Challenging Assumptions: Classroom Design

Conferences have always been a part of my interactions with students, but I can’t say that I’ve planned or structured these conferences before.  This year, I am using conferences as an integral tool for my students’ inquiry tasks; they schedule meeting times with me and are responsible for recording what we discussed as well as their plan for the next step of their task.  As much as I enjoy the first meetings with students, I was surprised by the level of accountability in the 2nd and 3rd meetings because we used their notes to assess their growth.

If I am going to continue using conferences in my classroom, I think I have to consider redesigning our classroom space.  Although my students and I are able to have productive meetings, it would help if we had a designated area that was more conducive to meaningful discussions.


While I tossed a few ideas around in my head, I noticed Aviva Dunsiger‘s post on Instagram:

What a beautiful way to use her classroom for the benefit of her students.  It made me wonder if my students would feel comfortable in my classroom if they needed a “brain break”.  What would this look like in a secondary classroom?  How would it compare and differ from an elementary classroom?


I have heard that the classroom is the third teacher, but I haven’t honoured this concept by intentionally planning our learning environment… yet.  Maybe this is my next step…

If you have suggestions or ideas for classroom design, please share!



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13 Responses to Challenging Assumptions: Classroom Design

  1. adunsiger says:

    What a wonderful post, Colleen! I can’t help but wonder what your students might say about this. What kind of space might work for them, and is it okay if there are a few different options? I think about our classroom. With some students, we can have conversations or run mini-lessons on the carpet and in the midst of play. For other students, we have to move away from the play and find a quieter space in the room in order for them to concentrate better.

    Even for our Brain Breaks, we have some students that lie down, some that sit in chairs, one or two that read a book, and one child that often sharpens pencils with a handheld sharpener, fills staplers, or squishes a bag of water beads. All children are different, and I think that this is as true for four-year-olds as it is for 18-year-olds. While a Brain Break is technically a part of the MindUp program, which is a program and does have options for various grade levels, we modify it to meet the needs of our kids (as children rarely fit into a designated program).

    What really caught me about your post was your comment on “if your students would feel comfortable if they needed a brain break.” What I find interesting is that we have one child that regularly extends her brain break well past the five minutes or so that we have ours. She will sometimes lie down, have a little nap, or just lie quietly for up to another 40 minutes. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this (here she is in the middle of the floor with children playing all around her), but as my teaching partner pointed out to me, this is what she needs. If we force her to transition as the other students do, are we really giving her what she requires? We usually transition from a brain break to play, so that the students can make this transition at their own pace … I think that’s important.

    That said, thinking about the diversity of “brain breaks,” I wonder if your students are already taking them in a secondary classroom, but you’re not seeing them as such. Think about the student that plays music as he/she works or the person that doodles as he/she listens to a lecture or develops ideas, could this be what a brain break looks like in older grades? Is it that opportunity to breathe and to quiet our minds and bodies? I would think that what this looks like slowly starts to change with age.

    Your post made me think of so much that I think my comment may be longer than the post itself. Thanks for giving my “brain” a little “break” from Communications of Learning today. 🙂


    • colleenkr says:

      Aviva, you’ve given me some wonderful ideas to nibble on. I appreciate your observations of students who need a variety of options for their conferences as well as their brain breaks. I know that I would be one of the students who needed to be in a separate area with less noise and fewer distractions.

      I quickly Googled the MindUp program (is this the one? and was happy to see a reference to social and emotional intelligence. This is something that we are learning more about in our school board, but I know that we’ve only scratched the surface. I’m looking forward to Stuart Shanker’s upcoming presentation via TeachOntario re: self regulation.

      Your suggestions about the possible evolution of brain breaks for teens is really interesting! I like this, because there are so many assumptions about teen behaviour, especially when they may not be as compliant as some educators would prefer. My heart goes out to them, especially after a long day of PD — when my mind can’t process any more information and I’m simply going through the motions after lunch.

      I love the idea of transitions too… I just need to think about this a bit more before commenting. 🙂

      • adunsiger says:

        Yes, this is program. There are definitely some beneficial components of it — our Board has really embraced it — but I do love Stuart Shanker’s thinking as well. His two books — CALM, ALERT, AND LEARNING and SELF-REG — are must-reads and definitely make you think about behaviour differently. Have you seen this article before?

        It’s on The MEHRIT Centre site. I know that Stuart Shanker has also written and speaks about this topic, but this post definitely seems to align with many of his beliefs. I hope this helps!


  2. lisamnoble says:

    Oh, Colleen, this was timely. One of my intermediate colleagues and I have been talking about this, and I have been really intrigued by the way my students use my classroom space. There’s a corner on our countertops, with cupboards above, where our charging station is, and I often find some of my smaller 7’s curled in there to read. Others like squeezing into the space between window sills and counters. We have a whisper bike, which is popular, and I think if I put yoga/exercise mats down on the floor, they’d get major use, too.

