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Setting the Stage for Learning

I’m an aesthetic kind of person.  Setting really matters to me! Theories about what works best in classroom design and structure, to optimize student engagement, has been an obsession of mine.  I have worked so hard to create an ambiance and space of learning, peace and calm – a home.

My newly organized bookshelf

Our school practices a common classroom management program from K-12- CHAMPS, ACHIEVE (champs at the Secondary level), STOIC (all acronyms from the same origin of Sprick’s work); Structure is the first consideration in the STOIC model, and Structure is the first aspect I consider for the kids to enter the class.  Structure means many things, but the one that I attune to is all the structural aspects of my room in terms of sight, sound, smell, and feel – I love “Setting the Stage” for learning.

It must be the same appeal I feel when guests are coming to my home; my students are honoured guests for their 90 minutes – guests whom I want to feel they are “at home” in our space.

How do I Set the Stage?  Here’s a list of things I try to do:

  • The walls are a seafoam green colour, which is bright yet homey (not chosen by me, but intuitively our facilities boys did well with this choice)
  • I was good at having music playing – must get back to that on Monday (lost that touch)
  • The desks are arranged based on activity – rows (uh oh – testing), amphitheatre, partners, study groups, etc…
  • Aromatherapy – I love using my diffuser with oils to calm, focus, or energize depending on the kind of day it is –  (i.e. casual days are lavender kind of days).
  • The front of the room is like a talk show set – two cushioned comfy chairs with table in-between and the Smartboard behind.
  • Bookshelves line all corners filled with books.
  • Lamps around the room for softer lighting with natural light spilling into the room and maybe one row of overheads light on in the room – I never use full overhead lights (they induce headaches)

    baffles (Photo credit: Martin Deutsch)
  • Art and poster and words surround the space for inspiration
  • Acoustic Baffles – my room was a music room and we managed to keep the baffles that absorb sound = beautifully peaceful!
  • And, yes, carpet!  I am a teacher not to complain of my carpet – it affects sound too!

So, in June last year when it was announced that I’d need to clear my room for floor tiles to be put in – I had a panic attack not only because I was far too exhausted to pack up, not only because this would have been my 7th pack up in 8 years, but because I don’t want flooring tiles!!!

Carpet has become a h uge factor in my efforts to “Set the Stage”.  Here are three of the strongest factors for me:

The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880). ...
The Flying Carpet by Viktor Vasnetsov (1880). Oil, canvas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  1.  It provides a sound buffer from scraping desks and reverberating sound, which help students to stay focused and on-task.
  2. It creates a “home-like” atmosphere.  This is a huge psychological benefit for student learning.
  3. The students in my room (me with the artsy-fartsy background) often work on the floor for group work, journal writing, and SSR reading.  I give them that choice and many use it daily.  It is really important for kids to be able to establish their comfort, when possible, for thinking and creating.

Please see these articles to support what I am saying regarding “atmosphere” as being a key to learning.

Please know that I “get” the ease and cleanliness of tile – my whole house is laminate, even our bedrooms.  And true, my house is echoy, but we’re generally quiet people.  But through my years of experience in carpeted and non-carpeted spaces, I believe that 30 kids in one room get much higher success in their learning when the environment supports them, not works against them.


I am an English teacher with FFCA Charter Academy who struts and frets her hour upon the stage. After attending the 2011 NCTE conference in Chicago, and being inspired by the likes of Penny Kittle, Jim Burke and Kelly Gallagher, I decided to embark on the journey to "practice what I preach!" So - here it goes. I'm sure this will be a process that batters and bruises, but hopefully I come out a mere bit wiser as I blog beside my students as a teacher and a learner. I try to blog some of their assignments; otherwise, I use the space to reflect on my learning and teaching!

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