Complex Classroom Environments

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Classroom Environment


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What influence does classroom environment have on teaching and learning?

The following images are shared with a brief description and a range of questions to help support your professional development.

On my travels the schools around the world, I continue to be fascinated by the various types of environments in which we teach. I often find myself pulling out my mobile phone and grabbing a photograph or a video to capture something which has sparked my interest. I have thousands of images.

I had originally intended on sharing the following photographs in this blog post from a ‘classroom displays’ perspective. However, thinking carefully about every classroom in terms of ‘what works’ and where it works and why, I thought it would be better to share the following images with a range of questions to help support your professional development.

I hope the following images and questions will provoke discussion for you and your colleagues in a CPD session.

1. Case Study: Design and Technology

The first classroom example is an environment I am most comfortable with. I’ve taught year 6 to year 13 pupils in design and technology workshops my entire career. I’ve also observed hundreds of cover lessons deployed to these classrooms. Imagine that? This image is from a school in Germany.

Classroom Environment

Here are a few questions for reflection. How would you:

  1. Position yourself if you were an observer?
  2. Instil a set of safety routines on top of the normal school expectations?
  3. Provide feedback to a student who is ‘banging hammers and nails’ for the next 2 or 3 weeks for a project?
  4. Improve the displays?
  5. Teach a theory lesson for 45 minutes against the backdrop of ‘banging hammers’?

2. Case Study: Science

The second classroom example is this science classroom in a secondary school in North London. The classroom has large windows on both sides and is large enough to offer team-teaching to two, large GCSE classes. Notice the floor and the back of the classroom chairs make good use of subject knowledge. The entire space is open plan.

Classroom Environment

Here are a few questions for reflection. How would you:

  1. Change the way you teach if you were timetabled to teach alongside another colleague?
  2. With 60 students, over two periods?
  3. Reshape the classroom for practical and theory lessons? N.b. bunsen burners are behind the image on fixed tables
  4. Factor in the central pillar in the room to consider which students sit where?
  5. Position yourself?

3. Case Study: Forest School

This classroom is outside and is based on a military base in Cyprus. There are approximately 450 students who share the space and sometimes temperatures outside can reach 35C. Click on each photograph to expand the image.

Here are a few questions for reflection. How would you:

  1. Watch a primary lesson in this environment against any observation criteria?
  2. Ensure all students were listening to you during demonstrations?
  3. Adapt to the weather: Wind, rain, sun and external noises?
  4. Store resources?
  5. Upload student registration and behaviour events onto a management information system?

4. Case Study: Classroom displays

Here are a range of display from classrooms, libraries and open spaces. Answer the questions below.

Here are a few questions for reflection. How would you:

  1. Ensure that displays support learning?
  2. Promote the school ethos, drive up school admissions and behaviour?
  3. Guarantee displays do not add to cognitive load, or teacher workload?
  4. Balance safety and learning opportunities in open-plan spaces?
  5. Signpost to students what independent learning can happen from these walls?

5. Case Study: International Classrooms

Here is a range of display from classrooms shared by SHAPE school in Belgium. What I found fascinating about this school was how the Canadian and British schools co-existed within the same building, with different teachers, pupils and curriculum. It is probably the most-fascinating school I have visited in the 200+ I have reached to date…

Here are a few questions for reflection.

  1. What classroom is British and which is Canadian?
  2. How do you know?
  3. Which one works better for primary pupils?
  4. Do group tables work better in a rectangle or circular style?
  5. How do the displays vary?

You will see from this small range of photographs and questions that there is no one answer to demonstrate ‘what works’. The challenge for teachers is to use what they know and adapt what they can learn from research (the theory) and apply it to their context (practise). To get started, you can find read research on classroom displays.

The classroom is a complex environment. Don’t turn it into a checklist for consistency – it’s an impossible task.

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