Learning Space Matters
Education is changing at a rapid pace. One thing that is often overlooked in education is the learning space. Learning space is determined by adults in most schools. The way learning space is organized highlights what the adults in a school value. Some schools value a safe and orderly/structured environment. A recent visit to one school showed an obvious preference to outdoor learning and project based learning. Some teachers at the elementary level have a carpet for students to sit on, but the students better stay in their square or else....School administrators often focus on state mandates and local goals such as standards, assessment, positive behavior intervention, student safety, technology integration, family involvement, reading programs, or closing achievement gaps. These are all important and require intentionality by principals and district leaders. In addition to all of the state and local requirements, learning space could change teaching and learning. If teachers and administrators took time to reflect on the importance of design, purpose, and space, they may find that the old structure is a barrier to student achievement.
Teaching and learning have changed. Today's students have a different learning style than their parents. Students want to enter a classroom that looks llike a children's museum. They want hands-on learning, technology integration, and the opportunity to collaborate with their peers. Students need to feel like the space respects their learning style. If their parents were conformists, today's learners could be described as non-conformists.
When was the last time you discussed learning space at your school? Educators can become consumed with the mandates and school improvement plan. While we focus on teaching and learning during our weekly conversations co-workers, we often ignore the learning environment. I am not referring to posters on the walls, a nice bulletin board, a motivational quote over the doorway, and a class pet. Learning space needs to be open, wireless, student-centered, flexible, and comfortable. One of the main problems with contemporary K-12 classrooms is that they are not contemporary. If you visit your child's classroom and say, "That is the same chair that I sat in," then it is not a contemporary classroom. Furniture that is difficult to move is not flexible. Flexible furniture allows students to work in groups of 3 or groups of 8. Students can move a bean bag or a chair to the next group. A couch is a nice piece of furniture in an elementary classroom, but it is not as flexible as other chairs or even milk crates. If you cannot afford 25 chairs, use milk crates with pads on top for student seats. The seats create a collaborative setting when students face each other. Music is another way to change the mood of the classroom. Transforming classroom space does not require a grant or brand new furniture. As a matter of fact, you may wish to ask your principal for permission to "ditch the desks" in order to create more open space.
The learning space has changed in restaurants. Have you visited a Starbucks or Wendy's? Restaurants want customers to be able to sit in isolation or move chairs and have a collaborative business meeting. Eric Langhorst wrote, "Does McDonald's Have A Better Learning Space Than Your Classroom?" This article shows pictures of a McDonald's restaurant and the space that has been transformed. You won't have the budget of a fast food restaurant, but you can still consider ways to support collaborative learning. Learning space provides students with the opportunity to practice the 4 Cs: Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Creativity. These are not college ready skills, reserved for the students who are on the fast-track to a four year university. These are life skills and they will support students in high school and beyond. Start small and determine what you can do this week. If you make learning space a priority, you will begin to have a vision for how the limited space you have in Room 209 can be transformed into a dynamic learning space where students think outside the box, create, share, imagine, and grow! All students deserve a learning space, not a classroom.
Five Ways To Transform Learning Space
1. Ask the students to design a dream classroom.
2. Identify student learning goals and then ask, "Does the learning space support the learning goals?"
3. Visit other classrooms in your school district and across the state for ideas.
4. Read Classrooms That Inspire the 4 Cs.
5. Analyze Tony Wagner's Seven Survival Skills. Ask, "How would I design a learning space to help students learn these important life skills?"