Flexible classroom spaces encourage flexible learning
My principal in Baltimore came into my classroom one day and saw one of my students, Bree, standing next to a bookshelf in the back of my room with her laptop open and her things strewn about the surface. He approached her and asked, “Why aren’t you in your seat?” With her usual display of attitude, Bree shrugged him off and kept working. Bree worked almost every day at that bookshelf because she worked better standing and was able to focus better with a little distance from her peers. I didn’t ask Bree to work there — she selected for herself the environment that served her needs.
As we work to provide flexible learning pathways for our students, the physical space should be part of the conversation. And in an era when companies are creating comfortable, open, and flexible spaces to encourage collaboration and work efficiency it only makes sense that our classrooms would change too. So let’s get started!
Before embarking on any kind of change, we need some inspiration. Check out the photos and videos below to see how teachers are transforming classrooms into technology-rich flexible learning environments and get inspired!
In Baltimore County Public Schools:
In Ablemarle County Public Schools, flexible classrooms provide the learning environment kids need:
1. Conduct a Needs Assessment
Okay, so you may be thinking the last thing you may want to do is another assessment. But assessment provides you with data to make decisions, so get assessing!
Take a Survey:
Ask your students! How do they feel the classroom is supporting their learning? What are their ideas about needs? I think this Pain Points activity from David Bill is a great way to get student input.
- How do students move around and interact in your classroom? What furniture and resources do they utilize the most?
- Does it support the type of learning and development of transferrable skills you are want to cultivate in your classroom?
- How does your technology impact the flow of activities in your classroom?
- Inventory the “Stuff”: Chances are you have too much stuff. To make space flexible, you have to have space!
- Take an inventory of what you have and think critically about whether those things really serve the needs of your students. (Tip: Don’t forget to inventory the items on your walls!)
- Start Redesigning
Now that you’ve done some assessment, it’s time to start making some changes. Use your “assessment data” to guide you in the process.
In some of the schools I have worked with in Baltimore County, principals had to set up trucks to haul away the unused furniture after they were finished redesigning their classrooms.
(Hint: Don’t keep binders upon binders of old lessons on shelves or in filing cabinets. Do those lessons really meet the needs of our students in the 21st century?)
3. Be creative
You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Ask for donations from the community, grab up great finds on college move out days, and repurpose. Cut off the legs of a table to make it accessible when students are sitting on the floor. Adjust the legs of desks to standing height for students to stretch their legs. Old things can become new again.
4. Think 21st Century
Today’s classroom needs new spaces you may not have had before. Is there room for a mini-makerspace? Could your document camera and projector become student tools rather than teacher tools? Make walls and flat surfaces spaces for co-constructing mind maps and ideas. Create space for meeting with a small group of students to provide personalized support. A quiet area for audio recording? A green screen for video production? Think outside the box!
5. Let Go and Let Them
Bree made me realize something important — it was not my classroom, it was hers. This means that we as teachers need to be willing to let go of our space and our things in the classroom to make room for students. Do you really need that big desk for yourself? It also means that they should be active participants in redesigning the space. Students will likely have some wild ideas at first about how to redecorate, but trust them and they will surprise you! You might even let them design and construct some one-of-a-kind seating options.
6. Don’t forget the walls
The walls should be a place to collaborate, showcase student work and the knowledge and skills students actually need from day to day, not to hang stock posters. Audrey Homan shared some great examples of student spangle in her earlier post on flexible spaces.
7. It’s Okay to Start Small
So all of this sounds exciting, and you may be wondering who has time to overhaul their classroom now. Just start small.
Clear out a corner in your room and put down some pillows. Ask students for some ideas on how to better arrange the desks. Grab a rug on clearance at Home Depot and create a space for a small group around your interactive projector. Maybe you even throw out the seating chart. Just try something, ask students for feedback, and keep at it until you have a space that is personalized for your students.
Other great resources:
- Redesigning my Classroom Environment
- Creating Wow-Worthy Learning Spaces
- How to Make your Classroom a Thinking Space
- 8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign your Classroom
What are some ways you could start making a flexible classroom to facilitate flexible learning?