Classrooms That Inspire The 4 Cs
Recently, our elementary school designed a Learning Commons. The Learning Commons is an extension of the media center. We remodeled a traditional computer lab, with straight rows and desks. School staff replaced the desks and computers with student friendly furniture, carpet, a futon, neon signs, and a space that encourages the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity). Laptops and iPod Touches will be used in the new space. Students will be able to have Socractic Seminars, create videos, mentor younger students, and more.
According to Linton (2012), a Learning Commons must meet several criteria such as the following: the space must be flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical. Recently, I gave some parents a sneak peek at the new Learning Commons. One family asked, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?" This is a powerful question for a parent to ask a school administrator. I did not need to share the theory behind the room or distribute journal articles about learning space or instructional strategies. This parent immediately understood that the new room looked like the real world. She said, "Children don't recognize desks and metal chairs."
How Is Your School Creating Classrooms That Are:
What does a flexible classroom look like? Furniture that is flexible allows students to work in different groups or teams throughout the day. The teacher has placed students in charge of their learning (November, 2012). Procedures are in place to assist students with staying on task, yet meeting the learning goals in their own way. While this may look much different in an AP U.S. History class than it does in a first grade class, I have seen flexible furniture and grouping at both levels.
Open spaces are unconfined. When you walk in the traditional classroom, it is difficult to walk around the classroom. The classroom furniture is bulky and heavy to move. One look at the furniture would tell you that the furniture was designed for different educational goals. I read a great article this week by John Kotter, Change Leadership guru. Kotter (2013) wrote an article that describes the difference between Knowledge Workers vs. Knowledge Networkers (Forbes, 2013). When you visit software companies, website design studios, corporate headquarters, and modern university libraries, you will find open spaces. Clients and co-workers are inspired to collaborate with one another based on the open space. When you look at classrooms in your school ask, "Does this space encourage Knowledge Workers or Knowledge Networkers?" As Kotter described, the workforce is seeking Knowledge Networkers. If your school claims to prepare students for College and Career Readiness, then we should redesign classrooms to look like the real world.
Wireless classrooms are beyond the control of the classroom teacher. Gone are the days of going to the back bookshelf to look up your answer in a World Book. A classroom with three computers is helpful, but a wireless classroom opens new doors for teaching and learning. There are issues with chat rooms, blogging, and searching the Internet for appropriate content. However, this is where teaching Digital Citizenship is important. A wireless classroom is like the real world for most students. Have you ever seen a two year old in a shopping cart at the grocery store? Chances are the child was playing a game or using an app on a SmartPhone.
This is the most difficult part. Unless you are building a brand new school, you probably don't have the funds to purchase new furniture, lamps, or accessories. Our school received a $2,000 Matching grant from our PTA and the Board of Education. The funds allowed us to purchase dorm room-style furniture, a used futon, lamps, cardboard cut-outs of Star Wars and Monsters U characters. The furniture and the accessories are in neon colors, which is in style. The room looks like the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, but a little louder. The cheapest accessory we purchased was international clocks. We purchased wall clocks for $4 per clock. Each clock is set to a different country and time zone. The center clock is a neon clock and we paid $20 for the center clock. It reads HES - Eastern Standard Time.
Teachers are great at finding bargains. You will also be surprised how many families will donate items or support you with creating a comfortable space. Recently, a parent donated five large pillows to our new room. Another parent went to Wal-Mart and was able to secure a $100 gift card to purchase additional items. Garage sales, Craig's List, and Going Out of Business Sales are additional ways you can create a comfortable classroom. I struggle to imagine how we could fund another classroom with a $2,000 renovation, much less every classroom. However, I know it can be done.
Inspiring students is easy. Teachers do this everyday. If you follow the other guidelines listed in this article and referenced by Linton (2012), you will create a more inspiring classroom. What inspires students? Neon colors, a graffiti wall, art, collaboration, technology, a green screen, interacting with students in other countries, blogging, Twitter, The 1970's, music, a lounge theme, zoo animals, student created posters, video games, challenging puzzles, books, e-Readers, and multimedia are examples of things that students find inspirational. The easiest way to find out what inspires students is to ask students what they would like to see in a classroom. Let students design the learning environment. Once you design a space that meets the students' needs and preferences, you may be surprised at the change in student performance. When you are blogging or reading the news at home, do you put your feet up in a chair? Do you sit on the couch? Do you drink a cup of coffee and sit on the back porch? We do our best thinking when we are relaxed. Students can collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically when we/they design inspiring spaces.
There is no need to turn your classroom into a theme park, purchase a flat screen tv for all four corners of the room, or take out a student loan to redesign your classroom. In 2000, I observed a middle school English Language Arts teacher who purchased four lamps for her classroom. She paid $25 total for the four lamps. The lamps were mood lighting for the classroom. Some teachers use motivational quotes in the classroom. Practical is difficult for teachers, because teachers are constantly spending their own money to support teaching and learning.
I recommend that you start small and redesign your classroom in phases. Can you afford dorm-room furniture this year? If you cannot afford 25 chairs, can you afford three dorm-room style beanbag chairs? Music is another way to change the mood and feel of your classroom. I have seen an elementary teacher effectively use milk crates with pads on top for student seats. The seats create a collaborative setting when they face each other. Another teacher used children's beach chairs. Beach chairs are low to the ground. How many people went to the beach this summer and bought beach chairs? These chairs are often sold in garage sales or placed by the curb, following the vacation. There are several ways to redesign your room. Once again, ask the students to design a dream classroom with the existing furniture.
Teaching has changed. I see instructional strategies that are inspiring and I see teachers working hard to integrate technology across the curriculum. Mathematics and science are not taught the same way that they were twenty years ago. Teacher collaboration and the use of common formative assessments have also improved teaching and learning in the United States. Teachers and administrators are using Twitter as a way to learn about new instructional strategies and are communicating with educators around the world. Education is changing at a rapid pace. One thing that is often overlooked in education is the learning space. We need to look at our schools and ask, "Is this classroom flexible, open, wireless, comfortable, inspiring and practical?" As the parent asked me, "When do you think all of the classrooms will look like this?"