Why do classrooms have fronts?

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“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
“The unexamined classroom is not worth teaching in.” – Me, I guess.

Why do classrooms have fronts?

When I think of rooms that have fronts, there  aren’t that many that come to mind.

Rooms with fronts

  • Cinemas
  • Theatres
  • Lounge room? (If you’re really into netflix)
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ssshhhhh…. The shows about to start.

In these rooms we face the front and passively consume that which is fed to us. Don’t get me wrong, I love going to the movies. But calling it a learning experience is a bit of a stretch.

I think…

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The most important thing in a room with a front is the thing at the front.

So what’s at the front of a classroom?

  • A teacher
  • A projector
  • A whiteboard

Uh oh.

So when I recently moved classrooms, I was very conscious to make sure that my classroom was “frontless.”

Classroom setup term 3.PNGHere is my current classroom setup. 

Now I don’t presume to say that this is the perfect classroom setup, because I don’t believe it is. But it’s the classroom I have for now and I’ve designed it this way for several reasons.

1. I don’t talk much
Today, across 210 minutes of class time, I spent approximately 6 minutes addressing my classes as a whole. That’s only 3% of class time when I expect all eyes on me. It would be strange to setup a classroom designed with a front.

Don’t get me wrong. I talk .I talk to small groups and individuals about their learning. This is a direct result of my flipped learning and allows much greater differentiation in instruction, not just in task.

The one who does the talking, does the learning. After all, Learning is Not a Spectator Sport.

2. Whiteboards for all
The whiteboards on every wall belong to everyone. If a student has a question, I can quickly write on the whiteboard directly in front of them. If a student needs an extension task, I can write them one on the whiteboard. If I’d like a student to demonstrate their understanding, they can work at their section of whiteboard. If we’re looking for group work, there’s the whiteboard.

Whiteboards are great and teachers have hogged them for far too long. Let the students have some fun!

3. 24 screens in this room (48 if you count the phones)
Behind each screen is a powerful computer connected to a repository of all the knowledge gathered across the entirety of human history.

Also, cat videos.

I want my students to use their computers effectively and I want to put them in the best position to do that. By standing almost anywhere in this room, I can see about 87% of their screens. A win for them because they get to use their computers and all the good that comes with them. A win for me because I remove the temptation to drift off task.

In Conclusion.

I think Pharrell summed it up best when he said.
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6 comments

  1. Love this and I’ve been grappling with it in my primary classroom. Are you in secondary? Only one whiteboard (and Windows that don’t lend themselves as a whiteboard) makes some of what you said tricky for me. You’re lucky to have three! How does this work for groups and things that like? Also thinking flexibly- do your kids move the furniture around a lot?

    1. In secondary yeah Emily.

      What I didn’t mention in the post is that the things I refer to as “whiteboards” are actually heaps and heaps of A3 sheets of paper laminated and stuck to the wall. Cheap and effective.

      Something students do fairly regularly is grab chairs and put them on the other side of the desk. They use this when they’re doing group work quite a bit.

      Unfortunately this room is so small that there isn’t a lot of room to move desks around. But when I was in a much larger room desks got moved around ALOT.

      Thinking flexibly is certainly the key to all this. I don’t know what I’m doing but I know what I’m trying to achieve. Teaching is always a work in progress.

  2. I envy you that you have a room of your own and can arrange it how you like. We managed to keep 2 junior school Maths rooms set up with grouped tables for about 3 years, but this year timetables have us all over the place. Personally, I believe all, or most, classrooms should be set up this way. Unfortunately, while our principal claims to want collaborative student based learning, he has done nothing to push teachers to change, so 90% of classrooms are set up in rows. All rooms only have one whiteboard, at the front. I would love to teach in a room with all those boards.

  3. I’m extremely fortunate to have my own classroom I agree.

    When I was sharing though, I always started my lessons with students rearranging desks to whichever format we liked best. I think the small time investment in getting correctly setup is worth it.

    As for the walls of whiteboards, what I don’t mention is that one of those walls is just endless A3 sheets of paper that have been laminated. Another wall is a pinboard with very large plastic sheets (think OHT sheets) pinned to it. So calling them whiteboards is a stretch, but I got them up for a few dollars and they get the job done.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, where there’s a will, there’s a way!

  4. This is certainly a well examined classroom! You’ve been very intentional and thoughtful with the changes you’ve made and it’s obvious that you’ve made some instructional changes as well. Bravo!

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