Monday, October 17, 2016

Redesigning the Learning Space


Laurie Guyon
Integration Specialist
Schuylerville Central Schools
Schuylerville, NY
Twitter: @guyonsmile

Have you ever noticed the differences between a kindergarten classroom and a high school math classroom? It’s not just about the height of the chairs, the volume of the students in the space, or the energy level. It’s the visual stimuli that can be the most remarkable variation. Why is it that every surface is covered in one classroom, yet sparsely filled in another? In the book The Space - A Guide for Educators Rebecca Louise Hare and Dr. Robert Dillon discuss how we can find the right balance to make our learning spaces engaging, visually stimulating, student centered, and collaborative.  

Right from the first chapter, the authors point out that we spend time thinking about what we teach, but not as much on where we are teaching. The last few weeks of summer, teachers are in their classroom decorating with freshly bought borders, alphabets, and charts that are hung up, but do we think about the purpose of them?  According to the book “we’re designers, whether we intend to be or not.” Hare and Dillon ask us to ‘think with intention’. What is the space designed for? Who will be in the space? What is the purpose of each nook and cranny? How can we create an environment that doesn’t overwhelm, but instead engages students?

One of the big ‘aha’ moments for me in the book was the comment about when we tend to create our spaces. When a teacher designs the space, we typically do it ahead of school, before, and after school to meet the purpose of the instruction. What the book discusses is that students should be co-designers in setting up the space. Why not have students tell you how they learn best? The book has graphics on student engagement in this process and explain how to keep it ‘BETA’ so if something isn’t working, it can be redesigned. It also emphasizes ‘quiet’ areas to help students who need the noise, both visual and audio, to be minimized at times. The book is rich with photos of creative spaces in action that can be done on any budget. Following #edtechbooks and @Spacethebook will help expand what is learned in the book as people implement the designs taught.  

The book is set-up to allow for writing in the margins and with graphics that help in the planning of a better, more collaborative learning space. It helps you realize the purpose of your learning space. I used the book while planning my new learning space, for my new position this year. I am fortunate to work in a school district that strongly supports the redesign for collaboration. As an integration specialist, I’ll be training teachers on the latest trends in technology and teaching practices to use in their classroom. This book helped the space transform into something that allows for creative thought, collaboration, and comfortable learning. While my classroom is mid-transformation, the teachers that have trained in this new learning space already love the flexibility, comfort, and collaborative nature.  

In one of the classes about redesigning the learning space, in which I used what I learned in the book and the EdTechTeam online Cohort, we came up with a list of words that describe their goals for their classrooms this year. We used the skills gained from the book to create layouts with what we already have, and created wish lists for things that we would like to get in the future. Classrooms in our school will have quiet nooks, standing desks, collaborative groupings, and engaging spaces without visual noise because of this book and the teachers who are embracing the topics learned.

The final gift this book gives is how to create ‘a culture of yes’ which will bring empowerment, energy, and joy to any classroom.  A simple transformation can happen in how we design the walls, how we arrange the furniture, and how we engage our students in the process. “Allow young minds to combine, create, and problem solve…” says Hare and Dillon. The Space teaches us how to make it happen.  
                                        Give yourself the gift of Space today!

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