Monday, October 5, 2009

A Successful Arrangement!

The reflection prompt this week is to consider the physical classroom arrangements in our school in relation to the teachers’ preferred method of instruction. A supervisor can analyze the strategy that a teacher utilizes in order to maximize and support student learning. “Matching room arrangement with lesson purpose is a strategy for arranging the classroom in a manner to support the purpose of the lesson” (Evertson & Poole, n.d.). For students, the classroom environment is very important and the thoughtful arrangement of the environment will support learning goals for students.

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My high school has an enrollment of 2200 students in grades nine through twelve. My school building experienced a complete renovation in 2001-2002. It has two and a half levels, including and administrative suite, guidance counseling suite, media center, gymnasium, auditorium and multi-purpose classroom that can seat approximately 150 persons. Each subject department has a suite with a work area, several offices and book room. There are four computer labs for department (shared) use. The media center has two teaching areas, one with 35 computers and one with tables to facilitate group dynamics. During the summer before the 2008-2009 school year, Promethean Boards (Interactive White Boards) were installed in the majority of classrooms in my building (including one in the media center). Although films may be viewed on the Promethean, each classroom also has a TV (in-house and network cable) and VCR mounted from the ceiling (and must be located by the cable drop).

The teachers in my school are limited in how they can arrange their rooms by the size of their room, the number of desks that the room has to accommodate (as many as 35 in some instances), the location of the Promethean Board (Interactive White Board), the location of the Internet drop (there is no wireless access in our building), teacher computer and desk, window placement and the location to the entrance of the room. Also, many teachers “float” from room to room throughout their day, so unusual room arrangements may not be conducive to the teaching style of all teachers using the classroom.

In order to complete this assignment, I interviewed our full-time (in-house) staff development teacher in combination with walking around the building to observe a variety of classrooms. I found that there are three main physical arrangements for the classrooms in my school, 1) traditional rows facing forward, 2) each half of the room facing each other, and 3) some alternate arrangement to facilitate group discussion. Over half of the rooms are configured in the traditional model; however, many teachers will have the students move the desks around when small group discussion requires it. This is especially true in shared classrooms, where the default arrangement is in traditional rows.

One unique arrangement that I observed was developed by a novice teacher (less than three years teaching) and that was to divide the room into thirds (each cluster facing in toward the center of the classroom). This allowed for smaller groups of students to be arranged in a cluster and all of the clusters were facing inward so that they could see each other in a whole group discussion. This room did not have a Promethean Board, so the side of the room that did not have a cluster of desks had a clear view of the white board. It was onto this board that video and overhead transparencies were projected. While I was in the room, the teacher was working and she expressed her frustration to me about how she wasn’t totally happy with the arrangement, but it was a compromise. Her dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that one of the clusters was even with the white board and it was awkward for the students to view anything projected onto it. Another cluster of desks hid the chalkboard (this was a math class) and students navigated between desks when they needed to use the board. We discussed how she could cluster 4 desks together, but she was bothered by the “cluttered” look it gave her room. Also, building services would have a difficult time keeping such a unique arrangement intact when it differed so much from the other classrooms.

While I was disappointed to see the large quantity of classrooms arranged in the traditional style, it did facilitate the use of the perimeter of the rooms, where the white boards and bulletin boards are located. Many of the teachers used the outside wall under the windows as an organizational tool to keep extra books, assignments, papers to be distributed, etc. All of the classrooms that I observed placed the teacher desk in a corner of the room nearest the Internet drop.

More than the variety of classroom arrangements, I noticed a variety of strategies to facilitate equitable practices. Once classroom (pictured here) had numbered the desk chairs so that calling sticks (for random calling) could be utilized. This instructional strategy keeps all of the students on task and paying attention because they never know when they will be called upon to answer. It also prevents the teacher from calling on a particular side of the room that they are partial to, or calling on only boys or girls, etc. Many of the classrooms had motivational signs on the walls and bulletin boards and all of the rooms had classroom expectations on at least one of the classroom bulletin boards. It was obvious to me that these strategies are the result of a combination of over two years focusing on creating positive classroom environments and improving the use of equitable practices. Our leadership team has created a one-page document of “look-fors” in informal observations to supplement the full, clinical observations. As supervisors observe teachers, they can easily see where modifications need to be made and this data is what we use to develop the staff development model in our school.

As ideal as it sounds to arrange the classroom for the success of all students, I think that a combination of factors need to be considered along with the desk arrangement. It may be easier to move students around than it is to move desks! Teachers with a difficult combination of student personalities will assign seats, use teacher proximity or other strategies to keep their students on task. It is through teacher interview in pre and post observation conferencing that the supervisor can fully understand the teacher’s rationale in the arrangement of their rooms. This was an enlightening activity and I found it to be quite thought provoking!


Evertson, C., & Poole, I. (n.d.). Case study: Effective room arrangement. In Iris resource locator. Retrieved October 5, 2009, from Vanderbilt University website: ICS-001.pdf


  1. Excellent job, Andrea! It's unfortunate that the installation of technology brings limits and constraints of its own, (eg. the location of the internet drops). I wonder if those limits were removed, what the configurations of student desks would look like? In an ideal world, how would teachers arrange their rooms? Creativity and innovation aside, 35 students seems like an awful lot and really limits the possibilities too!

  2. Thanks Paul! I mentioned to my IT person today that I would love a wireless school so that we could move beyond the physical limitations that ethernet/cable causes. He said that wireless was not the answer, that how was he to load all of the school software on all of the laptops and how were the students going to recharge their laptop batteries because they would not last all day! He will ALWAYS see the glass half empty! I know what the positive factors are of being a one-laptop-per-child school (which presumably implies wireless connectivity), but how does your school address some of the negatives?

  3. Hi Andrea-I agree with Paul..our system is experiencing the same challenges with the newly introduced SMART boards. The internet drop boxes also impact most arrangements. I like the 3 section approach, even with the disadvantages.