Class decor

24th February 2006 at 00:00
Most of us will have spent time tracking a pupil through a typical day and have reflected on the differences in atmosphere in the classrooms we visited. In some, you really want to learn; in others, you feel switched off and be looking for distractions. Someone - a teacher - made the rooms feel like that and kept them like that, as a result of either their steady effort or neglect.

Creating a friendly learning environment isn't easy, and keeping it up may seem like a chore, but the payoff is well worth having. What pupils see and feel when they come to your classroom is part of the way they see you, and of the value you set on learning.

Secondary classrooms seem purpose-built for preparing pupils for the world of work. Their squareness, their ordered ranks of metal-framed desks, their hard utility chairs in elephant grey - they're not, typically, where you'd want to start if you were intent on creating a warm and friendly learning environment.

Primary schools do better, in terms of attractive light, colour, variety of textures and fitness for different purposes and activities. It doesn't matter. Whatever your starting point, there's a lot you can do just by managing its look and feel, show your pupils that learning matters in your classroom.

The first impact your room makes comes from its light and colour. You may not be able to do much about the paintwork, so back your display areas with bright sugar paper and switch on your lights before pupils come in. If you can, change the air after each class - the fug a Year 11 group can generate on a wet day is enough to put anyone off learning.

Keep your displays fresh and up-to-date. Long-term notices, such as instructions for fire drills, school rules, and statements of your expectations should be either laminated or protected behind strong, clear film. Celebratory displays of pupils' work shouldn't stay up for more than a fortnight, and any damaged pieces should be changed immediately.

Make war on clutter - there's nothing as off-putting as sad accumulations of scrap paper, stray text books and old PE kit. Keep surfaces clear.

Do everything within your power to give pupils individual storage areas.

Use filing boxes, folders and cupboard space so that they can be orderly with their possessions and with pieces of work in progress.

Make friends with your cleaner, if you have one - you'll find you get little extras, like the smell of polish (and the absence of dust) on your desk.

Get rid of graffiti as soon as it appears. Be wary of making pupils clean up - the health and safety hazards of many cleaning agents are too horrible to contemplate.

Make litter-picking at the end of every lesson part of your packing up routine.

Be ready to move furniture about to suit the needs of your lessons, but don't block your lines of sight. You need to make eye contact with everyone.

If you have computers, switch them on before pupils come in. Use screen saver messages to communicate.

If you're really lucky you may have a data projector - set it up to show a welcome message, or learning objectives, or images that relate to the coming lesson.

If you have a relatively draught-free corner, take your useful, subject-related words and turn them into a mobile so that everyone can see them. (Use both sides of each card - twice the impact).

Arrange for pegs for coats and bags.There are real health and safety issues if you let them clutter chair backs and the floor.

If you have room, create a quiet corner for private reading or small-group discussion.

If you're a secondary teacher, visit a primary classroom, marvel at the richness of the environment, and borrow ideas.

Whatever you do, take control of you environment. It's your space and should be working in the way you want it to.

Harry Dodds

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