When I walk into a classroom the physical environment shouts at me. It tells me what is valued, how students learn and where the power is.
What would this tell you?
- desks in fixed rows
- teacher’s desk at the front of the room
- windows covered with black plastic on both sides to stop light (and the view)
- bare brick walls
- empty pin boards
- four walls
- fluorescent lights
- accumulating ‘stuff’
Or this one?
- variety of furniture
- no front
- plenty of natural light
- colour and design
- quality lighting
- open and inviting
Does something happen in the minds of students as they move from primary to high school? Maybe an inviting physical environment won’t be appreciated by the students or is it a distraction to ‘real learning’.
Many classrooms reinforce the survival skills for the industrial era:
- Copying from the board
- Being fed from the teacher
- Maintaining silence
- Memorisation for regurgitation
- Playing the game
- Individual competition
In this setting learning is pushed: The teacher decides what needs to be pushed into the minds of the students. The key elements that support this kind of classroom are:
- Front orientation
- Teacher’s desk
- Desks and tables oriented to the front
- Silence valued
- Disciplines siloed
- Teacher is the main authority
- Walls bare
- Small and narrow windows
The physical environment is an important factor for my productivity and creativity, so why not for students? Isn’t it time that high school classrooms became places that were comfortable, interesting and aesthetically pleasing. Tony Wagner in his book Global Achievement Gap identified skills that young people need to survive into the future. These skills set up young people to be independent, self-motivated and entrepreneurial.
Survival Skills for the 21stC
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
- Agility and adaptability
- Initiative and entrepreneurship
- Effective written and oral communication
- Accessing and analysing information
- Curiosity and imagination
Here, learning is pulled: Students realise what they need to learn and pursue it. The key elements that support this kind of space for learning are:
- No clear front of the room/space
- No teacher’s desk
- Spaces are shared
- Choice in furniture
- White noise is busy noise
- Disciplines are integrated
- Informal teacher relationship
- Learning anywhere, anytime
Nothing happens in the minds of students as they move through high school.
Design of places for learning make a difference.