We Need to Rethink Classroom Space


Visit the youth sections of the Phoenix Public Library and it no longer feels like a library. It is not cold. It is not sterile. It is not silent. Books are everywhere, but they are displayed prominently like one would see in a book store. There are tables and bean bags and multi-height chairs. Kids want to go to that library and kids want to stay once they are there. And, despite the lack of silence, kids are reading.

Visit the Starbucks on Camelback and Twenty-Seventh Avenue and you'll see it packed with groups that are working. High schoolers discuss First Amendment rights for their AP Government class while college students create study groups for organic chemistry. A few tables away, another student types on his laptop, with his earbuds in, tuning out the chatter of the groups.

Space matters.

So, it has me thinking about the classroom. The dominant philosophy seems to be to make the walls a living, text-based extension of what students learn in class. Add chart paper explaining concepts. Add processes and procedures for academic endeavors. Make word walls so that students have a visual reference. It sounds great. It is certainly a step away from the age of the Garfield Poster and the fake-speed-limit-signs-turned-academic-advice. This approach of covering the walls with text probably works.

But here's the thing:

I want my classroom to feel a little more like the youth section of the library.  I want an atmosphere closer to that of Starbucks. I want it to be less like we live inside of the pages of a textbook and more like we are a living ecosystem.

My friend Russ has the right idea. His classroom looks inviting. It says, "You can relax here and you can work here" at the same time. The furniture itself almost requires differentiation. It is as far from a lecture hall as it can possibly get.

I want high tables with tall swivel chairs, so that students can stand or sit when they work. I want walls that are not a creamy off-white that look dirty even when freshly painted. I want skylights and solar tubes to let in some natural light. I want to display student work, not simply stapled to a wall, but in frames - boldly proclaiming that their creativity matters. I want a wall-sized mural instead of bulletin boards.

Don't get me wrong. I would like to keep the white board. It comes in handy as a learning tool. I want to keep the bookshelves, but I want them to look a little more like the shelves at Barnes and Noble of Bookman's. I want a place where students work, but more importantly, I want it to be a place where they want to go to learn.

So, I'm thinking about taking action. I already have the standing centers in my classroom. However, right now it is mostly a blank canvas. I want to slowly transform my classroom space into something that is a little less like a classroom. I'm not entirely sure what steps I will take and I'm not sure what my administrators will allow. However, I would like to make it happen.