By Shiva Peri
There are various benefits and drawbacks to certain classroom models. For the purposes of this article, the ideal classroom is defined as that which maximizes engagement and productivity. At Council Rock North, there are four major types of classrooms.
THE TRADITIONAL LAYOUT
The first is the traditional desk layout with an array of desks facing a Promethean ActivBoard. This layout is most common throughout the school. Its benefits include being good for testing and handing out papers. However, one of the most glaring drawbacks is that this layout often hinders collaboration, a pivotal aspect of education. Additionally, the lack of motility of this environment can lead to antsy students who look at the clock more often than at the board.
However, these classrooms are also modular. Ms. Mallon has come up with a creative solution using this feature of traditional desks. As opposed to rows and columns, Ms. Mallon organizes her desks in an arc all facing inwards.
She said that “[her classroom structure] helps facilitate … teaching because I like all of my classes centered around participation. I find that students are more likely to participate when they can see more of their other classmates … and then they can hear each other pretty well. … When you have a grid structure ... it halts the ability to have a full conversation. Since AP World and gender studies ... are communication-based, I find that this facilitates conversation better. It also opens up the room. ... When kids are presenting, for example, they can use the space more and I find that if they can use the space more then they will participate more and they'll be more creative.”
Another layout is found in a majority of the science classrooms at North that feature lab tables and lab stations. As opposed to traditional desk environments, lab tables encourage communication and collaboration, both of which lead to a more engaged class.
For example, many of the trivial clarification-of-the-instructions questions can be asked of lab partners instead of the teacher. In other words, the filtration of a question through a lab group can ensure that the most necessary questions are asked.
Mr. Price supports this claim saying, “[Lab groups allow] collaborative work so that you can brainstorm and feed off of each other. ... It basically opens you up to newer thoughts and ideas and I think it expands your horizons. ... Research shows that working as a team benefits everybody. Today with our complex world, ... almost everyone, even Elon Musk, have people they work with, [creating] a huge collaborative effort.”
The main disadvantage of lab groups and stations, though, is that they can cultivate an unhealthy dependence on certain lab members, which prevents real learning.
The third major type of classroom is the computer labs and the library media center. The main benefit of working at computers is the vast resources provided. Effective students can productively research, brainstorm, and develop ideas at these labs. While the library computers seem to foster a better sense of collaboration than the other computer labs due to the grouped tables of computers, both can produce similar results in terms of productivity. However, despite this potential for productivity, students can also misuse computers to do homework for other classes, play computer games, or even plagiarize.
The final type of classroom environment is any kind of studio: the art studio, the photography lab, the woodshop, or the film and media lab. Each of these classrooms is specialized for specific types of creative endeavors. Students may be engaged by certain elements of these studio environments such as their openness and the freedom of motility that they encourage.
Not only does motility help prevent a watch-the-clock mentality, but also it fosters a sense of independence in students.
Frank Kim, a senior who has never taken an art course, provides an interesting perspective on the issue: “For most of my life, it’s always been the traditional setting. If I were to transfer, I’d probably choose the studio outline, because of how refreshing it is relative to what I’ve been in so far. Definitely traditional classroom ... is much more efficient [in terms of] structured learning. ... I feel like the classroom should reflect the subject, so a studio would be good for ... nurturing creativity, but traditional definitely has its merits.”
On the other hand, Esther Kardos, a senior AP Art History student, has a different viewpoint: “The problem with the studio art environment is that we’re on stools. ... In my experience stools make me slump down a bit more. Since I’m more exhausted, it’s a little bit harder for me to, for example, sit in this classroom and sit in a stool and be as alert and as attentive as I would be in a normal chair. When it comes to the computer labs ... there’s the distraction of the computers. ... The science labs [are] more [productive], because when we’re doing group projects especially, ... it gives a cooperative co-learning space that allows me to be productive on my own when I’m doing a test but also be productive in groups.”
Another drawback is that it is difficult to address the class at once without momentarily halting individual progress.
I initially wrote this article because of how unproductive I felt in the traditional desk layout classrooms. These pervasive classrooms can be improved by encouraging communication and collaboration. Instead of rows and columns, desks can be organized into groups of four to six, emulating the lab tables of science classes. Unfortunately, motility is difficult to integrate due to small classroom sizes. Ultimately, the ideal classroom environment will depend on the type of student (although there seems to be a nearly unanimous desire for more windows) and the type of class.