Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Where does learning happen?

Why do so many people think that learning happens in rows? Having had my fair share of sharing a class with other teachers, and visiting other classrooms on a regular basis, I have seen the rows over and over again. Why are there still so many classrooms (and yes, I witnessed some again recently), that are still set up in rows? As you can tell, I have a bit of an issue with rows...

Of course, the learning at Hobsonville Point happens in all kinds of places. Just take a look at these photos.
Inspecting 'crime scenes' inside and outside of the school.

Groups working on the gymnasium floor
(tables and chairs were available)

Students working on the auditorium stage
(nothing to do with any kind of performance)

In fact, I think you might be hard pressed to find rows at Hobsonville Point. You have a much better chance of finding campfires, caves and mountain tops (make sure you view this great visual from Core Education). The many visitors that we have at Hobsonville Point Secondary often comment on the size of the spaces, the furniture, the colours, and quite frankly, the sparkling newness of it all. The thing is, the space certainly enables much of the future focussed pedagogy that we strive for, however, the space is only one very, very small ingredient. Stepping back for a few moments recently into a 'traditional' classroom, I thought about what I would do differently if I was to teach in a single cell classroom again. Here is just a very quick list:
  1. Scour inorganic day and Trademe for alternative seating options, couches, pillows and more. 
  2. Decorate strategically. In fact, I even have a Pinterest board for ideas to construct spaces in a classroom. 
  3. Remove the front of the room. Turn the desks to face in various directions. Remove the focus from the front and rather use the whiteboard as just another possible resource. 
  4. Buy some of those stickers that you put on desks and then turn them into whiteboards!
  5. Get outside of the classroom more. Use the school gardens, local parks, any other space.
  6. Use more chalk, outside. Use more window markers. 
  7. Move the furniture in the class more often, encourage students to move the furniture to create the spaces they need.
  8. Give the students more choice, everyday, in every lesson. Choose where you work, move to an appropriate space that matches your task.
  9. Talk to another teacher who teaches the same year group at the same time, split the two classes for a lesson. Students can then have a choice about which option they go to.
There are so many more things that we can do. The real change I have found in teaching in a modern learning environment is that I use the spaces as I do at home. For quiet time, I retreat, for conversations, I sit around the dinner table. For relaxing, I move again. Sitting on a bean bag is my favourite way to read. Essays I prefer typing at my desk. 

What spaces and practices could you create in your class? How would having no front of the room change your practice? I dare you, remove the front for a month and then see how you go!