Each classroom’s topography is shaped first by the architecture of the school, and then, more importantly, by the teacher and kids. As school starts or even midway through the year, it’s helpful to analyze how the space is being used and whether it best matches what you want to happen in your room.
Be aware of these more obvious glitches: blind spots where kids can move out of the teacher’s sight; “highways” or broad open spaces that traverse the room and tend to become clogged with traffic; crunched up spaces where kids have to push their way into a group or move someone else in order to reach materials; and just poor furniture placement, where there’s no more than a foot of free space anywhere. I’ve seen all of these and helped create some myself.
A teacher can forge his or her own way in setting up a classroom, or start by looking in other classes for ideas. Either way, visualization should precede all classroom set up. Picture every part of the school day, from student arrival to dismissal. Imagine where students will move to get needed supplies, to line up, to become part of a large group, to work in small groups, and to work individually. That visualization alone will help you avoid placing a pencil sharpener next to a quiet space. Or a reading center too close to a bathroom door.
Then decide how you will match the space to your teaching style and the needs of the students. If you don’t know what your teaching style is, definitely wander through some other rooms and copy what feels good to you. Fortunately, none of your furniture is bolted to the floor (I hope) so you can change it as needed. In fact, it can be a plus to have a plan that allows easy rearrangement if the activities warrant. For example, you may want to move tables or desks to the “edges” to create a center space for a dramatic production.
The placement and distribution of materials has caused the downfall of many well-intended plans. I’ve watched kids run like crazy to get the “best” clipboard, distract the class by handing out materials to “best” friends first, push kids to get to the “best” drawer of paper, and snatch the “best” pencils from another table’s supply caddy. These things happened while the teacher thought everyone was listening to her directions. Plan a materials system and train your kiddos in its use right from the start. Use a timer to keep things moving along but avoid creating a sense of agitation.
Any special needs of students will quickly become apparent, so either you adjust your space or live in misery. If you have “speeders” in your class, put up road blocks (like a single desk) or make pathways that twist and turn. If you have learners who are easily distracted, work with them to create a quieter space that doesn’t feel like solitary confinement. Sturdy file folders with some support along the bottom edge (dried hot glue or duct tape?) can create an instant shelter for kids who need extra private space. It’s a good idea to discuss these modifications with the whole group, so kids can provide input and reduce any stigma associated with “special” places. Some kids may need a space to call their own. If you are going to group kids at tables but vary the groupings throughout the year (a great idea), consider letting each child personalize their chair. If you can get or sew plain chair sacks (those packs that slip over the back of the seat and hold “stuff”), kids could decorate their sack to make them unique. On the other hand, you could designate a wall/partition area for each student to make theirs. You could even create personalized student spaces digitally through Wikispaces, for instance.
Classroom space is almost an organism in its own right, shifting and accommodating and supporting. Visualization and thoughtfulness will keep it from becoming a nasty virus. Oh yes, be sure to disinfect ALL the time.