Music teacher David Fernandes says he faced unexpected challenges when he had to set up his music room during his first year of teaching. His room at Reading Intermediate High School in Reading, Pennsylvania was once a nurses’ area and was long and narrow. There were also windows going into the hallway that students liked to smack when they walked by.
“I called it the fishbowl. I had to put up paper on the windows,” Fernandes said. “Despite the challenges, I wanted to reach those kids through room design.”
To do that, Fernandes, like other teachers, had to consider everything from the arrangement of his room to wall decorations and classroom acoustics.
Starting with a Plan
Many experienced teachers have established management plans that take into account student movement, the organization of materials, and many other aspects of day-to-day teaching. The plan allows teachers to put themselves in the shoes of students, answering questions for them such as:
- Where you want them to sit
- How they should handle their belongings and classroom equipment, including instruments and cases
- How they should make requests or contend with non-class matters, such as trips to the bathroom
- How questions related to electronic devices should be handled, both school-issued and non-school devices
- How assignments should be distributed and handed in
Considering these factors helps with decisions about seating arrangements, storage areas, rules posting, and possible zones for device and/or assignment gathering. To help music teachers with organization, there are many types of furniture and storage units that can be used to store sheet music, music stands, and instruments.
On a deeper level, your classroom setup may depend on your philosophy of learning and the type of music class you have. Fernandes teaches general music and was faced with a difficult room and limited resources for his class. He decided to set up six modules in his classroom with easily moveable chairs at each one. This type of model is being adopted by some school districts.
Flexible Learning Environments
Classrooms that are flexible allow students to move through stations or collaborate on projects and lessons. Fernandes’ school does not have enough equipment for all of its general music students, so he set up stations. At times this may have included a piano lab, a listening station, a rhythm zone, etc.
Among the school districts that have experimented with this kind of learning are the Eanes Independent School District in Austin, Texas and the Albemarle County Public Schools in Maryland. The concept is highlighted in this Edutopia video. Ideas shared include seeking furniture donations to provide different seating options for students and using easily moveable furniture.
One great way to create moveable setups is to use flipforms. They allow for tiered seating or standing and instrument placement. They also can be used to create platforms.
If you share space or are a mobile music teacher, you may have to regularly adjust to different classroom layouts. In this case, communication will be key as you’ll need to talk regularly with other teachers and administrators to get what you need, including storage and planning space.
Teaching carts are designed to help educators on the go. Picking the best cart will depend both on what needs to be transported and how easy it will be to safely and quickly move around the school building.
Adding Inspiration in Any Music Room
Once the furniture is in place, much of the focus turns to the walls, bulletin boards, and windows. Fernandes decided to adorn his walls with pictures of people that he thought would inspire his students.
A couple years ago, artist Al Moretti realized music teachers like Fernandes did not have many options if they wanted to feature famous composers or musicians in their classrooms. He says the posters available tended to be traditional in style.
Moretti has worn many hats, including working as a music teacher and band director. He also owns Moretti Music Studio and is the accessories, pro audio and piano editor at J.W. Pepper. He wanted to combine his interest in music and art to create colorful pop art for classrooms.
“Colors are to art what notes are to music,” Moretti said.
Over a period of many weeks, he painted 30 pieces of famous composers, conductors and other musicians. People featured include John Philip Sousa, Fanny Mendelssohn, Scott Joplin and Zitkala-Sa. Moretti says he hopes teachers will use the posters as an opportunity to teach students about the lives these musicians led along with the groundbreaking work they did.
These types of posters can be used in addition to other options for the walls, including motivational quotes, instructional elements, and even funny posters. There also are bulletin board trimmers and toppers and music-themed carpets that can add a splash of color to a classroom, along with a number of other great options for elementary classrooms.
Studies have shown adding these elements can enhance learning. A 2015 study of 153 classrooms in the United Kingdom found students learned better in classrooms that had better:
- light, air quality and temperature
- opportunities for individualism that comes from flexible classrooms and student ownership
- a proper amount of stimulation with color, etc.
A key finding of the study is that balance is important when it comes to decorating. As Professor Peter Barrett and the other authors noted in the Clever Classrooms study summary:
“The displays on the walls should be designed to provide a lively sense to the classroom, but without becoming chaotic in feel. As a rule of thumb, 20-50% of the available wall space should be kept clear.”
Improving Acoustics in a Classroom
In addition to visuals, music teachers have the added challenge of carefully considering sound. Therefore, during setup it’s helpful to listen in addition to looking. If there is anything that is noisy, see if it can be fixed. This may include anything from noisy light fixtures to loud equipment.
Consider also that thin, softer surfaces, including rugs, curtains, and cloth placed on bulletin boards or walls, will absorb higher-frequency sounds. For an orchestra rehearsal, this may mean that the sounds of flutes and violins will be absorbed, making brass and bass instruments seem louder. Absorption panels can help with this.
However, if it’s not possible to add panels, consider that parallel reflective surfaces may cause the most challenging sound issues in any classroom. Therefore, using material on one wall or set of windows may be preferred, if there are no other options. It may even help to arrange larger furniture at angles. One key goal is to avoid flutter echoes in a smaller space.
There is always the option to make adjustments as the year progresses. With the right tools in hand, making changes can be easy. For Moretti, he knew he made the right decisions in his decorating ideas when he saw the reaction of his young nephew, who had an outburst of joy when he saw the musician paintings in Moretti’s house.
As his nephew said, “Wow! What’s going on in here?”
Share your ideas for classroom setup and decorating in the comments.
To view options for the classroom, visit Pepper’s accessories pages online.