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
|Level 3 – Choice – Teachers allow learners to choose without direction or strategy
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
|Level 7 – Teacher Strategy – Teacher researches what choices of environment lead to better outcomes
|Level 9 – Personalised ‘By’ the learner ? – Learners consider the impact of environment on success
[i] Peter Rudd et al. The effects of the school environment on young people’s attitudes towards education and learning. NFER 2008 .