Three Ways to Organize Your Classroom to Maximize Student Learning

Three Ways to Organize Your Classroom to Maximize Student Learning
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Pinterest lights up with pictures of flawlessly organized, color schemed, and themed classrooms during back-to-school time, doesn’t it? Everyone wants to tell you how to organize your place, don’t they? Those of us teacher types who are highly visual and get our dopamine hits from excessive color and clutter on the walls feel a little called out. We probably aren’t busy posting pics of our classroom because it never looks perfectly put together. Ever. I’ve had people tell me my room décor was way too over stimulating. Looking back at my old pictures, I get it. My old rooms were tacky as heck, but they made me happy at the time. To be honest, they kind of still do.

Three Ways to Organize Your Classroom for Optimal Student Learning
No Surface Left Undecorated.

In my defense, my teacher mentors had cluttered classrooms, too, and I hung out with artist types when I was just starting my career who had every inch of wall space covered with something cool. We also wore jumpers with school busses and apples on them in the mid ‘90’s, so my taste really cannot be trusted.

Anyhow, I have learned after over 27 years with students how to organize my classroom to maximize student learning. While they may not be Pinterest worthy, I’m sharing some pics of a room from way back in the day to show you what I mean.

Make Materials Accessible

Put those school supplies in bins clearly labeled for not only the kids, but YOU. If your executive functioning slides a little to the attention deficit side like mine does, you need to be able to find your stuff. In the past, I have put things in those plastic sets of drawers. As long as the drawers were clearly labeled, I could manage the pencils, types of paper, dry erase markers, and art supplies.  I’m so visual, though, that I like to see everything I have out in the open. When I traded my teacher desk with drawers for a plain table, I put supplies out in bins so both the kids and I could see them. I got rid of file cabinets and used binders with labels on bookshelves. Most of my curriculum is now accessible digitally anyway, so that made my paper trail much shorter.

Three Ways to Organize Your Classroom to Maximize Student Learning
Check out my labeled bins and drawers beneath another surface completely covered. I even had to cover the inside of the plastic drawers with scrapbook paper that didn’t match.

Organize Your Classroom Based on Your Own Learning Style

Think about your learning style. If you are as visual as I am, consider putting things out in the open. This is helpful to students as well. Other learning types won’t function well with my system. If you are more kinesthetic, then getting up and physically opening drawers to touch each of your supply sets may align with you. Auditory learners might find organizing easier with bins and storage units snap or zip shut—the sound makes it easy to remember where things are.

Remember that your classroom will be full of these different types of learners. The auditory students are tapping their pencils together, the visual kids are scattering their papers and notebooks all around their desks and in the floor so they can see their stuff, and the kinesthetic kids have their hands in all their things and in the supplies their neighbors have. Leave room and have patience for it all.

Organize Your Classroom for Optimal Workflow

It took me years to master this. Remember, I like stuff everywhere. Just before Open House, I would be celebrating how “cozy” my room looked. Once actual humans came in, I realized that no one had room to move. Chairs bumped into other desks when they were pulled out, and people tripped over each other. When you set up your area, leave room for chairs with loaded backpacks on the back to be pulled out completely without bumping another piece of furniture. Optimally, there should still be a walkway between the pulled-out chair and other furniture so you can get around to different kids while they are working.

Three Ways to Organize Your Classroom to Maximize Student Learning
This is what classrooms look like when actual kids get in them. This set-up was good for managing the kids, but very hard to move around in. The red and pink papers near the top are student work hanging from a clothesline. Notice the dying plant in the back? Read on to find out what happened to him.

Working Together

Another consideration in setting up your room has to be collaboration. Now that pandemic regulations have eased in 2022, kids need to be able to work together. Setting your desks up in separate rows makes for easier management of talking and shenanigans, but unless desks can be pushed together, it’s harder for group work. While I liked my two lines of desks that one year, the kids were much more productive when they could sit around a table and problem solve together.

What Are They Looking At?

As you organize your classroom, you also have to think about directionality. Children can face any direction when they are doing independent work, but you want to make sure they have room to move their chair so they can see you when you are teaching. I always had a big plant in my room. Make sure plants and other items are not blocking your students’ view. I got feedback on an observation once that a child was blocked from my read aloud by my palm tree plant. I love my plants, but Pete the Palm had to find a new space in the room after that.

Transitions and Displays When You Organize Your Classroom

When you have clear pathways in your room, transitions go smoothly and quickly. Students move from the carpet meeting area, back to their desks, then over to the small group table without stepping over furniture, palm trees, or backpacks. This is safer, and it just creates a positive vibe. Looking back at my cluttered spaces, it’s no wonder I had an eye twitch.

Speaking of clutter, you have to have spaces in your room to display both instructional materials and student work. When I was in the classroom, I had lots of poster and bulletin board sets for reading and grammar like this one. I have always been a fan of evergreen bulletin boards because I never find time to change them. Generally, I displayed student work in the hallway because I wanted everyone to see what they had done. That said, I never designated a bulletin board for just the kids’ stuff. I did, however, put up a clothesline to hang work on, and that seemed to work well. Now that I’m a reading specialist, I kind of miss hanging up student projects. Each month’s work samples showed more and more growth, and it was fun to watch the progression through the year.

Plan for Clear Supervision

This is a big one! Back in the day, we loved to create “reading nooks” where kids could curl up behind a book-shelf and read in their own private oasis. Some of us had “treehouses” and “boats” set up in our rooms for this purpose because we were just extra like that.

Nothing ever good happens in a treehouse or a boat reading area in an elementary classroom. Nothing. My good friend had the coolest ever hidey hole space in her room for reading, and she caught one of her nine-year-olds humping the bean bag chairs. When she caught another child with pants down, godawful awkward parent conferences happened, and the hidey hole had to go.

Make sure you can see kids in your room at all times. They should never be behind or under anything (like a plant) where your vision of them is blocked. Nooks are a recipe for disaster. Or at least for something you will never be able to unsee ever in your entire life.

Three Ways to Organize Your Classroom
This is my all-time favorite set-up. I took this picture from the door, and I have a clear view of every part of my room. No nooks! I put two trapezoid tables together for collaboration, I had a carpet meeting area, a small group area for myself at my desk and the kidney table for my partner, and all the chairs could easily face the front or back board.

Here you have a few simple ideas to keep in mind when you organize or rearrange your classroom. Also, look after your plant friends that you bring in. I put Pete the Palm in the reading nook I created after my feedback. Unfortunately, some kid peed in him, and he died. Some people need multiple catastrophes to learn the lesson. You, on the other hand, are smart enough to learn from my mistakes. Keep the clutter in check, open pathways, and keep your eyes peeled. You’ve got this!

Before You Go

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