By Sarah Wordlaw – This article originally appeared in Issue 48 of the UKEd Magazine. Click here to view.
Classroom environments enrich and support the learning of children. It has been found by researchers that classroom environments can boost learning performance by up to 16%, which is staggering. How do we move away from the seating plan and display-wallpaper classroom design to something more innovative? Take inspiration from the best! Office spaces such as Google and Apple value the impact the physical environment has on wellbeing and productivity. I know what you’re thinking – if schools had the budgets that Google have, then we could do amazing things! But developing a learning-zone as opposed to a classroom doesn’t have to break the budget.
Ask yourself honestly, when was the last time you stapled something new on your “working walls? I know myself, until recently, a “working wall” was really a planned display, which stayed up until the next time I willed a couple of hours of marking procrastination, to staple something else from Twinkl up. This changed when I moved school, ripped down my staple boards and replaced them with magnetic whiteboards. Children use them to clarify ideas during teaching and they are wiped and changed in every lesson, by children. There is a lot of talk of independent learning at the moment within the education community; the teacher becomes the facilitator and children seeking to find, collect and make decisions about their learning. A stimulating and helpful learning environment can have such an impact on the success of independent learning. Well-organised environments have a direct impact on the quality of teaching and learning and therefore support raising standards. It enables pupils to develop independence as learners, and also builds on good Foundation Stage practice. Ask yourself, do children need to have a designated seat? Does your classroom need to have tables and chairs for all children? Why can’t children sit on the floor to learn? Why can’t children use the walls to clarify ideas and map out learning before recording it in a different way?
Learning Zones are learning spaces where there are no designated seats, there are different ways for children to choose how to practise their learning and resources (both physical and human) for children to go to when needed. There does not have to be enough tables for all children, in fact, there does not need to be any tables at all! Spaces must be provided for children to explore learning, for example, whiteboard walls or using lap trays for children to lean on, and break-out spaces outside the classroom or even outside the building, are also valuable in developing your learning zone. Giving children their own waist-bags, where they store their writing materials, allows them to take personal responsibility for resources, as well as enabling free movement around the classroom. At @Forestacademy there is a climbing frame inside one learning zone, where children can work at the top of the frame, in another learning zone there is a selection of small learning hubs (see photo) where children can break away and independently practise skills. This allows for teaching with: less directing, more choice, more collaboration and more responsibility.
A Help Desk needs to be accessible for all, providing resources both specific to the subject but also general resources for learning (iPads, QR codes which link to ‘how to’ videos, paper, card etc). Assigning ‘learning experts’ in the classroom, for children to go to with any questions about learning is a powerful tool whilst also building the self-esteem of children in the class. Assigning each child an ‘expert’ opportunity, from core subjects to art, computing and music, allows children to practise the 3B4Me strategy whilst building confidence, questioning and spoken language.
Learning zones are amazing spaces for children to learn, experiment and be creative. Versus a traditional classroom, learning zones reflect the future workspaces they may be working in. A creative, purposeful learning space lends itself to more productive learning, and children who are skilled and self-motivated and leave school prepared for an ever-changing world.
Sarah Wordlaw @smwordlaw is a Primary Assistant Headteacher and Year 6 teacher. Leader of Teaching and Learning with a particular penchant for Computing, Project-Based Learning and Music and Performing Arts.
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