As teachers, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to motivate students and get them truly invested in their learning. But one of the simplest ways is often the most overlooked: involving students in setting up their own learning space from the ground up.
What would happen if you didn’t spend the weeks before school designing your classroom and instead invited students into the process? You would experience more motivation, more energy, and higher achievement levels, say the authors of Get Active: Reimagining Learning Space for Student Success: a new book published by ISTE with support from Intel and Steelcase Education.
Here are some of their top tips for including students in the design process:
1. Let Go of Control. Yes, we know it can be difficult to let go of your beloved fall-themed bulletin boards or meticulously organized classroom library. But letting go is the first step in getting your students to become more active members of your classroom community. You will still be involved, of course, but you have to be willing to give up some control to truly transform a classroom for active and flexible learning.
2. Survey Your Students. What kind of lighting, color palettes and study spaces do they enjoy? What kind of furniture do they like to use? What ideas do they have to make the space work better for them? You can use online tools like SurveyMonkey to do an electronic quiz. Otherwise, just conduct a group brainstorm. Remind students that there are no bad ideas in brainstorms and to throw it all out there.
3. Create a Color Scheme. Did you know studies show light blue and purples have a calming effect on learners, while warm tones like taupe and peach offer a relaxing atmosphere? Once you decide on a color palette with your students, add these colors when planning paint, fabric and accessories. It’s an easy way to have a big impact and will really help tie the entire space together.
4. Use Technology to Reimagine Your Classroom. Digital tools like Sketchbook and Google Drawings are an excellent way to give students the tools they need to design and explore. You could even create teams within your class to work on different areas or sections of the classroom. Have each team present their top two or three ideas, and allow the class to vote on their favorites.
5. Get Your Admin’s Buy-In. A lot of schools have restrictions when it comes to rearranging, painting, etc. Use the responses from your student surveys and/or the designs your students created to get approval from your administration. Even if they don’t agree to everything, you’ll have a starting point for negotiations.
6. Lose “The Front” of Your Classroom. When you have an active learning space, it means utilizing every area possible. With a successful redesign, you won’t have a “front” anymore: you’ll be able to teach from anywhere in the room.
7. Get Rid of the Clutter. And we mean you tub full of ancient anchor charts. Sometimes it’s best to start from scratch, removing everything from a particular space and then adding back only what’s necessary.
8. Create a Little Privacy. One of the biggest things students typically ask for is a space that they can call their own. Think of this one as a challenge to create mini–classroom forts or reading nooks. One way to do this is to clean out those traditional cubbies and let students curl up inside to read. You can also create unique spaces by arranging simple bookshelves or crates.
9. Integrate Technology in a Way That Makes Sense for Your Kids. For some, this might mean easy access to tablets and devices for on-the-fly research and activities. In other classrooms, it might make sense to have a dedicated area for technology, such as a computer corner, or even to stash screens out of the way entirely until they are needed.
10. Reach out to Local Businesses. Have your students contact local businesses and parents to ask for materials and supplies. Organizations at the school (such as the PTA) might also be willing to provide some funding. Another possible funding source is the website DonorsChoose.org.
11. Go High and Go Low. Sitting in a chair for extended periods of time can be difficult for young learners. High tables provide students a little more freedom of movement and better opportunities for collaboration. Low tables encourage students to get more involved.
12. Upcycle Furniture. Look at the furniture pieces you already have, and find ways to improve them. Table legs can be cut to make a low table for floor seating. An old podium can become a standing desk. Wooden boxes can be transformed into nooks. Beyond the cost-saving benefits, reusing and repurposing materials promotes sustainability to students.
13. Invite Students to Decorate. If you truly want students to have a little bit of ownership in the classroom, then they need to put their unique stamp on it. Set aside time after school or on the weekend for willing students to help with the project.
14. Don’t Forget the Little Things. Small details such as individual name cards and pencil holders can go a long way in making a classroom an inviting place for students.
15. Plan an Open House. Once your classroom makeover is complete, hold an open house. Put out some snacks, turn some music on and let students bring their parents through the space to show them everything they’ve helped to create. You can also make a quick video to give parents a virtual tour.
16. Keep the Ideas Going. A good redesign is an ongoing process, so you’re never truly finished. Continue to introduce new features to the room. Some of these features might work while others won’t. Get feedback, and adapt as needed.
Want more ideas like these? Get Active: Reimagining Learning Space for Student Success is a wonderful resource and inspired the ideas described above. Get your own copy today!