Beyond Ditching the Desks, 9 Creative Ways to Avoid The Cemetery Effect for All Classrooms

By Tom 19

A few months ago while driving through back roads in Pennsylvania, I came across a carefully laid out cemetery. Each stone was equidistant from the other. Rows were impeccably aligned, all seemingly facing the same direction. The plot of land was a perfect rectangle. With the exception of some updated landscaping, the space remained seemingly untouched for a number of decades.

My heart sunk when I thought about how this space – a cemetery – resembled the first classroom learning environment that I had created for my first class of fourth graders. No, the students weren’t zombies, nor were my thoughts morbid. The physical environment – the learning space – that I created early on as a teacher, would have looked almost identical to the cemetery if drawn on a map. Add some tennis balls to the bottom of the stones, a large, oversized, wooden teacher desk in the corner, an interactive white board and American flag on the front wall, and not only does one have the first classroom environment that I created; but an environment that resembles many of today’s classrooms. These classrooms are seemingly suffering from what I’ll coin, “The Cemetery Effect”.

Spaces like the one in a country field in Pennsylvania are not the only thing that have remained virtually the same for decades or longer. Side-by-side images of classrooms from 1915 and ones from 2015 yield eerie similarities, even after 100-years of life changing research and innovation.

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 10.03.49 AM

1915 Image Credit: (via Google Images); 2015 Image Credit: (via Google Images)

During the industrial era where students were essentially trained to work in factories, “career readiness” meant preparing for jobs where a worker would spend hours a day performing the same task, often even spending his/her entire career at the same company. The one-size-fits-all, sit and get instructional model where the ability to regurgitate was the key to success, was a sufficient paradigm for that world of work.

But that world of work no longer exists in our nation.

With such changes, the need to redesign our students’ learning environments becomes not simply an idea from the latest Pinterest board, but one of necessity. How can schools and classrooms transform from an industrial era model yielding teacher-centric environments with desks in rows and all students facing forward, to ones that are student-centered, personalized, and leverage the power of technology?

Classroom design consultant and Classroom Cribs co-founder, Erin Klein, shares “9 Creative Tipsto Avoid “The Cemetery Effect” here.

Click on the image below to download the free, printable 18 page eBook on “Getting the Max with the Minimum Resources!”.

Getting the Max with the Minimum Resources!

Lead Image Credit:
Cemetery Effect Images: (via subscription), altered

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Sofia Walker

Within the top five of the favorite posts, thanks!

Audrey Morgan

Lovely blog, it loads very quick and looks really awesome.

Jayden Cole

Hi, fantastic information and an fascinating post, it’ll be fascinating
if this is still the case in a few years time

Ryan Ellis

Excellent short article, i did read it two times so sorry for that, i have
passed it on to my friends, so hopefully they’ll get pleasure from it as well.

Henry Anderson

Within the top 10 of the favourite posts, thankyou!

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Amy Crisp

Wow, how powerful to compare traditional classroom spaces with the cemetery effect.
I find what works for my 5th grade room is to “think modular.” At the start of each year, I know that I will want my space to morph to meet many different learning situations, sometimes planned and sometimes in the spur of the moment. So, I try to not “lock” any furniture, etc. into a space where it can’t easily be moved. At years’ end to reflect on “Creating Cultures of Thinking” I created an Animoto to showcase the different opportunities my space creates here:

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