We recently articulated our school’s learning principles. The new learning spaces should support these beliefs admirably:
Everyone has the potential to learn.
- We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.
- Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
- Learning takes place when we make connections between previous and new understanding.
- Learning for understanding occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
- Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
- Learning takes place when we feel secure and valued and are able to take risks.
- Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
- Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.
- Learning is continuous, lifelong and ever-evolving.
The days of the teacher closing the door and doing her own thing are over. There is no door. I can’t wait to hear more about it. Watch this (flexible learning) space!
The phrase “flexible learning space” drew me directly to this because studio classrooms are my current project and passion. I tell the unwary, those who have not heard this, that my ideal classroom is an open library with conference room and science lab attached. That will never come to pass. School design remains locked in a tragic design. It is tragic because the implicit understanding is teachers need to contain their inattentive groups and focus them on the carefully crafted teacher-centered activities. So the walls go up. We leave the doors open much of the time these days. I think we do that because we acknowledge we need openness. Beyond the walls of my classroom are all the facility and resources my students need. I just ignore the walls these days and send them out When I can, I send them out of the school and around the world. I am not alone in my school, others are doing this too. It makes it much easier to send my students around the school and into others classrooms when they reciprocate. We can build an open learning culture in our school this way.
But the dream and desire for an open classroom remains because setting does matter. Just removing the rows of desks from my traditional room and replacing them with tables made a big difference. This made some students uncomfortable and two of the twenty-three young people were not able to make the transition. They need a defined sense of personal space so I reluctantly relinquished it to them. The rest have comfortable patterns of movement and favorite spots. I think that is a human response. They have embraced the idea that I am not essential to their learning and that the school facilities are theirs. Habit and tradition make me something of a gate keeper still. I’m not uncomfortable with that. There is an important shift in my room. I no longer direct them to learning spaces. They come to me to consult about learning spaces and increasingly, they move to where they need to be independently.
The space might shape learning but thankfully, learning can defy the space. I think the learning principles articulated above influence our use of existing space. They certainly have influenced me. I’ll still dream of my perfect classroom though. In my mind, the walls in my end of the school evaporate.