Interacting with students and curriculum is the heart of teaching. But have you thought about how much stuff computers, pets, books, shelving, crayons, laminated words, scissors, math manipulatives, science kits, poetry books, posters, colored paper, cushions, rugs, desks, chairs, pencils, teacher’s grade book, writer’s corner, time-out chair there is in classrooms? And that is not even considering the students! All these parts of the physical environment are also part of the learning environment. How many of these things does a teacher pack up at the end of the year and unpack in August? How many do students prize and think of as special treats? A teacher needs to organize the classroom so that some of these things are easily accessible for a kindergartener or a tall 7th grader, while others are available but their use carefully monitored. Are the teacher’s decisions fair for all students?

For example, what do you want students to learn from their experience with the class pet say,, a gerbil? Your response to this question will help you decide if all students should have an opportunity to feed, clean, watch, touch, and/or take the gerbil home during holidays. What you want students to learn will also help you to decide where you might position the gerbil in your room. If you are not sure how well your students will be able to take care of the gerbil safely, you may decide that the gerbil’s cage should be next to your desk and that you will do all the care taking for this animal. Once a day the students could all gather around the cage, in the space in front of your desk, and spend time watching the animal and talking with you about what they notice. Perhaps you would develop this into a small writing and science project for them as they read and write about how animals live. In another classroom, the teacher may have all the students vote on four Head Zoo Keepers. The class would have decided the qualities these students should have (careful, responsible, move quietly, etc.). These Head Zoo Keepers are on duty for a week each, and they are responsible for watering, feeding and cleaning the gerbil. Each day a second child is Zoo Keeper and works with the Head Zoo Keeper and watches and helps, doing only what the Head Zoo Keeper directs them to do and never touching the animal. In both these classrooms, the teacher has made decisions about how to organize, allocate, and manage time, materials and physical space. Do you think that the students are actively and fairly engaged in productive learning tasks?

This is but one small example with a gerbil; a good teacher makes a host of similar decisions about all the materials in the room. Most beginning teachers start with the organization of the books, desks and chairs, and gradually get more organized every year. What have you learned about managing the physical environment from your visits to schools so far?

Additional Resources

STANDARD 5 - Learning Environment
The competent teacher uses an understanding of individual and group motivation and behavior to create a learning environment that encourages positive social interaction, active engagement in learning, and self-motivation.   Standard 5 Indicators

Design your classroom.

What have you observed about group motivation that worked?

Engaged Learning Indicators