When working on the Building Schools for the Future programme we always used to talk about learning spaces, even when teachers talked about classrooms.
The standard classroom can be a claustrophobic and unlikely space for meaningful learning. It rests on many assumptions in terms of the activity which will take place in it.
It is based on a class size of thirty, for no other good reason that in the nineteenth century, when state education started, there was such a shortage of teachers that many ex-soldiers were drafted in and they were used to dealing in units of thirty. The initial presumption was that the process of learning was one of instruction from the teacher to the students “the filling of empty vessels with knowledge”.
In truth you may enter many classrooms today and think that nothing much has changed. The teacher’s space is defined as next to the board, be it black, white or electronic and the students are arranged so as to be able to see it and respond to teacher questions.
The future demands much greater flexibility if we are to give students the competences required of a challenging future. Subject knowledge is no longer the key determinant of a functional education – the internet holds all the knowledge required, and it is far more than an individual could hold in any subject!
The future depends on attitudes, behaviours and competences which allow the student to confidently internalise and synthesis information to come to authentic conclusions and to be able to communicate their understanding in a coherent presentation in written, spoken and visual formats. Unfortunately such ambitious outcomes are not as easy to verify as simple fact based learning through examination papers, so there is some catching up to be done in assessment.
Moreover, the range of learning experiences required to develop such advanced and autonomous learning requires that the classroom be a much more flexible space, able to accommodate a range of functions and accommodation for larger or smaller numbers of learners. Many of those learners may not be from a single year group and might contain interest groups from a range of ages involved in discussion, presentation, individual research or break out session with the teacher no longer being the central focus of learning.
Some teachers painstakingly spend time moving the tables and chairs around to try to approximate some element of differentiated learning methods, but we are talking a qualitatively different approach here – a learning space in which these approaches can be employed simultaneously.
This is why I found this Rosen Bosch approach to effective classroom design so useful as a starting point: Rosen Bosch Learning Space Design