Open classrooms are noisy, distracting

Open-plan offices — cubicle farms — make it hard to concentrate, say workers in a new survey. There’s no place to have a private conversation. It’s noisy. Open classrooms are the norm in K-12 schools, writes Anya Kamenetz in Hechinger’s Digital/Edu blog.

A new study (sponsored by an office-furniture company, Steelcase, so take it with a grain of salt) compared students in classrooms designed for “active learning,” including dynamic grouping of seats in small and large groups, multisensory engagement at different stations around the room, as well as the use of screens and other technology, to the more traditional “rows of seats” classrooms that are all but disappearing now. “90.32% of students perceived an increase in their engagement in the class with layouts designed for active learning, 80.65% said the new layout increased their ability to achieve a higher grade, and 70.04% their motivation to attend class.”

Even these layouts don’t give students a chance to “be alone with a teacher or with their thoughts,”  Kamenetz writes. “So much classroom management effort is really spent on managing the noise-pollution issue, while sound privacy matters when a teacher needs to give a student critical feedback or just time to reflect on a question.”

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  1. The writer says, “Of course, open-plan classrooms are the norm for kindergarten through 12th grade.” but she must live in a parallel universe. In three different districts , two of them very large, I have only seen ONE school — and that was k-5 — with “open plan” classrooms. I have heard of a few more, but they are so far from the “norm” in percentage terms they would calculate at under 1%. They certainly have the problems described, but I doubt they are the “norm” anywhere. I would suspect, for $$$ reasons, they are more common in upper-SES districts, just because of cost.

  2. My kids MS was built in the early 70s with almost no walls between classes but it was a disaster. When my kids arrived in the mid-80s, only a few open classrooms remained and they were enclosed the next summer. None of the other schools they attended (four counties, three states) had any open classrooms. Even their elementary schools had individual desks that were usually in rows, but were sometimes grouped. At the MS-HS levels, all of their desks were in rows.

  3. I’d hate to relive that part of the 70s. All those slide-away walls remaining firmly closed are a testament to an ill-conceived idea.

  4. I went to an “open concept” high school in the late 70s-early 80s. It was a TERRIBLE idea then, and it is a TERRIBLE idea now. Our high school (1500 students) was in one, very LARGE building, with classrooms areas divided by 5′ tall locker and “cubicle” partitions. Only the music classes, foreign language classes, and PE classes were in “traditional” classrooms. Needless to say, they built walls in that school less than 5 years after I graduated.