Strategies for the Overcrowded Classroom

I was ready to take on a new school year, but when I walked in, I noticed desks were packed in the classroom leaving little to no room for me to navigate. I moved the desks around several times trying to develop the best scenario for both me and my students. I had desks against each wall in linear groups of three or four, trying to create aisle spaces to access the students. I worked with it for a while and even replaced some desks with tables. No matter what, I found myself leaning over one or two students to try to independently help another student.


After a while, I actually reminded myself that I’m a geometry teacher. How can I maximize this area with the given number of seats I must have? How can the students in the back corner see the board in the front, and how can I see them from any angle in the classroom? Although my initial problem was space, I was also directed to my desire of creating a safe environment and a culture for learning. As I pondered how to re-arrange my classroom, it wasn’t a surprise that coffee came to mind, and it hit me that I could turn my classroom in a “coffee shop” without the sale of coffee and baked goods unfortunately.


1. Create a Welcoming Environment with a Calming Effect


Now, I was teaching high school and would often hear how the students loved the new local Starbucks or dainty coffee shops in town. When I entered those shops, I would see people working or having quiet conversations. It was relaxing and provided a calming effect, which was something I wanted to incorporate into my classroom. I began visiting more coffee shops and looking at their layout. To my surprise, many of them were using the perimeter of their small space to accommodate the most people in a non-invasive environment. I was taking notes! There was a variety of seating as some preferred to work at a table, while others preferred a comfortable chair with pillows. I also noticed that the lighting and decorations added to the inviting, calming environment. These were all aspects I was planning on incorporating in my room. I must add here that art and interior design is not my gift, so if I can do this, anyone can.


2. Add Variety and Choices for Various Styles of Learners


I was on a mission to convert my classroom into a “coffee shop” and began visiting Habitat Restores to collect some used furniture for my room as I had been given the green light from my administrators. Over the summer, I purchased a used wing-back chair for $10 that needed a slip-cover, an $8 long coffee table in addition to long pillows for my floor sitters, $38 for an octagon nightstand with comfortable side chairs (for my geometry class, of course), a bistro table and chairs on sale, and my favorite purchase was a high top round bar table and chairs with coffee cup engraving for $40. Yes, I had a budget for the upgrade, and I will say it was well worth it for the difference in made in my classes. I kept the receipts for tax purposes. I used three long tables from the school for group tables and put nine desks together in pods of three for the students that preferred desks. Now, instead of thirty-two desks crammed in a small space, I had a layout where I could see every student from any location in the room and could easily get to each student as well.


3. Utilize the Depth and Width of the Classroom


So, if you are burdened with the task of how to fit thirty to forty desks in a room while being accessible to each student, you may want to ask your administrator about incorporating some flexible seating and using the perimeter of the room and cooperative seating to allow you to move around easily. The variety in seating and level heights of seating (from floor to high-top with stools) allows for non-crowding and visibility. Access the width and the depth of the room for your sanity and theirs. This particular layout offered seating for both collaborative and independent study. I placed the high top table in the back corner, the low coffee table near the side wall for the floor sitters. The wing-back chair with pillow and table in another corner, and positioned the rest of the furniture around for mobility. Were there some backs to the board? Yes, but that was alright as the class was designed for collaborative learning and students would turn around when I or someone else needed their attention up front.


For testing situations, We would use dividers, or I often had different versions of the test as I always wanted them guessing anyway between the classes of the same subject. Make your classroom inviting, yet structured, as you create a culture and environment for learning.


Yes, I decorated the room (with permission) and added cafe hanging lights which the students loved to accommodate the lighting effect I noticed in the shops. I wanted to set the tone that this was a learning environment and wanted every student to feel welcome and non-threatened in any way. The seating gave them choices and ownership. I only had to rearrange a couple of students that remained off-task a few times throughout the year. When they entered, they knew we had a short amount of time to accomplish a lot toward their goals.


So teachers, I encourage you to mix it up some. Make your classroom stand out and be the one they want to learn in. I realize implementing furniture is harder to do for science labs and some career tech courses, but the three concepts mentioned should work for any class if you need more seating and are creative. You can always build in bar tables with stools to line the side or back walls where students can face the front. And don’t forget to utilize the corners either for seating if needed or plants or decorations to personalize it as your unique learning environment, where learning and success are emphasized.


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