How Should Learners Influence Classroom Design?

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Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/8Jkhjr


“Researchers and designers of learning environments often debate whether the learner should adapt to the learning environment, or whether the learning environment should adapt to them. Arguably, this is the wrong question. A better question is: how does the environment shape the learner, and in turn, how does the learner shape the environment?”

Can the Physical Environment Have an Impact on the Learning Environment?  Peter C. Lippman, JCJ Architecture, New York

I spent last weekend in the garden, cutting the daisies back just far enough to let the sedum take its turn. This is a sure sign that summer, like my perennials, is beginning to fade. That’s okay. I’m ready for the beginning of a brand new school year.

I’m wondering: is your classroom almost ready? I thought that my classroom at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio was, but I have to admit, questions like those that Peter Lippman poses above remind me to think differently about the “readiness” of our space.

A few years ago, I asked the writers in our program to create a vision for our Studio, I bought every back issue of Studios Magazine, and I developed a somewhat unhealthy affinity for Pinterest.

I knew that the classroom design of our space would influence the learning that writers experienced there. Who knew that much of that learning would be my own, despite my expertise?

Writers’ workshops typically include carpeted corners where mini-lessons can unfold, quiet spaces for conferring, lending libraries, anchor charts, and well-stocked writing centers. These are the basics. The real work of designing our space didn’t begin until the writing started to flow, though. And when it did, I began paying close attention.

This how our writers shaped our environment further

In addition to carpets and tables and desks, I’ve learned that most writers need room to move, map, and make writing. Many prefer to be on their feet, using sticky notes and index cards to map their ideas on grids, white boards, foam boards, and chalk boards. Our tables enable writers to sit or stand. They also provide everyone the space needed to use a wide variety of tools. We crafted our tables from two bookshelves topped by a hollow core door coated in chalk board paint.

Rather than creating one central writing center, every group is responsible for maintaining its own center. This  inspires them to reach for what they need when they need it, add resources and materials that are unique to their needs, and store their notebooks, folders, and mentor texts in the space they work in.

I find that when groups maintain their own writing centers, they exhibit greater ownership of the supplies, they use them in unexpected and purposeful ways, and they manage their work flow with greater intention. An added bonus: I’m no longer cleaning up the writing center after each session.

I’ve stopped hanging our anchor charts high and out of the reach of our writers. Many of them are interactive, and they’re best hung at eye level or lower, where kids can do more than merely read them. They’ve shown me that they need to be able to touch them as they plan and self-assess.

Writers are coached to identify when they need a conference, and they sign up on an as-needed basis. As they prepare for these conferences, they use our anchor charts, sentence frames, rubrics, and reflective prompts to request specific kinds of support. I still check in with everyone during each session, but establishing a time, a space, and a protocol for initiating and leading their own conferences has helped writers take important strides toward independence.

How is your classroom designed with your own students’ needs in mind?

How will the environment you create shape the learners that happens there?

Most importantly, what are you doing to ensure that the learners shape the environment?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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