Environment for learning: physical classroom preferences

Margaret Young, Staff Writer

What kind of physical classrooms make students the most comfortable? How does a homier classroom influence student learning and mental health? Dulaney teachers Cassandra Hatter and Dena Fiat, as well as anonymous students weigh in.  

In a school environment, classrooms can often feel stark and sterile, potentially inhibiting feelings of security, attentiveness and learning. In an anonymous survey, students shared their discomfort with some school lighting.

“Ceiling lights give [them] a headache,” one student said. 

The headache leads them to want to fall asleep which is not only uncomfortable for students, but also creates an added burden on teachers, having to constantly make sure their students are alert.  

Another respondent said, “[they] find dim lighting/lamps to be the best because it relaxes the classroom.”  

The way teachers light their room has proved to be impactful for students as similar results are mirrored in a qualitative question summarizing these preferences. When prompted, “What kind of classroom lighting do you prefer?” 58.1% of students said soft/natural lighting and 38.7% of students said lamps/dim lighting. Only one student said they preferred bright ceiling lights. Understanding students’ ideal classrooms can lead to a stronger community within the school and help foster a learning environment that benefits everyone. 

When respondents were tasked with completing the sentence, “Your ideal seat in a classroom is…” the two most popular answers were by a window and in the back of the room. Some students feel more content in a seat they choose, based on their personal dispositions. Similar to lighting, students being able to choose their own seats and being offered flexible seating can make all students more comfortable. 

When discussing physical classrooms, it is imperative to also understand the teacher’s perspectives, as they are the ones controlling the space. Hatter, Dulaney English teacher, describes her classroom vibe as “calm” and “relaxed” with students’ work being showcased, lo-fi music and alternative seating. She shared that her classroom is a work in progress, originally starting with adding BLM and Pride flags to the walls to show that all students are welcome.

Hatter said, “I also think having student work displayed shows my students that they are part of a community”.  

Fiat, a long-time Dulaney art teacher, describes her room as “positive” and “comfortable” with plants and “subtle warm lights.” In her classroom, she prioritizes mixing up seating charts so students can get to know their peers.  

Fiat said, “Since I spend a lot of time in this room, my goal is to make it an extension of my home while maintaining functionality for my students.” 

The physical environment that students and teachers share each day can not only impact attentiveness and can improve the sense of community and security that students may be looking for in school. When teachers and students have to work together on their shared spaces, classrooms can become more effective, benefiting all those involved.