Ever since my former principal, John Hinds, recommended a book to our staff, Spaces and Places, by Debbie Diller, I have looked at my classroom with a brand new set of eyes. I’ve tried to break out of the traditional mold, and to create an environment that promotes engagement, collaboration, and curiosity. I still haven’t attained the ideal classroom, but I like to think that I improve each year.
This isn’t about themes or decorating. This is about placement of furniture and learning tools. It’s about visualizing the kind of learning that you would like to see happening, and then designing a space that facilitates that.
My ideal classroom would have mobile furniture, like the one I described here. But, in the absence of that, there are still things that I can do to project the aura of a synergetic learning enviroment. For example, this recent series of videos posted by Edutopia showing the transformation of a middle school teacher’s classroom gave me the idea of adding a “Genius Bar” to my room. (I suppose, if one is worried about the implications of the word, “bar”, “Genius Counter” might be a good substitute.) In the video, it is one wall with a long dry erase board over a counter and two computers at either end. What a fabulous idea! This would help me with my efforts to encourage the students to consult each other to help with problem solving, rather than to immediately refer to me.
Most of us do not have the resources to design a classroom from the ground up, but this is a great time of year to consider getting rid of, or re-purposing, what we don’t need and finding the best placement for what have. I know many teachers who have surrendered their teacher desks and/or filing cabinets because these pieces of furniture no longer serve a helpful function in the learner-centered, 21st-century classroom.
Instead of walking into your classroom and mechanically dragging desks into rows this year, consider what physical changes you can make to galvanize your students to become the kind of learners you have always imagined.
Since most of us don’t have a design team to consult, I highly recommend Spaces and Places as a more economical alternative. Also, Classroom Architect is an online tool that you may find useful as you plan the structure of your classroom.