Culture and Classroom

The idea of classroom design being based on the culture and society which surrounds the school (Marietta, 2009) is important. It provides the link between the school and community, which is what we desire as teachers. The idea of using the environment and the culture to design classrooms holds significant power for making education real and valuable in the context it is in. Is it really valuable to have classrooms designed in the same ways across the world, not taking into account individual cultures, or is it more beneficial to have individually designed classrooms which utilise the information, culture and environment of the specific context, which holds more power for education?

Individual Learning Space: Self-direction

I had thought self-directed learning was the way in which you took learning into your own hands. Whilst this is still true there are much broader implications of this than simply own learning. There are multiple perspectives of self-directed learning including an attribute/autonomy, management, control and desire to learn (Smith, 1996). These broaden my understanding of what I thought was a relatively simple concept. The notion of self is a context driven concept which therefore relates to how we define self-direction. It is hugely influenced by context and cultural history. I believe the notion of self-direction is important in order to be self sufficient in today’s society. It is a necessary skill, however it is perceived, to be a lifelong learner and continue to contribute to the forever changing world. A Taxonomy could help with self-direction in enabling questions and levels of thinking to assist self-reflection.

In identifying what assists me in being self-directed, here is my taxonomy:

1. Identification – What do I need to learn? What am I learning about?

2. Method – How can I learn this? With what strategies are useful?

3. Summarising – What is it I have learnt?

4. Understanding – How does this fit with my current knowledge? Does this change my perspectives? How have they changed?

5. Evaluation – How does this fit with my current practice?

6. Application – How can I implement this new knowledge into my practice? Is it applicable?

Group Learning Space

Group Learning is when students work together to undertake a task which follows teacher direction (Slavin, 2010). It is not structured and there is no individual accountability for the work which gets done.

Co-operative learning is when students learn together. It when students have responsibility to their own learning as part of the group, with a group goal and also individual accountability for the learning (Slavin, 2010).

Collaborative learning I feel is the middle ground of these learning spaces. It is when students work together to achieve a goal, expecting to learn from one another but there perhaps is less structure than co-operative learning to enable learning from one another.

I believe the main distinction is what is occurring in the group. Group work requires completing a task whereas co-operative learning requires individual learning. In this sense a co-operative learning environment would be more beneficial in making sure all are participating in learning from each other rather than simply completing a task where some students may not do any work.

I feel co-operative learning spaces would not only be beneficial to the students but to the teachers as well. This is because it would require teachers to learn from each other to increase the effectiveness of the practice of the entire classroom including the structure set in place for effective student co-operative learning.

The Electronic Learning Space

One of the things that really stood out to me about the electronic learning space, is access does not necessarily equate to enhanced learning (Hockly, 2013). Most of us have experienced fantastic uses of technology whether at uni, in school or otherwise but just because it is available does not mean it is being used effectively. For example, Interactive WhiteBoards (IWB), most classrooms have these set up for use, but how many are used for the interactive part? Are they mainly still a teacher-directed tool? I have had mixed experiences of effective use of IWBs, sometimes they have been used effectively in sharing students work, and using it as a tool to collaborate quickly on a good piece of work, however I am yet to see an IWB which works interactively, as most classes I have had experience in, the interactive part of the WhiteBoard is no longer working, due to cost, time, etc.. Although these IWBs are in the classroom, and are a great tool to use effectively, are they being used effectively or are they being labelled as 21st century technology use without utilising the full potential?

Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice (CoP) revolve around a shared passion/idea/interest which is collectively and collaboratively developed (Smith, 2009). It is not a group with shared interests; it is a community with a commitment to learn together, in moving forward to achieve a desired outcome. Like a PLN it enables a network to develop for expanding learning.

A classroom environment could enable a CoP through positioning the room to enable collaboration in moving beyond teacher only directed learning. Similarly an excursion venue can be transformed into a CoP through ongoing commitment to learning; including collaborative learning before, during and after the excursion plus multiple visits to the venue.

