Research, Research, Research…

In my initial blog post for my SET Lab study, I talked about how I initially became interested in classroom design and learning spaces as well as how I narrowed down my study question regarding classroom design and engagement. For more on the thinking behind my study, check out my first post titled “Jumping into SET Lab,” here.

To kick off the “Investigate and Incubate” stage of my SET Lab study, I have been reading past research and studies completed in the areas of flexible seating, 21st century learning spaces, seating location and types, and student autonomy in relation to student engagement. All of which will help me in my quest to answer my official research question: “Does student ownership over classroom design affect engagement?

While reading through the research that has been done in the past in this area, I began to notice a few major themes that were consistent throughout each study.

  1. Design your classroom with a purpose

Each type of seating arrangement (rows, U-shaped, groups, etc.) promote certain behaviors. Depending on the purpose, goal, or task you are asking of the students in the lesson, they should be sitting in the appropriate seating set up. For example, during work in which you are encouraging brainstorming or working collaboratively, it is much more effective to have students in groups rather than sitting in rows. Use classroom design to BOOST learning!

2. There has been a recent shift in the paradigm of education

Almost every action research sources noted the current trend toward the next-generation classroom: 21st century learning spaces. There is a pedagogical shift in education from teacher to student and direction instruction to collaboration. The present paradigm in education is shifting from passive to active learning, which demands a space that allows for multiple methods of instruction and learning. Unlike previous trends in education, this 21st century learning does not require more physical space, but rather an increased flexibility in the space available.

3. As a teacher, focus on what you CAN manage

There are many factors that teachers cannot control. In the classroom alone, factors such as physical space, the presence or absence of peers, and often the lighting and temperature of the classroom, all of which contribute to student learning, are out of the teacher’s control. Outside of the classroom, there are an abundance of factors that affect students learning that are out of the hands of teachers, whether it be the amount of sleep students get, their diet, or the personal issues they may face. One factor that teachers can manage that shape the classroom environment in which students are expected to learn, on the other hand, is seating arrangements and types. This lends more importance to the factors that teachers can modify to ultimately aid student learning.

4. Limitations in the research

Most action research on the effects of altering student seating concentrates on students either in elementary grades or in classrooms in higher education. Out of all of my sources, only one looked into the effects of seating on students in middle school. Furthermore, there is a serious gap in the research on seating types and arrangements regarding students with learning differences.

After reading and analyzing the action research for this stage of my SET Lab study, I have a few additional thoughts, ideas, and questions.

  • I teach middle school students with ADHD and other learning differences. With little previous research done at this developmental stage and with students with learning differences, how will this impact the results of my study compared to previous research and results?
  • I tend to stress the role of collaboration throughout my class, specifically in their academic activities. If collaborating effectively is one of the skills I want my students to continue to develop, shouldn’t they be working with me as the teacher to design our learning space?
  • Finally, 21st century learning spaces need to be flexible. With my fairly bulky (and stationary) science tables and “cozy” sized classroom, my students and I will need to be strategic in using our space well so that it does not seem cluttered or overwhelming while still facilitating multiple methods of instruction and activities.

As I continue through my study, I will be posting my progress here on Medium as well as on Twitter. To follow my progress as well as the other SET Lab delegates in their action research, follow the hashtags #educationscientist and #SETlab.