A room you can call your own

27th October 2000 at 01:00
If you're lucky enough to have your own classroom, make the most of it. Gererd Dixie tells how some creative thinking can help your pupils learn

Looking forward to holding court in your very own classroom? Dream on. The more successful your school, the greater the chance it will suffer overcrowding. As pupil numbers rise, the likelihood of a secondary teacher being lucky enough to teach in the same classroom for the complete working week diminishes.

Either wittingly or unwittingly, teachers impose their personalities on their teaching bases. This can be for better or worse. A bright, stimulating and well-organised classroom can go a long way to creating an effective learning environment. Conversely, a dull, disorganised classroom creates a negative working ethos.

It is useful, then, first to highlight the difficulties of having lessons in different classrooms and, second, to offer suggestions to those teachers blessed with their own permanent teaching base.

With the exception of one lesson a week, I am one of the fortunate. I have tried hard to create an organised, inviting and stimulating environment. I have long been aware, however, that the quality of teaching and learning in the one lesson conducted in a "foreign" classroom - let's call it Room X - is well below that normally found in my own.

Do the pupils themselves pick up on the cultures of the two different classrooms, and how does this affect their attitude, behaviour and motivation? This formed the basis of some low-level classroom research.

In Room X, the desks are in rows facing a small white board at the front. This is not big enough to project slides of over-head transparency images, but can be used to write down assignment instructions.

The blackboard and larger projection screen are at the back of the room, which means pupils have to turn their chairs round. Plug-point access can only be found for the televisionvideo packages at the front of the room. The combined use of blackboard, over-head transparencies or slide projection screen is impossible since there is only one double socket with no adapters provided.

The host teacher is extremely busy and often does not find time to clear up her teaching desk. This causes difficulty when trying to find room to organise textbooks and resources.

I selected four boys and four girls out of a class of 27 and asked them each to complete a questionnaire (see box). Seven of them felt that the quality of teaching and learning was worse in Room X than in their normal geography room.

Much of this was down to not knowing where the basic equipment was kept. One pupil wrote about this "interrupting the flow" of the lesson and about me becoming "edgy" when I could not find what I was looking for.

Another wrote: "We feel we can get away with more as there is a different atmosphere and your concentration is more on getting resources rather than on the individual pupils." She also said Room X was "cramped".

Two pupils said it was more like a "cover lesson" than a normal geography lesson. Both admitted to being more noisy, more prone to distraction and getting less work done.

Although there is little we can do about this when we are forced to teaching in alternative rooms, we can learn to appreciate the luxury of having our own teaching bases and make the most of this as a learning opportunity for the pupils.

How much attention do you give to the layout of your desks? Is it appropriate for the activity being undertaken? Do pupils get too socially comfortable in your classes? How often do you change your desk layout?

The layout for group work, for example, where you want lots of pupil interaction, is not appropriate when you want pupils to work quietly or on paied tasks. In a busy teaching schedule, you can't be expected to move desks yourself.

What you could do, however, is draw up a number of layout permutations - say plans A, B and C - which can then be used by monitors to lay out the desks at appropriate times during the week.

How much attention do you give to "flow lines" within your classroom? Can pupil access the resources, the rubbish bin, the entrance and exit easily and without bumping into other pupils' bags and chairs? These are questions you should ask yourself. Try to organise your furniture to provide "channels" and produce a feeling of "space".

Other layout issues that should concern you include whether all pupils can see the blackwhite board, the video or hear the audio tape easily. Does the light from the window obscure the TV picture? Does the overhead projector itself obscure the view of the whiteboard for some pupils?

You need to check these out constantly with your pupils, because these and the accessibility of your classroom resources are likely to have a major bearing on your effectiveness in class.

There has been much research to show the importance of "routinisation" in establishing classroom control and discipline. By having all your resources in an accessible position and clearly labelled, pupils can learn a routine of collecting and putting away materials without disrupting the flow of a lesson. They should also be "routinised" into making sure that rubbish is cleared away and classroom furniture is left in an orderly fashion before they leave the room.

How much effort do you make with your classroom display? Have you thought about approaching a member of staff from the art or graphics design department to ask for advice and guidance?

Meanwhile, the importance of displaying pupils' work cannot be underestimated. Having their work on the wall gives them a real sense of involvement, improves motivation and, from a classroom management point of view, can dramatically improve their behaviour.

These displays should be changed regularly if these good traits in pupil behaviour and performance are to be maintained.

The message is simple: make the most of your classroom as a creative base for good teaching and learning.

Gererd Dixie teaches humanities and is induction co-ordinator at Copleston High School, Ipswich, Suffolk


I sent around a survey to guage pupils' responses to their class environment. Here it is in full.

As you know, for one lesson a week, we move to another classroom to have our geography lesson. As part of a piece of research, I would like to find out what you think about this.

I would appreciate it if you could jot down your views in the space provided below. Although I have given you a few ideas to think about, please feel free to write about anything you think is relevant to this research.

1 What do you feel about having to move rooms? Does it affect the quality of my teaching? (Think about the delivery of the lesson, the distribution of resources, my relationships with pupils in the class and anything else you wish to add). Please give reasons.

2 In your opinion, are the pupils' behaviour and motivation in the class any different to that which normally occurs in my own teaching room?

3 Is the behaviour and motivation of the pupils better or worse in this classroom than in our normal room? To what degree is this so? Are the pupils noisier, more restless, more awkward, more prone to distraction or are they better behaved, more co-operative and more motivated in classroom "X"? Do you feel that the class gets more or less work done in these lessons than they do in their normal geography room?

4 Why do you think this happens?

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