The Classroom

This week learning focused upon the physical components of the classroom environment, in becoming aware of the differing elements to take into consideration when developing and designing the physical structure of the classroom, and therefore school.

Three articles were explored:

Read, M. (2010). Contemplating design: listening to children’s preferences about classroom design. Creative Education, 1 (2), 75-80.

This article discussed the elements of high visual stimulation and low visual stimulation within the classroom and the preferences of young children in regards to this visual stimulation. High visual stimulation is often perceived by children as messy and overwhelming, whereas low visual stimulation is often plain. Interestingly, girls were more respondent to high visual stimulation environments. What is important to consider is the elements combined to create visual stimulation. These elements include line and shape. Within the classroom horizontal lines reflect stability and calmness, vertical lines reflect height and strength, diagonal lines reflect strong movement and curvy lines reflect rhythm and flow. Particular shapes within the classroom also reflect certain things; circles reflect calming and inviting environments, squares reflect rigidness and triangles reflect rigidness and are uninviting with sharp corners. This is interesting to be aware of to develop appropriate and inviting settings for children to engage and learn in.

Cinar, I. (2010). Classroom geography: who sit where in the traditional classrooms? The Journal of International Social Research, 3 (10), 200-212.

This discussed the positioning of individuals within a learning space significantly reflect learning for the individual. Seating within a classroom should allow for interaction and extension of learning; student’s preferences of seating often predetermine the learning capacity of students. It was found students who preferred to sit in the front of the classroom were more motivated and willing to learn, whilst those students who preferred the back were less engaged, willing to learn and contribute to the learning. This becomes interesting when it is noted student’s preferences change according to teacher, subject and classroom arrangement.

Schratzenstaller, A. (2010). The Classroom of the Past. In K. Makitalo-Siegl, J. Zottmann, F. Kaplan & F. Fischer (Eds.), Classroom of the Future: Orchestrating Collaborative Spaces (pp. 15-39). Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

This article discussed the influences of the past on future classroom design. History has shaped the way education of today looks and this is similarly the case for classrooms. In the 19th century, classrooms were full of rows of seats and tables, where the teacher was on a pedestal; the classroom was highly rigid and disciplined. The 20th century saw a shift to more flexible classrooms, to reflect the constructivist pedagogy. This meant tables and chairs could more easily be moved around and grouped together to make collaboration more possible. Into the 21st century and the classrooms are still reflecting these 19th and 20th century designs. Although the 21st century has changed the shape of education and society, classrooms are remaining in the past. In the past, change was enacted in the classroom design through the need of society and it’s change. The beginning of the 21st century has seen a dramatic change in society with the introduction of technology into the world. This societal change has not been reflected in the classroom. Education of today is designed to enable students for the future of the 21st century, however how is this possible when the means of learning, i.e. the classroom, is still in the past, i.e. 19th and 20th century classroom design?

What does this all mean for me?

Developing a classroom environment in the 21st century means being aware of the needs of the 21st century. Students hold a number of preferences which need to be considered in developing a classroom environment. To develop a welcoming and inviting space, I need to consider the shapes and lines used in order to create a visually stimulating room which reflects the needs of the students in the room. Similarly I need to be aware of the students’ preferences of sitting in the room and how this affects their capacity to work. For those students’ who constantly desire to sit up the back, how can I engage them in the learning so they desire to contribute? How do I arrange the seating to optimise the learning of all in the room, those that are motivated and those which need motivational help? Does the way I arrange the tables reflect 21st century needs or do they reflect the 19th century disciplinary values? I need to be aware of how I arrange the room to optimise learning and seating of individuals and how this reflects the learning needed for the 21st century. To be considered is the design of the classroom for enhancing the learning of the needs of society today and into the future, not the needs of the past society. How can I enhance the learning of students to participate in 21st century life in a 21st century classroom? What does this classroom look like?