    We’re in a measurement unit in math, and I think we will finish up by doing some thinking about the dimensions of our large, beautiful space, and how we could configure it. Aviva and I have had some interesting conversations about classroom space.

    • colleenkr says:

      I think that, after reading what you and Aviva have shared, I will definitely be asking my students what they think about our classroom environment. To be honest, the most important thing about my classroom space was simply keeping it clean!

      Maybe tidiness naturally occurs with a well-designed space; specific storage spots and labels will help with materials, while furniture and accessories can be repositioned according to needs and purposes.

      This year, our principal invested in nicer furniture in our library — we have some couches and coffee tables that have made the space feel much more comfortable. I wish I had some furniture in my room as well, to give students places to “veg” while they sketch, research or even chat.

      You have a whisper bike??

      • lisamnoble says:

        I do have a whisper bike. I have a busy crew. We’ve been given a request from our principal to think about classroom design. I have a big beautiful light-filled classroom, but we need to think about planning space, seating, mixed groupings. My colleague who teaches the other 7’s has a few wobble stools, which are wonderful. I want to think about soft seating and tables vs desks, but I want to know what my students think we need/ could fit. I also have a storage room you would really like, Colleen. I just got budget to turn part of our space into a media production studio.

  3. colleenkr says:

    For some reason, WordPress only seems to allow a certain number of replies to comments so I’m starting a new thread!

    Aviva, I’m scanning the content from the link you shared, and it’s absolute gold. I’m embarrassed to admit that I thought Dr. Jean worked primarily with elementary students, so I’m thrilled to know that her work extends through adolescence. She came to our region recently and I had the chance to meet her — what an incredible woman with so much to share. Thank you for sharing this new information with me — I’m like a sponge right now, building all sorts of new connections in my brain.

    You made me think about the link between classroom design and our priorities as educators. Does our classroom represent what is important to teachers? …to students? What would the ideal classroom look like, then? How would this differ between classrooms, and what would stay the same?

    • adunsiger says:

      I’m so glad that you got a chance to check out this link. I learned more about Dr. Jean and Stuart Shanker’s work with adolescents through the Foundations Course that I took through The MEHRIT Centre. So wonderful! The first course had a whole section on adolescents. Incredibly fascinating!

      I definitely think that classroom design links with our priorities as educators. Even more so though, I wonder if it has to link with students’ priorities as learners. What do they need, and if their needs do not align with our own, what are we willing to let go? What are we not? So much to consider!


      • colleenkr says:

        I wonder if anyone has researched or explored the relationship (differences and similarities) between priorities of educators & students. Maybe we could ask Dr. Jean and Stuart Shanker if they know of these possible connections? I would love to see visuals and summaries if possible!

        I’m bookmarking The Mehrit Centre, since I have a feeling that this will have a huge impact on my pedagogy. What a wonderful extension of my TLLP project to add even more depth — thank you!

      • adunsiger says:

        So wonderful, Colleen! I’m not sure if anyone has, but this would be a neat question to explore. Glad that you’re looking at The MEHRIT Centre work as well. I really love everything I’ve learned from here.


  4. colleenkr says:

    Lisa, your students sound like movers and shakers! Do you find that they’re able to focus more easily when they’re able to get their energy out with movement? We have some standing desks and soft/wobbly chairs in our alternative education room and the students really enjoy them. I know my daughter really prefers to fidget with something in her hands to help her concentrate.

    I would love to see a picture of your storage room — can you share an image soon? (I’m so nosey) …and WOW, a media production studio??!! What will your shopping list look like? Do you already have an iPad or two (or even a class set)? Do you have a tripod? A green screen?

    • lisamnoble says:

      I will send you a pic tomorrow! And yes: GoPros, a handful of iPad minis, green screens, tripods, gorillaPod tablet holders, good mikes (both tabletop and headset) and a couple of Chromebooks for editing. My focus is helping my kids to make their learning visible (and audible).

      I’m trying to create an environment where, ideally, all of my students can find spaces that feel welcoming to them. Different spaces for different moods, for different tasks.

      • colleenkr says:

        Holy cow, this sounds absolutely amazing. Just this past week, one of my students wished that she had access to a GoPro because her inquiry project took her out on her family’s trapline where she built a shelter/cubby for a lynx (or maybe it was a bobcat). I’ll bet you can really begin looking into on-the-land learning once you have your full set-up!

        I hope we can have a Skype session (or GHO) so that I can have a virtual tour of your room. If you like, I can speak with your students to ask them what they think, and how they enjoy using the new equipment!

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