The Physical space – The classroom and the school

While the personal learning space refers more to the individual’s own intangible thought, the physical learning space of the classroom and school plays an essential role in student and teacher learning and development.

Most schools and classrooms in Australia have now moved away from the very traditional set up of individual desks in rows, opting instead for small groups or pods of desk which encourage collaborative learning among students.

However, there are other considerations to make in the design and set up of the classroom learning space. Commonly overlooked is the interaction of ‘line, shape, form, pattern, texture, scale, light and colour’ (Read, 2010, p.76) and how this effects children’s attitudes and moods within a space.

Read (2010) stated that ‘young children are passionate observers of the environment’ (p.76). Why wouldn’t we want to make our physical learning environments as aesthetically pleasing and functional as possible?

Linking back to the previous topic of the personal learning space, children can actually be involved in the design of their classrooms and learning environments, determining how they think they will best be able to learn in the space. Just imagine the learning opportunities in a lesson about designing an individual’s ideal learning space!

Open plan learning spaces have also been found to provide benefit to both teachers and students. Students are given opportunity to work and learn in ways that suit them and teachers are able to teach in a variety of ways as well. Open plan learning spaces allow for differentiation of teaching and learning.

Below are two images of a design of a possible open plan learning classroom. This classroom features a number of flexible seating arrangements, including cushions, small and large desk configurations, floor and desk seating and individual seating. There is also technology readily available within the classroom, areas for small group and individualised instruction and loud and quiet working areas.

There are however a number of challenges both learners and teachers face working in a open plan learning environment.

In a three year case study conducted in the USA, researchers concluded that open plan learning spaces, coupled with co-teaching, created a number of challenges for teachers. Teachers commonly felt a loss of ‘instructional and decision-making autonomy’ and faced challenges of differing philosophies in working with one or more other teachers on a daily basis.

Moreover, for both students and teachers, noise can be a major concern. Many open plan learning environments combine multiple classes, which means there are often 40+ students and 2+ teachers sharing a space. If you are not used to working in an open plan space it can be quite alarming initially. More noise is definitely to be expected in this kind of learning environment as students collaborate and frequently work together.

Biddick (2014) suggest the use of a ‘voice-o-meter’ or traffic light system such as the ones pictured here, that visually notifies students of the expected noise level for a specific lesson. Teachers are then able to refer back to this throughout the lesson if the noise level becomes concerning.

In accommodation of those students who prefer a quieter learning environment or prefer to work independently, an ideal open plan learning space would also feature areas for quiet working as well as areas where students we able to use headphones whilst working.

References

Read, M. (2010). Contemplating design: listening to children’s preferences about classroom design. Creative Education, 2, 75-80.

Biddick, N. (2014). Working in open plan learning spaces. Teacher Learning Network Newsletter, 21(1), 23-25.

York-Barr, J., Ghere, G., & Sommerness, J. (2007). Collaborative teaching to increase ELL student learning: A three-year urban elementary case study. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 12(3), 301-335

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