Students & Learning Environment: Focus on places, spaces, and boundaries

In kindergarten, there were one or two rectangular tables off to the side that students used to eat and draw on. When we were learning, we would be sitting on the floor in a semi-circle facing our teacher. If we had free time, it was easy to move about and find an activity to do. The teacher’s desk was off to the side near the back. This setup removed some of the power from the teacher as most of the time they would sit alongside us to work with us. This setup provided some opportunities to engage with most of the students as we were able to freely move. This space made me feel comfortable and removed the feeling of boundaries. 

Throughout the rest of elementary school, the layouts stayed the same. The teacher’s desk was always at the front, either directly in the middle or off to the side a bit. Students’ desks would be lined up facing the front, and there would be a carpet off to the side or in the back of the classroom. This setup displayed that the teacher had all the power. The teachers were always at the front and if any student needed help, we had to get up and go to the teachers’ desk. There were very few opportunities to engage with other students and the setup felt uncomfortable and bonded.

In high school, the setup changed a bit. In two of the three classrooms we were in, the setup was the same. The teacher’s desk was at the front or off to the side, and there were tables lined up facing the front. This setup presented a power dynamic that the teacher had all the power. Students had little chance to engage and interact with other students. The space felt claustrophobic and closed off. The elementary and these two high school classrooms were uninviting. 

The last classroom was set up completely differently. Along one wall, there was a bar setup. This setup served as the teachers’ desk and a space for students to sit. At the front of the classroom and along the other wall, there were tables that sat four students. The whole middle of the classroom was empty. This setup shifted the power dynamic a little as the teacher sat alongside the students and we were not forced to face him all the time. The classroom gave a bit more opportunity to engage with other students and was more open and comfortable. 

Teachers could move the tables/desks around to open up the space. To reduce the power dynamic, it would be beneficial for the teacher to set up his/her space along the side or at the back of the classroom instead of at the front. To improve the dynamic of the classrooms, teachers can request round tables. Round tables allow communication amongst students and their shape can open up the space a bit more.