Most classrooms today still share one similarity with classrooms of more than a century ago: rows and rows of desks.
“Often when I’m leading a session, I’ll show a picture of a classroom from 1950 – and then we’ll look around and realize we’re in a classroom like the one I’m showing on the screen,” says Kayla Delzer, a second grade teacher and TEDx speaker.
“Our classrooms need to be as engaging as the world around our kids,” Delzer says. “If we’re not doing that, we’re doing a disservice to our kids.”
Her classroom features inviting colors, soft lighting, a notable absence of bulletin boards and a wide variety of flexible, comfortable seating, including stability balls, yoga mats and beanbag chairs. There’s also a standing work area. Students decide whether they want to stand, sit or lie down as they work.
Try these six tips for creating a more engaging classroom.
Change your mindset. Creating a more engaging classroom isn’t just about “changing desks to tables and adding more flexible seating,” Delzer says. “You have to mentally let go some of the power in your classroom. If you’re not ready to really hand your classroom over to your kids, flexible seating will not be successful for you.”
Get creative. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create an inviting classroom. Start with what you have. Delzer used bed risers to raise a table to the perfect height for her students. She’s brought in bath mats and yoga mats to accommodate students who like to work on the floor.
Start small. Begin by creating a “comfy corner” in your classroom and occasionally give students choices about where they’d like to work. You can gradually move to bigger changes over time.
Keep supplies easily accessible. Textbooks and notebooks are stored in labeled plastic drawers, and students share school supplies like crayons, markers and pencils. Each work station has a bin containing supplies, and students can grab portable supply bins to use anywhere in the room.
Give students choices, but outline expectations. There are no assigned seats in Delzer’s classroom; students are free to work wherever they’d like. But she carefully outlines her expectations at the beginning of the year and reviews them as needed. Each student is required to try out each kind of seating over the first few days of school, so they can figure out where they work best. After that, they can switch locations freely – but Delzer reserves the right to move anyone at any time if they’re not working productively.
Incorporate student suggestions. Delzer says the arrangement of her classroom evolves over the school year, as her students tell her what they like and what they need.