Environments

[Scroll down to the ladder if you wish to skip this explanation]
Link to the other aspects by clicking the appropriate letter  E  O  R  D  E  R

Architects often talk about the ‘feel’ of a space.  Environments tell stories about who holds power, who is trusted, what behaviour is expected and what should take place in the space.

Environments have a direct impact on mood as well as effecting people’s ability to learn, concentrate and collaborate.

I was once invited in to observe a teacher who had set herself the goal of getting more group discussion to happen in her classes.  I had to stand in the classroom during the observation because there were so many learners, chairs and tables in the room it was impossible to move.  When learners started discussing the lesson the noise level became uncomfortable very quickly.  This is one illustration of how, even when all of the other elements are aligned, if the environments are not right the project may fail for all the wrong reasons.

In the UK ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme, research (Rudd et al 2008[i]) in Bristol showed that new buildings had a profound effect on the self esteem, behaviour and achievement of learners.

One of the most frequently missed elements of environments is ownership.  If you walk around offices in which people have just a small booth to work in you will often find it crammed with personal pictures and posters because of this need to feel ownership and identity in working spaces.  I visited a school in Birmingham that recognised it would be difficult to get learners to take ownership of their education if they were spending all day in spaces they did not identify with.  The school decided to make a rule that all work done by learners should be displayed.  This turned the walls from whitewashed formal spaces to chaotic jumbles of personal creativity that raised the level of ownership overnight.  The school remains consistently in the top ten performing schools in the UK despite drawing learners from a very deprived area of the city.

Social networking sites have realised this issue of ownership and go to great lengths to allow users the freedom to customise and modify.

If the school is personalising education then the following ladder will allow you to gauge progress and set the next target.  In terms of personalisation, the environment aspect of REORDER would be around “Where the learning happens”

Level 1 – One size fits all – Most learning happens in one mode.  E.g. classroom desks facing the teacher

  • Schools set timetables that restrict teachers to working largely in one location with a given class for the year
  • Learning spaces are not easy to vary or modify so different learning styles are difficult to accommodate
Level 3 – Choice –  Teachers allow learners to choose without direction or strategy

  • Learning spaces may have choices of furniture or be movable so chairs can be arranged in the round for example
  • Teachers may be able to take their group outside on a sunny day or change the room or design to add variety
  • There are systems to enable learners to have some choices in their environment.  For example it may be possible for learners to get a pass that allows then to go and work in a library or breakout space.  Quiet spaces or active spaces may be designated and policed.

In most schools, lessons are timetabled into a classroom and within that classroom there is limited choice of different learning environments.

The simplest approach to starting personalisation of environments is to think of different configurations for your room.  On a Friday stay behind after school and move your desks from straight lines to tables or horseshoe shape.  During the following two weeks think about which lessons were better taught this way and ask for the student view on this also.

If you do have enough space to have different modes taking place in the same space then try to use these other spaces inside and outside your classroom by directing learners to them or suggesting that learners can ask for permission.

Level 5 – Personalised ‘For’ Groups – Teachers choose environments based on required group task

  • Teachers choose rooms and particular configurations for their group based on the activity they are planning.
  • Teachers intentionally use spaces outside the classroom by sending learners to break-out, for example or to work in the library or ICT room.
  • Teachers provide online resources to allow learners to complete work from home or other locations
  • There are room/space booking systems in operation in the school either formally or informally (e.g. room swapping is practiced)
Level 7 – Teacher Strategy – Teacher researches what choices of environment lead to better outcomes

  • Teacher is conducting their own research and evaluating what spaces are best for progressing particular skills in particular learners.
  • Teachers invite feedback from the learners about how the choice of space helper them learn so teachers can evaluate the impact of choices.
  • Online resources are used to free up location and allow the teacher to investigate the impact of location
  • Activities are chosen by the teacher that will require most learners to choose locations or use more than one environment based on the task.
  • Issues of trust are dealt with proactively, transparently and fairly so that environments with limited direct supervision can be used safely.
Level 9 – Personalised ‘By’ the learner ? – Learners consider the impact of environment on success

  • The school provides flexibility in approach to task and diversity of choice of learning spaces.  Performance spaces, practice spaces, peer teaching and mentoring spaces, TV and radio studios are the kinds of spaces available to learners who must demonstrate the impact of their choice of location on the pace of progress they achieve.
  • Evaluation of effective use of space is based more on outcome and evidence than on subjective measures instigated by the teacher (hence there would be open mindedness regarding the chosen approach, level of noise, apparent distraction etc)

[i] Peter Rudd et al.  The effects of the school environment on young people’s attitudes towards education and learning. NFER 2008 .

http://www.partnershipsforschools.org.uk/documents/Press_Releases/NFERstudy_June08.pdf

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