Structure involves organizing classrooms to foster an environment which meets the learning needs of students including time, materials, & even furniture.
Classroom Structure Defined
This is not just something we do at times, but something we do at times better than others. Teachers are always structuring (appropriately or not, on purpose or not) and our structure (total learning environment) always yields an outcome or consequences irregardless of motives.
Structure is a term for a specific plan which is subscribed to by the teacher and anyone else on the teaching team, be it other teachers, students, aides, volunteers, etc. Knowing what is being done and why is helpful in setting up situations to pull off the event somewhat as planned. This intentional teaching is the gist of using structure as a teaching technique.
Structure to Solve Student Challenges
Instead of looking at a student with school difficulties and asking “What is wrong with that child?” we might benefit at times by saying “What is wrong with the child’s attention?” or “What could be changed to increase school success?” Such a paradigm change brings forth a prescriptive approach along with being more positive in its outcomes.
Types of Classroom Structure
Many types of classroom structure function concurrently. Consider the dimensionality of interacting structures:
- of movement:Less changing of classes, motor breaks by doing classroom duties like passing out items, sharpening pencils, straightening books, etc.
- of relationships:Reducing peer groups, reducing the number of authority figures, organizing a social situation for success.
- of time schedules: The rhythm of regularity in schedules provides security, especially for children who have difficulty with self-direction. This cradling structure from the outside in works to eventually help the student organize from the inside out.
- of space: Spatial organization within a classroomcan head off distractions, avoid excess auditory and visual stimulation, and prevent negative social interactions.
- of roles: Assigning clear and specific roles to students can help avoid turf-like behaviors and set the stage for their learning to get along with various others.
- of behavior expectations: Children do better when they know what to expectof themselves, of other students, and the teacher.
- for prescriptive and individualized programming: Along with generalized classroom standards, students can be given specific assignments and materials which meet their individual needs, thus fostering attainment of curriculum goals set for the whole classroom.
- for success: Expectations which are set at the appropriate level and learning style of a particular child allow for both challenge and successto walk hand in hand.
Brainstorm Questions to Help in Planning Classroom Structure
These prompts may help a team or individual teacher in brainstorming to utilize structure in facilitating student progress:
- What are a few of your main classroom problems?
- Now write ways these can be helped with structure. Specify type of structure, e.g. space, movement, schedule, auditory, visual, etc.
- After an initial trial run, reflect on what seems to work and consider tweaking them or even alternative ideas involving structure.
- How would you explain to a parent or other professional about a student’s need for structure?
- How could you communicate your new structure to the student or students involved?
Be sure to avoid changing too many things at once since students may depend on class routines, and excessive change can bring unintended consequences.
What Classroom Structure is and Is Not
Some educational management procedures and techniques may seem to be structure, but are either too little or too much to meet the criteria of consistent structure. Structure is not:
- rigidity: Although routines are important to frame the day, variety can be inserted into a structure, combating boredom and keeping students inspired.
- placement of walls and furniture only: The location of classroom furniture with regard to influencing successful functioning of students is important, but that alone won’t always be enough to create a structured classroom.
- simplistic: For example, moving a desk for a day or so while expecting an improved outcome may be over-simplifying the situation. A method has to be given some time to work since change itself and be overstimulating, and it may take a few days of consistently applying the structure for positive results to occur.
- an endless variety of alternatives: Too many choices brings frustration rather than organization. Making one change at a time allows an educator to more clearly evaluate the outcome.
Structure within a learning environment is a multidimensional interaction effect which must be observed as a whole rather than only on one variable (e.g. furniture) while ignoring others (time of day, peers, etc.) When a student is exposed to consistent structure and routines they can eventually develop their own skills of focusing on their own goals. This leads to learning to structure oneself from within, which is the end product of structuring by a teacher.
Classroom structure is an effective tool in organizing the fluid components of a classroom with intentional goals to further each student’s comfort and progress in learning.