What should I know about arranging my classroom to meet the needs of students who have disabilities?
The physical arrangement of your classroom might need special considerations depending on the individual needs of the students in your classroom.
There may be instructional, social, physical, and/or safety needs and concerns that affect the physical arrangement of your classroom. For example, you may have a student who benefits from a learning environment with minimal distractions so you may need to create a space in the classroom that minimizes visual and auditory inputs for that child. Another student may need a desk arrangement that accommodates a mobility device such as a wheelchair.
Other considerations for your classroom may include space for additional learning materials and assistive technology, specialized furniture, access to electrical power, and space for additional staff who may work with the student. For example, a student who uses a video magnification device for accessing visual material presented at a distance needs appropriate furniture and placement in the classroom to access instruction. Another student might require the assistance of a paraprofessional to physically move about the classroom. This would require consideration for comfortably accommodating another adult in the classroom and ensuring pathways are clear from obstructions and wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
There may be strategies that involve aspects of your classroom other than the physical arrangement. A student with a hearing impairment who needs an environment with amplification such as an auditory sound field system may require installation of equipment before the school year begins and will also require you to "wear" technology for amplification. A student's placement in the classroom environment may also need to be considered. For example, a student who needs to develop peer relationships can be placed in a seating arrangement where she is at the center (and not at the perimeter) of the classroom in order to maximize opportunities to interact with peers.
Inquiry, creativity, and flexibility are dispositions critical to evaluating the learning environment for your students and making changes based on student results. If students are not achieving the desired results, engage in reflective inquiry and explore how the room arrangement may be contributing to student behavior, consider a variety of possible options, and implement several arrangements over time.
Discuss the arrangement of the classroom with your students. Ask their opinions about what works well for them and if they have any suggestions about how the arrangement could be changed to work better for them.
- With their permission, visit other teachers' classrooms when students are in the classroom. Are there arrangements used by other teachers that you could adopt/adapt for your classroom that might improve the arrangement?
- If possible, discuss the possibility of devoting time at a faculty meeting to classroom arrangements so you can discuss successes and challenges and get input from others.
- Consult with your colleagues in special education about what type(s) of classroom arrangements might be beneficial to students who have disabilities.
Resources and Links
- The Iris Center at Vanderbilt University has a STAR Legacy Module on Accommodations to the Physical Environment: Setting up a Classroom for Students with Visual Disabilities. The questions and concepts can be generalized to other disability areas.
- The Power of Two website at the University of Kansas has an article called What Matters Most in Inclusive Education: A Practical Guide for Moving Forward. This article contains information how you can structure learning environments to promote the inclusion of learners who have disabilities.
- The website 4Teachers.org: Teach with Technology has an interactive tool called Classroom Architect, which allows you to outline the dimensions of your classroom and experiment with different classroom arrangements before you actually start moving furniture.
- If you prefer experimenting with classroom arrangements on paper, the website of the American Federation of Teachers has a pamphlet on effective classroom arrangements and another on classroom management with keys and tips on classroom arrangement.
- The School Design Research Studio seeks to advance knowledge of effective physical learning environments. On their website they have an article entitled Teachers as Placemakers: Investigating Teachers' Use of the Physical Learning Environment in Instructional Design. In this article, authors Jeffery A. Lackney, Ph.D., and Paul Jacobs, Ph.D. summarize the research they have conducted to assess the extent to which teachers use and manipulate the classroom learning environment as part of their instructional design.