It is great to see and be inspired by so many modern workspaces, with their bright colours, comfy seating, and quiet nooks. But what can the schools/learning environments that simply do not have the funds to refurbish, or to invest in the “gorgeous new designs” take from the “advice” about the ideal learning spaces? They don’t exist! Yes that is “blasphemy” in today’s newest is better culture of sophistication, but as a “seasoned educator” I have seen first hand wonderfully, excited, curious students ignoring their less than ideal surroundings in favour of the focus on the learning that was being allowed for inside a space. Key word here is “allowed”, and that may take on a number of different situations.
Will the students be able to ask questions? Can they murmur to a peer and chat quietly even when not officially assigned to “group work”; can they get up and reach for additional material, is there fluidity within the class regarding working on assignments? Could a student or students “discover” that via researching a project they wished to change direction or are they locked into their initial “thesis” description. In short will growth on the individual level be encouraged by the teacher/teachers encouraging the students, or will the space be so restrictive as to deny original thought?
What is truly amazing is when students themselves take “ownership” of an idea, and we as educators may step back for a period and allow this new exploration to continue. It may mean doing exactly what was labelled but not clearly defined way back in “teacher’s college”- the recognizing of “teaching moments”, the ability to permit tangential thought, and collaborative effort with other educators within a school building/system/and globally. The fanciest desks and comfiest chairs are still no match for the informed and genuine teacher. And while it seems that even kindergarten students today may have cellphones, educators instill how to take the technology from a toy to a learning tool which may be used in multiple ways to enhance the student’s ability to access further knowledge.
When designing and creating within four walls, consider the input of the students and what extra space within the building may become another station. At one point hallways weren’t for punishment, they were a second area for small groups to congregate, then slowly with “fear” entering the school systems, allowing children to freely be in an open space minus monitors became dangerous. When schools require metal detectors on a par with airport security, every educator must become attuned to anything and everything that could return the classroom environment to an atmosphere where possibility is still available. It could be something as simple as plants actually growing, or posters which the students design themselves…
As a child I attended a summer camp which was held in former army barracks! Oh, those cabins from the outside- people would sigh and marvel that campers wanted to return. But we knew that upon arrival we would be given paint and paint brushes and allowed to redecorate for ourselves /to make magical over three weeks rain or shine; the barest of spaces could come alive with the energy and enthusiasm an arts based camp in the woods encouraged. And so the teamwork, and collaborative effort was instilled. That culture of practice, reinforced over many a summer, prevailed when I as grad student found myself ironing the wax off of brown paper bags to help make art materials for schools in low-income districts. We students of teaching and learning provided the simplest of tools- the children, becoming involved in making and doing before the buzzwords prevailed, furthered the design process. With technology we must continue to provide the how and possibly where, but make sure it is the students learning to ask the “why?”