractions in the room are limited
  • Problem students are not seated next to one another
  • Students of all abilities can around the room with minimal disruption
  • Seating is arranged optimally to enable different groupings to work together (whole group, small group, individual instruction)
  • Seating in rows with paired desks instead of tables has been shown to reduce disruptive behavior (Whedall et al., 1981) and increase academic productivity (Bennett & Blundell, 1983)

Sometimes when you've taught and "lived" in a particular classroom for a long time, it's easy to get desensitized to the stimuli in the space.

Here's an action step for you:

Sometimes when you’ve taught and “lived” in a particular classroom for a long time, it’s easy to get desensitized to the stimuli in the space.

Here are some things you can try as you assess your classroom environment:

  • Try sitting down at a student desk to experience what it’s like for them to read the day’s agenda, find out what the homework is, and look at whatever is posted on the walls.
    • Are you overwhelmed with clutter?
    • Is there a lot of distraction?
    • Are instructions/procedures clear?
    • On the other hand, are the walls TOO bare/stark?
    • Is everything generally clean and free from dust/dirt?
    • What about color? Too much? Too little? Just right?
  • Also, consider the “flow” around the room. Is your furniture arranged to promote interaction (as appropriate), to enable students to have comfortable areas for working, and to move around the room to turn in work, gather supplies, etc.
  • Consider changing what you put on your walls periodically, to avoid your visuals turning into “white noise” for the students
  • If you really want an objective point of view, get one of your colleagues to sit in a student desk and go through these questions, giving you their honest feedback! Better yet, ask the students!

When it comes to this PCM strategy, no one is saying your classroom needs to look like a Pinterest board. However, by being just a little intentional with your classroom organization, you could go a long way to helping students get, stay, and remain engaged throughout your lessons. Maybe your EES observation will go more smoothly, too!

Other Research:

Exploring Students Behavior on Seating Arrangement in Learning Environment
Behavior Support Through Classroom Changes in Time, Space, Materials, and Interactions
Changing Behaviors by Changing the Classroom Environment
The Importance of Classroom Structure (AMLE)

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