The Third Teacher – Learning Space Redesign at Oakridge
“There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment” (Cannon, 2009). This quote from Loris Malaguzzi expresses the importance of the learning environment as the “third teacher.”
We have been transforming learning spaces at The Oakridge School for several years. We have totally revamped the look of our library, redone computer labs that became redundant once every student had their own device, and turned computer arts classrooms into integrated media studios. Those will be highlighted in future posts. In this post we will highlight our push last summer to convert 5 classrooms into agile learning environments. One of our goals was “to differentiate spaces and allow for new uses than originally intended, we are providing a more neutral backdrop and adding space definition with furniture” (Berman, 2016).
As my colleague Jared Colley opines in his blog post What Should We Do with Our Classrooms? Make Them Mobile and Plastic – “Classroom designs announce loudly for our students what models we’re employing when it comes to distribution of power, and the design illustrated above messages clearly that students are to be told what to do, think, and learn” (Colley, 2016). He is referring to the traditional model of desks in rows facing the front and how this connotes passive learning. We endeavored to design learning spaces that lead to active learning. Furniture designs that empower students to not only own their learning but also own their learning spaces. In an effort to accomplish this we are piloting three new classroom designs from KI Furniture.
The first involves the Learn2 chair to achieve what Jared would call plasticity of learning.
“As a result, everyday the relations among participants in the classroom shift and morph, depending on the activity; everyone is bending, giving form, and receiving it, including me. The design model is one of plasticity, and this change in the classroom arrangement helps give form to a new kind of pedagogy, an approach to teaching and learning that one might describe as andragogical” (Colley, 2016).
Instead of trying to rehash more of the advantages of the first layout, I encourage you to read Jared’s post if you have not already.
Ok – so if you have recovered from being inside Colley’s head for a little while let’s move on to the second configuration. The second configuration utilizes the Intellect Wave Desks. And to show these changes don’t just work with older students, these are being used by a 5th grade English class taught by Claire Reddig.
“The shape of this new furniture assumes that you will move it around and try out different configurations depending on the needs of the students and the type of lesson. Unlike traditional desks where the default is rows or some other “orderly” set-up, the wave desks don’t fit this model, so you have to play with them and experiment with different options. At the end of the day, no matter where my desks end up, I love looking at my classroom and seeing evidence that my students were active learners who felt empowered to change their physical environment instead of passively waiting for me to call the shots.“
The emphasis in Claire’s quote above is mine but I love how the furniture has imbued active learning into her learning spaces. The assumption of what a classroom is supposed to look like has been fundamentally changed by the wavy nature of the desks. It empowers learners to construct an environment that fits the learning. How must students view learning different when their physical environment, that “third teacher”, speaks to them in a more active and engaging way?
The third configuration involves the Pirouette Nesting Tables in freshman and sophomore history classes. Jennifer Bonner teaches in a truly student-centered environment that emphasizes collaboration and critical thinking. The tables allow her to quickly change the configuration of the room because not only do they roll easily they also fold down with the click of a lever and nest together. Therefore she can have whole group discussions, pods of discussion groups or fold them up and push them against the wall to use her learning space for reenactments. The one thing I know is that it will look differently when I walk in to the room because as Jennifer says, “learning should look different each day.”
Two of her favorite configurations are the “capital I” which allows for whole group instruction as well as small group. The students favorite is the one on the right. Jennifer says, “they like that all the tables touch (thought that was an interesting comment), and creates a lot of community and conversation, yet still I am accessible to them all.” I love how she talks about a sense of community but also how she can differentiate instruction to each learner.
The biggest compliment I think the new learning spaces have gotten are from students. As one freshman told Jennifer this year…
I love coming to your class everyday and how different it looks. It makes me more eager to hear what we are doing.
That is the “third teacher” at work enticing kids into an empowering learning space.
Berman, S. (2016, May 1). Details Matter — School Planning & Management. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from https://webspm.com/Articles/2016/05/01/Education-Interiors.aspx?admgarea=furnitureequip