How does the classroom environment affect learning?

A well designed classroom is critical for effective learning. The University of Salford’s well publicised recent study shows that the classroom environment can affect pupil’s learning and academic progress by as much as 25%. But schools are under more pressure than ever before, with recent figures suggesting that an extra 750,000 school places will be needed by 2025. How can schools overcome these challenges to create a positive learning environment for their students?

In this article we look at how successful classroom design leads to inspirational teaching methods and learning styles. We ask classroom designers Envoplan, who invented the innovative teaching wall, for their advice on creating the most effective classroom environment.

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Why is the classroom environment so important?

Salford University’s report suggests that by putting an average ability student in the least effective, as opposed to the most effective classroom environment could affect their academic progress by as much as the average improvement across a year. Reviewing classroom design should be a key priority for teachers across the education sector, particularly when the pressure is on to make the most of space.

What does a successful classroom environment look like?

Trudie Lawrence from Envoplan strongly believes that classroom design is critical for effective learning. Trudie says: “A successful classroom design needs to strike the balance between the teaching methods and learning styles that take place in class. Combining learning and teaching helps to create a space that facilitates both the student and the teacher and creates a much more fulfilling learning experience.

In our experience of classroom design, classrooms often feel cramped and undersized. It’s vital to make sure that classroom space is used wisely. Simply by paying careful attention to the furniture and layout within your classroom, you can make a huge difference to how spacious the classroom feels. It’s amazing how much you can improve your classroom environment by prioritising changes to the layout, temperature and storage.”

So how can today’s schools create an inspirational space that helps students reach their full potential? Here are some classroom design changes that can lead to a more positive learning environment:

Getting started - Classroom configuration

The dynamics of classroom teaching is changing. With the introduction of wireless devices, teachers spend less time at the front of the classroom and more time interacting with the students, guiding them on a more individual level. As teaching continues to change, your classroom needs to change too.

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Think carefully about how your classroom is laid out. Sight lines and accessibility to all areas are important for both student and teacher. In primary school classrooms, there should be designated areas for different activities – for example, space for the children to sit on the floor close to the whiteboard, a “reading corner” shielded from the room and an area for creative play in the Early Years. Well-designed classrooms are also easy to adapt, giving both students and teachers a sense of ownership for their space. Use configurable furniture to help create constant changes in the classroom.

Review acoustics and room temperature

The sound levels in your classroom greatly impact learning. You may need to minimise background noise or amplify the teacher's voice to create the right sound. You can adjust sound levels through flooring, baffle boards, noticeboards or by adding in soft seating.

Trudie always encourages schools to check classroom temperature levels regularly. A comfortable working temperature and good supply of fresh air will help to keep students alert. Students will become drowsy and lose concentration if they are too warm. Always check that all the available windows open and ensure that the heating/air conditioning is thermostatically controlled.

Focus on effective lighting

There’s no substitute for natural daylight in a classroom, but if sunlight is limited make sure that there’s enough artificial light. Correct lighting prevents eye-strain and helps to keep students alert. When choosing lighting, think about how you may need to alter the lighting for each learning experience - for example in a science classroom, black-out blinds may be needed for some experiments.

Choose classroom furniture carefully

The furniture in your classroom is hugely important to the overall learning experience. Students must be comfortable, and making sure that chairs are the right size will help to keep them focused.  Your classroom furniture should comply with the British and European Standards for “chairs and tables for educational institutions”, approved in January 2007. BS EN1729 Part 1 ensures that furniture is the appropriate size, shape and ergonomic design for good posture.

Good quality furniture will ensure that your classroom stays smarter for longer, and it’s always better long term value for money. BSEN1729 Part 2 is a test for strength and stability, and it’s well worth checking out compliance and testing for this standard before purchasing furniture.

Innovative storage for effective learning

Storage can make all the difference in classroom design. Clever use of storage helps to keep the classroom free from clutter and helps students to take pride in their classroom. There’s a lot of evidence to say that while students should be able to see their work on the walls, at least 20% of wall space should be kept clear. There are some highly innovative storage solutions on the market, such as wall units which can be built to exact classroom specifications. Fixed storage behind closed doors also helps to keep your classroom tidy, reduce distractions and save space.

Practical changes to the classroom environment can have a major impact on creating a positive learning experience. These changes will enhance students’ wellbeing and create a learning space in which both students and teachers can perform to the best of their ability. BBC Active Video for Learning provides a wide range of high quality educational videos which are perfect for inspirational teaching in the classroom.