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How might a small change in space alter students’ behaviour?

In this real life scenario in a secondary school, a change to one hallway affected the behaviour of the students 
© University of Reading
This is a real case scenario that Helen witnessed in a secondary school. She explains what she observed and how it affected the behaviour of the secondary school students. 

“The science block in this large secondary school was on the third floor and once there, there were three classrooms and a preparation room off a medium-sized hallway/lobby. Students could not go into class until the teacher arrived, so this meant three classes of students were waiting either in the hallway or down the stairs. This didn’t seem to cause a problem, and students were not unreasonably behaved and would file into class once the teacher arrived.

Then came a time when there was a need to house some class sets of books, which needed to be available for students who couldn’t afford to buy their own. However, the only place that could be found to accommodate the books was this particular hallway. Five large metal cupboards were installed and the class sets of books, along with some other books, were kept in these locked cupboards.

Breaking in

The hallway went from being a reasonably sized uncluttered space to a small, cramped and noisy space. The metal cupboards made a loud noise, particularly if someone crashed into them. The students, being inquisitive and easily bored, decided that they needed to get into the cupboards and very soon the cupboard locks were broken, which meant even though the cupboards could be closed they could not be locked.

The cupboards then became easily accessible for anyone to rummage through, and even though the purpose of the cupboards was to hold text books for students who needed them, the cupboards quickly became very disorganised which made it difficult for the students who wanted to use the books to study to find anything. This discouraged students to study further or find the right book to help them in their work.

Behavioural changes

The lack of space also caused a behavioural change in the students who had been perfectly civil to each other prior to the cupboards being installed. Students found themselves getting restless and impatient, which was reflected in their behaviour and they found themselves getting into disagreements or fights.

If they were unlucky, they were caught by a member of school staff who would reprimand them or, worse, sent to the headteacher’s office.

In conclusion, adding the cupboards to this space caused the following to occur:

  • Students feeling intimidated and anxious
  • Students being aggressive
  • Students feeling mischievous and disruptive
© University of Reading
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