What can a classroom design tell us?

Classroom is the most important place at school. It is here that students spend most of their time. It is a space where knowledge is passed so its design should support this function. However, is this the case?

The way particular elements are arranged inside a classroom is crucial. It has influence on the learning atmosphere as well as on the quality of communication during classes. The design of the traditional classroom ‘says’ clearly: in this place we value order and discipline. All desks and chairs stand next to each other in straight rows. There is no place here for an individual approach to students’ needs, for example, in terms of the space which they can use to feel comfortable.

What is more, the division of classroom space is not symmetrical. The teacher has more space at his or her disposal than students and can move freely. Often he or she has also a bigger desk with a cabinet or drawers which can be locked. Moreover, the teacher has a better chair as well as access to a computer and other multimedia devices.

Students, on the other hand, do not have spaces which would give them some privacy. They have no lockers for their belongings. They cannot move freely around the classroom. They have a very limited right to use school devices and facilities. Their desks are usually arranged in such a way that they cannot keep an eye contact with one another. This limits opportunities for group work and exchanging experiences.


illustrations: Dariusz Zych

Main photo - What can a classroom design tell us?

Such an arrangement of space reminds us of a factory where students are workers positioned at their work stations or of a theatre where an actor plays a role on stage and others have to keep quiet and listen to him or of a church where the priest says a mass at the altar and the congregation listens and utters their well-known responses at the right moments.

The place where students are seated in the traditional classroom affects their behaviour during classes. The teacher’s attention is directed towards those sitting in the front and middle rows. These students are most active during classes.

However, there are different ways to arrange space in classrooms. For example, desks can be arranged in the shape resembling a horseshoe. Such an arrangement facilitates interaction between the teacher and students. Students face each other, which makes it easier for them to communicate and engage in discussions. There are also good conditions for listening and observing one another. Sitting like that may make them feel more confident to speak or make critical remarks. The teacher, on the other hand, can walk freely among the students.

How were the desks arranged at your school?