Distribution in the classroom must be flexible to attend all educational needs.
Students and teachers are the main characters of the teaching-learning process, but there are also other elements, that have mighty influence in the quality of the educational experience, one of the most important is the classroom.
A starting point
For the majority of the experts in the subject, the classroom plays a relevant role in the learning process. Education expert, Joan Young, explains in more detail what is expected from a teaching space.
This description is clear and sound, leaves no room for doubt about what is needed in a learning space, but is still too broad and raises important questions. Experts do have consensus in which what kind of experience we want to extract from this places, we know educational activities vary a lot. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to the classroom. But we still can come up with strategies to make the best use of our spaces so we can meet every educational need.
Conversation: Vertical or Bilateral?
One of the main issues about the classroom influence on the learning process comes from the spatial distribution and the kind of conversation that facilitates between students and teachers.
When the classroom’s desks are put in a row, that makes the conversation a vertical process. This arrangement places the teacher at the front of the class, setting up a hierarchical position over the students. It’s a good approach if the objective is to establish an order of structure, but it does not encourage bilateral communication or participation from the class. The main purpose of this distribution is to ensure that the teacher speaks and students listen.
On the other hand, a semicircular arrange, enables a more participative dynamic. A German study, to find the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches, asked a group of fourth graders to divide into two groups, one to take classes in a traditional row distribution, and the other one in a semicircular arrangement.
The students of the second group asked more questions and were more participative. These results raise another question. How do the students learn better concerning the space they’re learning in?
Listening the right way
A lot of teachers have experienced the difficulties of planning and executing and classroom layout. Deciding with the students who is going to sit where, what other elements the classroom will have, what kind of art will you choose to decorate, if you’re going to include shelves with books or games, what colors will you choose to dress the walls, if you are going to have a class pet. All those aspects help build the educational experiences from the dimension of space.
Taking students into consideration in this process is necessary, but it does not always lead to the best results. The reason of this is because is not easy to truly understand the difference between what the group wants and what the group needs, Stephen Heppell, renown innovative education specialist talks about how to channel the students initiative to get the best feedback.
In 2015 Heppell ask the students at SEK school one question: ¿Could you improve your learning experience? He didn’t ask where did they want to sit, or what colors they wanted in the classroom walls, he really didn’t ask for their opinion, instead he challenged their research abilities and sparked their critical thinking.
Heppell’s students, as the assignment set them up to, investigated many schools around the world to find out what did they did differently that enhance the teaching-learning process. Even before they got the information, the feedback was very positive, as one of the students who participated in the exercise stated.
“I have attended seven different schools; no one has ever as ever asked: How can we make things better?”
Even before Heppell’s experiment got any info from the research, it had already revealed a crucial issue; we assume the educational process must be vertical in all instances until something comes up, an educational need that forces us to consider other ideas.
This way of thinking is influences the way we think about classrooms significantly. To make the best of the space we have is not enough to ask among teachers and students what works for them and what does not.
If we want more useful and lasting answers, we need to be critical about past studies, keep an eye on the latest trends, measure their effectiveness, set up a conversation with the students based on their intelligence and critical thinking. These actions will enable teachers and students to create the best learning environment.