Environment affects learning. Elementary teachers seem to do a good job at giving thought to the learning environment creating different spaces, corners, nooks and crannies for creative inquiry. The high school classroom seems to be a different though. Most high school teachers I know put up a few posters centered on their content area and a bulletin board for the entire year then check off the learning environment as done.
Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Impact 360 (http://impact360institute.org/gap-year), an innovative gap year program in Pine Mountain, GA, and was completely inspired by their newly redesigned classroom. Several things stood out to me, and my mind is completely spinning with how to implement these ideas in Room 128.
The major difference in this classroom and traditional classrooms is that instead of being at the front of the room, the teacher instructs from the center. I love this because the idea of the teacher being the sole focal point and thus the most important person in the room is immediately thrown out. The teacher is positioned to facilitate conversation amid a group of learners, and all learners are positioned to be classroom contributors.
In addition to the position of the teacher, every student is encouraged to share and given space to do so. Each wall of the classroom is a painted with dry erase paint encouraging students to get out of their seat and share ideas for the rest of the class to see. This space can also be used for groups to collaborate and work out problems. Again, the focal point is not just the front of the classroom reinforcing the idea that all learners are valued and have meaningful ideas to share for the learning community.
Another difference in this classroom is students sit at tables as opposed to individual desks. A collaborative learning environment encourages students to share ideas and help each other in the learning process. The teacher is not the only person in the room with the answers. Students grow as they hear peers share thoughts, and students have a less intimidating place to voice their ideas as opposed to the class as a whole. I also love these chairs as they are able to turn to any place in the classroom making all student voices equally accessible.
Now, back to reality. Most public and even private schools do not have the resources to make this type of classroom available for students, but the principles remain the same. When thinking of your classroom, ask the following questions:
Does my learning environment reinforce the ideas of all students to be shared or just one teacher?
Does my learning environment encourage collaborative learning?
Does my learning environment have adequate work space for students to work individually and as a group?
Does my learning environment have a specific front and back of the classroom?
Does my learning environment allow student visibility to all areas of the classroom?
The environment we place our students in matters, and we, as educators, would be wise to give thought to the physical spaces in our classrooms. I would love to hear your thoughts and see pictures of your classroom.