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Why is classroom design so important – and how can you make changes to yours?

Classroom design. You might not think of it as having that much of an impact on a child’s academic achievements or overall happiness in school, but it has been shown to help boost children's learning and concentration levels.

children’s wooden chair Indeed, in 2012, Michael Gove insisted that the layout of schools was never a major factor in improving learning outcomes. However, there are actually many benefits to implementing effective classroom design.

In fact, you can easily imagine the effect that a bad physical environment would have on your child – picture their classroom as a basement with grey cement walls, little natural light and rickety wooden stools and you can quickly understand how a child may become unmotivated to learn, distracted, or not even want to go to school at all. So, with that in mind, we’ve decided to investigate why classroom design is so important – as well as some simple tips that you can use within your own classroom.

“It is estimated that the impact of moving an ‘average’ child from the least effective to the most effective space would be around 1.3 sub-levels [of the national curriculum] - a big impact when pupils typically make 2 sub-levels progress a year” - ‘Clever Classrooms’, 2015 HEAD Project.

The 2015 HEAD project (Holistic Evidence and Design), ‘Clever Classrooms’, argues that well-designed classrooms and environmental factors can boost learning progress in primary school pupils by 16%. Led by Professor Peter Barrett, researchers from Salford University considered sensory factors, including air quality, colour and sound. They discovered that all were found to have a significant effect on students across 34 classrooms.

And, these factors are relatively easy to change or adjust. Simply follow our design tips and you could help to boost a child’s learning and concentration levels in your own classroom.


Why is classroom design so important – and how can you make changes to yours? image 2Image Credit: Flickr: Complete Interior Design

The 21st-century classroom is benefiting student learning by focusing on flexibility of design. There is a shift from a teacher-focused space to a more pupil-focused one. Versatile seating options, mobile furniture and welcoming classroom displays are all coming together to allow for independent, partner, group and collaborative learning.

Last month, new charter schools opened in Richmond, California. These classrooms saw a departure from traditional classrooms by creating ‘flexible classrooms’. The charter schools state that this new ‘flexible’ design is helping children to prepare for the layouts of college and work spaces in the 21st century.

These classrooms feature movable furniture that is grouped together, rather than the ‘traditional’ row-by-column classroom seating. They also feature low tables and soft seating to encourage children to work in groups. Transportable glass partitions and screens also allow different activities to take place within the same room.

“Some students use a flexible classroom like adults do at a gym class, rotating onto the next activity after five minutes or so”, says Sam Stevens, Director of Design Services at Learning Spaces. “This is a great way to keep kids excited and engrossed as their attention wanes. Moving onto the next specific activity can produce great results if the kids are coached on how to use the facility and what’s expected.”

Sam also highlights the different states of flexible learnings, from ‘whole class flexibility’ (wheeling tables and chairs away to involve the whole class) to ‘immersive learning’, where plain white walls can be transformed instantly into scenes from history or nature.

Why is classroom design so important – and how can you make changes to yours? image 3Immersive learning at Croxteth Primary School. Image Credit: Learning Spaces

Here are some ways that you can alter your classroom’s layout to help boost productivity and pupil collaboration:

  • Group desks and chairs together in small groups to encourage children to learn from one another and work together
  • Create a free-flow around the classroom for children and teachers
  • Clear lines of sight and clutter-free surfaces all have a positive effect on behaviour - make sure that your desks are set out in a way so that children can clearly see and hear you from wherever they are sat within the classroom
  • Choose furniture that can be easily moved - classroom spaces should be adaptable, rather than static
  • Designate different areas of the room to be used for varied learning activities, particularly for younger pupils

The ‘Clever Classrooms’ study found that classrooms with clear breakout zones were found to impact positively on learning. For example, you can create a ‘quiet’ area with bean bags, a reading corner with a book shelf or a sensory play/ arts and craft area with storage for supplies.

Why is classroom design so important – and how can you make changes to yours? image 4

An example of an ‘effective’ classroom from the ‘Clever Classrooms’ study. This classroom provides good features of ‘flexibility’ with defined learning areas and an attached breakout space.


