We’ve come a long way from the little red schoolhouse. Just as we discovered that grouping children ages 5-18 in a single room didn’t lead to the most effective learning, we now know that tidy rows of desks are not the most conducive to absorbing knowledge and skills. From there, we moved to table groups … but is it time for the table group to go too?
Well, maybe a little, if not entirely. Nevertheless, there is research that students need more activity in the classroom, more help with their homework, more social instruction and greater stimulation overall – more doing, less absorbing information and parroting facts.
While it’s not possible to solve all of these problems overnight, you can make major strides in revamping learning spaces with only minimal effort. If you’ve been wondering why you should care about revamping learning spaces, as well as how to do it right, the following guide will help you jump right in. Get ready for a more effective classroom, a more productive environment and happier students today.
1. Flip the Classroom
One of the smartest approaches to revamping learning spaces is the flipped classroom. In a nutshell, this is a learning environment in which students read and absorb material at home, then do their “homework” at school. With the teacher’s help, they’re far more likely to complete work that requires deep thinking and application of concepts – whereas at home they often don’t get the support they need, and consequently get penalized for it.
Don’t try to flip every subject in your classroom at once. Start with one that relies more heavily on reading, such as history. Assign students chapters or interactive computer lessons at home. You may also assign some journaling or open-ended work, but hold off on intensive activity until students get to school. That way, they have your guidance when they need it.
2. Remove Some Tables
Many students learn well kinesthetically. While many schools sadly underutilize this basic fact, teachers who take advantage of it tend to see greater results from their classes and each student’s learning. In fact, research has found that movement is critical to the learning of some people.
“Although only ~15% of the population is strongly aligned with a kinesthetic learning style preliminary research has shown that kinesthetic learning results in increased learning outcomes for all students,” explains Teach the Earth. “Kinesthetic learners prefer to learn by direct experience, and learning transpires as a result of what was done rather than what was said or read.”
Plus, this helps to combat the problems that come with sitting too long. One of the biggest of these is that younger students have a hard time remaining still, which leads to potential misdiagnoses for ADHD, and resultant overmedicating.
3. Choose the Right Classroom Display System
We wouldn’t have recognized todays’ classrooms 25 years ago. Not only have chalkboards gone the way of the dinosaur, but whiteboards followed quickly behind. Of course, we still use traditional boards. However, almost every classroom today also has a digital display that enables computer hookups and real-time demonstrations, as well as videos and internet connection.
Given the important role of displays in today’s classrooms, it’s important to use them correctly. Increasingly, displays used only at the front of the room prove ineffective. In the younger years, this makes it harder for children to gather round for lessons or movement. Older students might get distracted by the display, benefiting more from a screen at the side of the room that they turn to only in specific situations.
When it comes time to choose a new display, make sure you think through its true learning purpose first. Also, spend time comparing options until you find one that really meets your needs.
4. Tailor Your Space to Student Needs
While the above tips work well for general classroom teachers, they’re equally applicable to specialists. Language, math and ELL experts can use the same kinesthetic techniques, thoughtfully chosen displays and flipped classroom concepts. The main difference with specialists is that they must account for a wider range of age groups, so think this through before committing to a new strategy.
And always remember to take student opinion into account.
5. Give Students a Say
While adults tend to discount the needs and opinions of kids – taking the “we know what’s best for you” approach – students often have incisive insight about their own learning process. Even Kindergartners can tell you if they learn best in quiet or in the company of friends. Older students can give feedback on the chair and table or area of the classroom. They can express their preferences for light or dark, and whether they like to sit or stand.
That’s not to say that students should have full control of the classroom. Obviously that’s not a good idea; plus, with so many competing opinions, you could never please everyone. However, giving students a vote is important if your goal is to engage them in their own learning process (and it should be!). Hold discussions with students about what helps them learn, then implement some of their ideas.
You can also break students into small groups, giving each group a chance to design a classroom space, then testing it out for a week or so. After the learning spaces have all been tested, let students vote for one or two – whatever your classroom will support. Not only is this a good opportunity to practice team-building and exercise, you may see real upticks in their learning.
Time to Start Revamping Learning Spaces Today
So what do you think? Is it time to give revamping learning spaces a try in your own classroom? We submit that yes, it is. Especially considering the relatively simple steps you can take (for instance, removing tables and rearranging some learning spaces won’t take more than an hour or two), you don’t have much to lose. If the experiment fails, at least you tried. You can always try something else next.
To that point, don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself. Start slow, incorporating one step at a time. This is important for two reasons:
- You have less chance of doing too much at once and getting burned out. Teacher burnout is a very real problem, unfortunately, and it’s important not to set yourself up for it. If you take it slow, you’ll safeguard the precious time you need to spend on your students and your own self-care.
- You get time to see which solutions work. If you implement all five of the above strategies at once, it’s difficult to tell which ones actually impact learning – and which may work against it. It’s important to realize that while revamping learning spaces often has great results, some strategies may backfire. You need time to suss those out and implement more effective strategies. Conversely, when you find ones that work well, you can play them up.
More than anything, this will take time. It’s okay if you have to work to improve your space all year – and year after year. As long as student learning rises steadily, you’re doing your job right. So don’t wait – get started revamping your learning space today! And feel free to leave any questions you might have in the comments.