Can a simple classroom redesign inspire student achievement?

In one teacher’s active classroom, achievement goes far beyond test scores—here’s why and how.

Imagine a 5th grade classroom in the middle of a lesson. What do you see: charts, letters, and drawings on the wall? A teacher writing notes on a large chalk or white board at the front of the room? Rows of desks and chairs, which face a single direction? Maybe you imagined small bookshelves, an American flag, or other supplies. It’s likely we formed the same, all too familiar image in our mind.

This has been the traditional classroom for decades. Any generation could walk into a room and immediately identify it as a classroom.

At South Carolina’s Saluda Trail Middle School, my room has evolved from this stagnant design to one of innovation. It’s flexible. It’s colorful. It’s engaging.

Active is Yielding Results

Students don’t just sit facing the front of the room in immovable rows and columns. They roll around into small groups, interacting face-to-face while collaborating with their classmates and me, their teacher. The chairs detach from the desks and the tables tilt up and down to accommodate the use of new tools, like interactive white boards and handheld technology.

Rolling chairs are an essential part of Steelcase Active Learning centers. Here, students gather around teacher, Julie Marshall for a lesson.

This is my active learning center, no longer the traditional classroom we remember. I’ve been teaching for more than three decades and my students are achieving at unprecedented levels. It’s clear the active learning center is yielding record results and having a remarkable impact on my students’ success.

Ours was one of only a few dozen schools awarded similar classroom overhauls through the Steelcase Education Active Learning Center Grant Program. My Saluda Trail 7th graders began class in the new room in 2016, and I have seen growth in three targeted areas:

  • Completed assignments increased from 52 percent the previous year to 98 percent.
  • End-of-year grades increased for 95 percent of the students, up from 81 percent who showed improved grades from the previous year.
  • Growth targets for reading almost doubled, growing to 62 percent, up from 35 percent among my previous years’ students.

The data shows this room is making a difference, but it goes beyond the measurable results.

(Next page: How this classroom redesign success goes beyond test scores)

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