Opinion: What would the ideal classroom look like?

by Heather Jane13 Jul 2015

Take a moment to imagine walking into your ideal classroom. What would it look like?

Some teachers might imagine it as a large open-space area with curved lounges and workspaces where students sit and enthusiastically engage with your lesson plan via laptops and other mobile devices.

Others might imagine a more traditional and low-tech classroom with rows of tables and chairs, but with their students sitting quietly and attentively.

In this way, the word ‘ideal’ is subjective. What is ideal for one teacher – or child – might not necessarily be ideal for another.

That said, most educators would agree any classroom must first include an effective teacher – that is, a teacher who leads students to a place where they can engage with their learning enthusiastically and comfortably.

The widely practiced teaching of collaborative learning, coding and gamification are just a couple of examples which have changed the way children learn. Research has shown that the spaces being created in schools to cater for these 21st century learning ‘must-haves’ are delivering better student outcomes.

However, what if we were to throw in the research on classroom design into the mix?

The Clever Classrooms report, released in February by the University of Salford in the UK, revealed that well-designed classrooms were shown to boost primary school students’ academic progress by 16%.

Specifically, students have been shown to respond particularly well to classrooms that are open space, colourful and allow in plenty of natural light.

Gabrielle Leigh, president of the Victorian Principals Association, said that while the quality of teaching is important in the learning process of students, a well-designed classroom can be effective in improving student learning outcomes.
“A bright and well-designed environment sets the scene for optimum learning opportunities,” Leigh told The Educator.
“Many primary teachers spend considerable time creating an inviting classroom environment which encourages students to feel welcome and safe.”

Going by the suggestions of experts such as Ken Robinson, Eric Mazur and Alan November, classrooms should be a place where creativity and collaboration is ubiquitous and encouraged.

"If you design a system to do something specific, don't be surprised if it does it," Robinson wrote in his new book, ‘Creative schools: the grassroots revolution that’s transforming education’.

"If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don't be surprised if that's what it does."

However, this framework must be allowed to flow from the top down. School leaders must develop a culture that is supportive of student-led classrooms in which a roundtable environment that is collaborative and engaging can operate freely.

Adapting your classroom to a student-led environment where ideas can flow freely between pupil and teacher is something sorely lacking in many classrooms, argues Eric Mazur, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University.

Speaking at the EduTech 2015 conference in Brisbane in June, Mazur said instead of developing 21st century skills in students, teachers are too focused on ranking them.

“The road to creativity is littered with failures. Unless you learn to make assumptions you can’t be innovative,” Mazur told the audience.

“Our grading practices are incompatible with creativity and innovation. Why are we testing our students in an environment that they will never encounter in their professional lives?”

HAVE YOUR SAY: What would your ideal classroom look like?


  • by Susan Hyde 14/07/2015 3:13:32 PM

    The idea of one teacher of one class of one year level in one classroom space is a 20thC school design feature. Now we know more about how the brain works, and the true diversity of our learners prior knowledge, skills and experiences, the idea that there is such a thing as a year 6 student is not viable. The 21stC school groups students in larger multiple age groups with more than one teacher in an open learning environment. Teachers would work as a team to design and teacher the curriculum to enable the learning across the so called year level bands, allowing or guiding students to choose the level at which they can learn. The 21stC curriculum is interdisciplinary, drawing together the knowledge from the disciplines into authentic contexts that relate to the lives of the students involved and to the learning program. As they learn, the children in the 21stC classroom do a lot of collaborative learning, sharing expertise between them and exploring themes and activities that extend their learning. The team of teachers move amongst the students to track and guide them as they learn, intervening to ensure their progress is developed and extended.
    The layout of the open learning environment would be flexible so that furniture and spaces can moved to suit the activity. Technology would need to be accessed across the learning environment, and for particular types of activities some equipment would be fixed.