Every teacher has experienced the pain of failing to encourage student participation in the classroom. While it can sometimes be attributed to the academic material being taught or to the age group of the students, it can sometimes be caused by an overload of independent class work. It’s often the case that the best way to get students interested is to get them moving and working together. Collaboration is the basis of interactive learning, and is an approach that’s garnering plenty of attention in the classroom.
What is Collaborative Learning?
Anyone can create a lecture with an accompanying visual presentation, but most teachers know this can be a hit-or-miss approach when it comes to engaging students in the material. In an era where teachers are under heavy pressure to help their students perform well, this simple visual approach is becoming less popular.
Instead, teachers are finding that assigning collaborative tasks to students and giving them the freedom to choose how they complete an assignment is a much more effective way to help students retain information and learn to be proactive and independent.
Some teachers might think that assigning group projects outside of the classroom is considered interactive learning, but this isn’t entirely true. While students are required to collaborate to a degree in order to successfully complete a group project, the fact is that this type of assignment isn’t really comparable to fostering a collaborative experience in the classroom.
The Benefits of Collaborative Learning
When teachers are able to get students to work together whether it’s to solve a problem, discuss a question or create something new, they make the learning process active. This engages all of the senses, and gives students’ brains the ability to create more connections and solidify core information so that it sticks in their memories.
In addition, when kids feel engaged in a lesson, they take an interest in more than just the specific topic of the day. They’re much more likely to want to explore not only the material that was presented in class but other related material as well. Fostering this level of interest helps instructors to build a more solid framework of knowledge that students can operate within.
Another aspect of this style of learning is that it teaches more than just rote memorization. When kids are put into a collaborative environment, they are given an opportunity to learn important lessons about group dynamics, social interactions and creative problem solving.
One easy way to foster a more collaborative educational environment is to choose classroom furniture that promotes movement and engagement.
How School Furniture Design Can Affect Student Engagement
Traditionally, most classrooms are made up of individual desks that are spaced out into even rows. Everyone faces a whiteboard and teaching desk at the front, and there is little opportunity for students to see or engage with one another.
While it is true that all teachers may not have the freedom to buy new furniture or drastically rearrange their classrooms on a regular basis, there are small adjustments that can be made to facilitate more active learning.
1. Mobile Classroom Furniture
Even just a few pieces of mobile furniture can make the process of arranging students much easier. Wheeled tables, mobile whiteboard stands and movable teaching podiums can all be incorporated to help break up the monotony of a static classroom.
Giving students the ability to move a whiteboard to their group is empowering, and it can help to push their creativity even further. It can also be useful for educators to have teaching tools that are easy to move around.
Having a dynamic classroom environment keeps students interested and forces their brains to focus on what’s happening around them.
Whenever possible, experts say that instructors should encourage students to “take ownership” in the classroom, and this can include allowing them to rearrange furniture to best suit their group exercises for that day. Placing desks and tables on casters makes this much easier, and that is particularly so for classrooms with younger children who may enjoy working on the floor.
2. Non-traditional Desks
If possible, consider adding different styles of desks as replacements for the more isolating single-seat desks that most students are used to. This can include standing desks, which foster ease of movement between groups, as well as shared desks.
Shared desks are common in classrooms of younger children, but studies have shown that they are excellent tools for promoting activity and collaboration among older students too. When you put a group of students at a shared desk, they can more easily converse, share notes and engage with each other in a meaningful way.
The addition of nontraditional desks can extend to the teacher’s desk as well. Rather than having a bulky desk that separates the instructor from the students, it can be helpful to look for adaptable furniture that can be moved or broken down easily.
Visually removing the perceived barrier between teacher and student helps to break down mental barriers that kids have unconsciously formed throughout their school careers. When there is no “front” of the classroom and no set focal point where the teacher “presides” over the class, it acts as a mental equalizer that allows students to feel more comfortable about engaging in discussion or asking questions.
3. Varied Seating
Having a variety of seating options such as stools, floor cushions and rockers is another way to help facilitate shifts between individual work and group assignments. Giving students a choice about how and where to sit adds a small but important level of autonomy and independence.
Additionally, chairs that swivel are extremely popular with both students and teachers. This kind of seating is often seen as the ideal balance between independent and collaborative work. Swivel chairs can be utilized for quick and easy access to other students, class materials and the instructor with minimal disruption.
Breaking Down Learning Barriers Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
There are many creative ways for teachers to reach their students and keep them interested in the material. Facilitating a classroom space that is dynamic and collaborative is one of the best ways to start the process of keeping kids engaged.
To do this, teachers are encouraged to think outside of the box, and utilizing mobile classroom furniture is one of the simplest methods to achieve this.