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The Classroom as a Flexible Learning Environment

One important aspect of the classroom climate concerns the way space is used. With different kinds of learning activities in progress at any one time, there has to be provision for quiet, thoughtful writing, independent reading, math activities requiring the use of manipulatives, collaborative tasks, art work with paint or clay, model construction, and group instruction. At times, the teacher will want to talk with the whole class at the same time. With younger children, this may be done with students sitting on a carpet in a small area of the room, as the proximity makes it easier for them to attend to the group discussion; with older students, a circle of chairs or a cluster of tables may be more appropriate.

The walls and horizontal surfaces can be used to display information, reference lists of relevant or frequently used words, students’ work products, suggestions for work procedures, and reminders about routines and responsibilities. Displays can also include real-world objects for close study, information books to consult, aids to observation (magnifiers), and examples of techniques students might like to try in their own work.

Another feature of the spatial organization of the room concerns the materials that students use in their work. Where students can help themselves, they must be offered criteria for making appropriate choices and encouraged to be economical and tidy in the use of resources.

Use of Space in the Classroom – Terms, Guidelines, and Ideas


Space: appropriate provision of areas for various kinds of work


Furniture layout: flexible, for group as well as individual work


Display: walls and horizontal surfaces for information, students’ work products, work in progress, objects of interest, notices, instructions, word lists, reminders, plans


Resources: convenient access, availability, restrictions, storage


Finished work: work products of various kinds can be put in agreed convenient places where the teacher can check them


Students as monitors: enlist students’ help in managing the space, work areas, resources


Creating an appropriate learning space does not require costly renovations. With strategic planning, knowledge, and insight, teachers can transform a traditional classroom into an environment that supports—and even enhances—project-based learning. The first step is viewing the classroom not as a “box” to house (and contain) students but as an interactive learning community where members develop and exchange ideas, work independently, connect with the larger world, and more.

To learn about why your classroom set up plays an important role in your learning outcomes—and to see examples of some of the world’s most innovative school design—browse through the publications of the school architecture firm Fielding Nair International.

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