Currently I am reading Design for the Changing Educational Landscape: Space, Place and the Future of Learning (Harrison & Hutton). The book was published in 2014 and cites research and white papers dating back to the early 2000s. People were having the conversations then, the same ones that we are having now. A quote in the book is from the Design Council (UK) “Learning Environments Campaign Prospectus: From the Inside Out Looking In” (2005)
The 2005 research showed low quality, standardised and institutional classroom environments and resources are not just uninspiring, they actually:
- reduce the range of teaching and learning styles possible and affect interaction between teacher and student
- undermine the value placed on learning
- fail to adapt to individual needs
- hinder creativity
- are inefficient
- waste time and effort
- cost more in the long term
Too often the imperative of the urgent and the need to meet the budget stops school leaders from stepping back to ask the right questions. So instead they default to what schools have always done, perhaps based on the expectations of parents, governors or media.
10 Questions to stop asking:
- What buildings do we want?
- How many classrooms do we need?
- What are the external distractions that need to be minimised?
- What are the subjects we need to teach?
- How many desks and chairs do we need?
- Where do we put the whiteboard?
- Can all the students see the teacher/whiteboard/front?
- Where are the noticeboards to display student work?
- Where do we put the teachers desk?
- What technology do we need today?
The Design Council paper includes this annotated photo, a snapshot in time that could be the reality in many schools today, 10 years later. What does it tell us?
Internal decor: Standardised institutional environment lacks character and fails to complement other aspects of design
Displays: Static and scrappy displays of student work rapidly become wallpaper.
Teacher’s desk: Teacher zone supports didactic approach and mindset among teachers and pupils
Technology: When technology is not embedded within design the environment will not support ongoing flexible adaptation
Desks and arrangement of furniture
- Middle of the class: Children not wanting to answer questions sit outside this area
- Desks at the back: Children wanting to misbehave sit here
Light: Lack of control over light
Furniture: Inflexible desks and chairs inhibit group work and movement
In 2009, the Salford Centre for Research and Innovation in the Built and Human Environment Barrett and Zhang emphasised the link between learning and space.
Barrett and Zhang do not believe it is possible to create a plan that will work forever, however…three key issues seem to link school design with considerations of individualisation, and provide a framework within which change can take place.
These three issues are choice, flexibility and connection.
Taking the time to think ahead, to understand the learning and social needs of students and provide the learning environment that students need, there are alternative questions that can be asked:
- What kind of learning do we want to see?
- What are the learning relationships we want to encourage?
- How much natural light and outside inspiration can we accommodate?
- What tools and resources are available to us to support students’ learning?
- What furniture facilitate the learning environment we need?
- What focal points are required?
- Where will the variety of learning modes happen in the space?
- How do we share the creativity and innovation of students?
- How do we facilitate the storage needs for the teacher?
- What (do we imagine) will be our technology needs in the future?
There are probably many more, but this is a start.