“Classroom Style” and (Re)Thinking Classroom Design

I helped someone with a tech problem in one of our classrooms yesterday…and as I was leaving the room I saw this sign pasted on the wall next to the door.  It puzzled me for a moment.

Classroom Style

It took me a moment to realize that “CLASSROOM STYLE” meant all of the seats in neat rows, facing forward. The fact that it was written in all caps and italics made me think there was some frustration on the part of our “Facility Coordinator.”  And as I thought about it some more I can understand why: there is no one “CLASSROOM STYLE” for language classrooms. Within any given class session there may be 4 or 5 different furniture configurations created depending upon what the class  is doing on that day. Rare is the room in our building where all of the desks stay neatly organized in rows and lines all day long.

I did a quick survey of the large-ish (20-25 people) classrooms in our building on Friday afternoon.  (It was almost 60 degrees outside not a soul to be found inside the building.) Here is what I found:

3 had chairs in small groups (a series of circles of chairs),

2 had complete circles of chairs with no discernible “front,”  and

1 had a small semi circle facing towards the front of the room (with all of the other hairs pushed waaaay in the back).

So, no “CLASSROOM STYLE” anywhere to be found.

I believe we should clean up our rooms before leaving them … one should always erase the board and pick up stray papers and cups and trash etc before the next class comes in. But should I line the desks up in rows before I go? I often ask the person who follows me how they like their furniture arranged in case I need to change something. Invariably they say something like, well, we are going to do this and this and this activity in class so no, don’t worry…we will move things ourselves as needed.  The point being: the furniture moves…and does so constantly.

Our desks are heavy oak chairs with no casters that are a pain to move… and I respect how tiring that must be to line them all up in one room, let alone 6-10.  I understand that chairs all over the place does not look neat and tidy, and there are people on campus whose jobs depend upon how efficiently they make our rooms look great. Our perceptions of how space should be used and organized are at odds, and more signage doesn’t solve the problem.

Maybe a happy medium between these somewhat conflicting forces would be to change out these heavy wooden desk/chairs with lightweight but durable, stackable, storable desk/chairs on casters. Instead of lines of desks we would have rows of neatly stacked and stored movable seats, ready to go when needed. Or not needed at all.

So dear readership of LLU, I ask you: What are you thinking about classroom design these days? Is there one true “Classroom Style” where you work?

What would be the reaction if the default set up of a language classroom  were “stacked and stored” vs “classroom style”?

How would it feel to walk into a classroom with no discernible “front” and where you would have to create your space(s)  with your chairs as you go?

Furniture is only one part of classroom design (but a big one!). What other classroom items needs to be flexible and movable in order to accommodate different uses of space, and how would you make that happen?

Comments are always welcome!


[Featured Image: “Chairs For Abu Dhabi”, by Tadashi Kawamada]

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

1 Comment

  1. Ryan · March 19, 2014 Reply

    The UMW Provost’s Office has a presentation available that talks about the various teaching spaces that will be available in the new Convergence Center when it opens later this year. Check the photos — lots and lots of wheels, not just on chairs but tables too!

    It’s not pictured, but my colleagues and I will have an “Incubator Classroom” right next door to our offices. My understanding (which could be completely wrong) is that it won’t be scheduled for regular classes, it will be more of a playground for one-off classes (e.g. beginning-of-semester training sessions run by DTLT staff in conjunction with faculty, etc). I will miss our hallmates in duPont, but can’t wait to get into the new building and see how much trouble we can get ourselves into, and how quickly 🙂

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