Why is classroom design so important – and how can you make changes to yours? image 5Featured furniture (from left to right): children’s wooden chair, 10 pack bright cushions, JK pink hearts bean bag chair, JS round table, start right height adjustable circular tables

Furniture is a vital ingredient in making a classroom feel warm and homelike – perfect for creating a comfortable, flexible and encouraging learning environment.

Montessori schools take this into account. At a time when schools had adult-size furniture that was typically arranged in rows and bolted into place, Dr Maria Montessori created schools whose environments were adapted to children’s size and flexible nature.

This meant introducing child-sized tables and chairs that could be easily moved around and rugs and mats if children were more comfortable learning on the floor. All of this helps to create a classroom environment where children can relax, have the freedom to sit or stand where they want and feel encouraged to learn.

Indeed, Erin Klein, award-winning educator, keynote speaker, author of ‘Redesigning Learning Spaces’ and founder and owner of Kleinspiration, tells us that “when designing learning environments, the users of the space should be at the forefront of each major decision”. She argues that classroom design is so important as it should reflect students’ ideas and needs. After all, they are what she calls the “predominant users”.

Taking that into account, you could make the following changes to the furniture in your classroom:

  • Ensure that adjustable desks and chairs are the right height and size for students to help them stay focused
  • Choose chairs that have been ergonomically designed for children of all ages. Comfortable seating increases concentration levels and discourages fidgeting
  • Keep your classroom free from clutter with adequate storage
  • If your classroom isn’t spacious enough for the amount of storage needed, place lockers and trolleys in corridor spaces
  • These storage options should also be the right height for students as it allows them to easily access the resources they need
  • Lower height furniture will create more available wall area for various display options


Why is classroom design so important – and how can you make changes to yours? image 6

Learning Spaces’ design project for Silverdale School. Image credit: Learning Spaces

Display and visual stimulation are also important in terms of classroom design. It’s important to strike a balance. Too much visual stimulation can distract and confuse some children while no display at all – or too little – can have a demotivating effect.

Sam Stevens, Director of Design Services at Learning Spaces, states that display and design should directly tap into a child’s psyche: “You need to create a space that you know children would love. School should be fun and give kids the ability to channel all of their natural energy and excitement into what we call learning, but they call having fun.”

“Classrooms should be totally awe-inspiring, comfortable and fun places – if children LOVE their classroom, they’ll be extra willing to learn.”

  • Displays shouldn’t be too cluttered or over-busy. The ‘Clever Classrooms’ study states that ‘as a rule of thumb, 20-50% of the available wall space should be kept clear’
  • Try and avoid placing display materials on the windows as this results in loss of light, which can negatively impact a child’s performance
  • Space should be left to showcase children’s work – this is more likely to create a sense of ‘ownership’ that will transfer to pupils’ work and behaviour


Why is classroom design so important – and how can you make changes to yours? image 7Image Credit: Flickr: Jessica

It’s not surprising to find that classrooms with minimal windows and little natural light have been found to increase depression. However, sometimes natural light isn’t always accessible.

  • If natural light isn’t available, you can always use adequate artificial light
  • Using the correct lighting is important as it can prevent eye-strain and so help to keep students alert and focused
  • Alternatively, if there is too much incoming light, shrubs or plants can be placed outside to help reduce glare without being overpowering
  • It’s also important to consider the fact that you may need to alter the lighting for certain learning experiences. For example, you might need black-out blinds for some science lessons


Why is classroom design so important – and how can you make changes to yours? image 8Image Credit: Flickr: Marragem

What colours you use within your classroom can significantly affect attention span and mood. With design in mind, ‘Clever Classrooms’ found that changing the colour of the walls can increase learning potential and levels of engagement.

  • Muted tones can help create a calming atmosphere, enhancing the ability to concentrate
  • However, plain white walls have been found to lead to difficulty in concentration and restlessness
  • Generally, bright colours can evoke excitement and fun and stimulate engagement
  • The ‘Clever Classrooms’ study found that a feature wall in a bright colour was found to be most effective for learning as it provides an appropriate level of background stimulation
  • If you can’t paint a wall, then you can easily add colourful accents – adding bright colours to the floor, chairs, desks and blinds can help create flashes of extra colour, like in the image above


So, are you inspired to give your classroom a makeover – or have you recently redesigned your classroom space? Let us know in the comments below.

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