Creating #InclusiveSpaces in Education

I saw an interesting image on Twitter earlier this week that got me thinking about classroom design, shared by Tom Murray, the Digital Learning Director for the Alliance for Excellent Education:

I was recently exhibiting at FETC, and one glaringly obvious takeaway was that pedagogy and technology are evolving at an exciting pace, and teachers are eager to embrace this progress. Awesome! But how can this same evolution be applied to the physical space where students learn—in the classroom?

As I explored the expo hall, there was no shortage of classroom furniture vendors, but it was hard to discern how many of them could truly impact student learning. After all, changes in classroom design can influence learning and development by 25%.

The way students learn today is vastly different from a mere 10 years ago, let alone 10 decades. Yet classroom design has been stagnating since, well, forever. What gives?

For one, old habits die hard, and it can be challenging to think outside of the box. Budgets and bureaucratic red tape can also hinder progress. That said, there are ways to work around space limitations while maintaining a fluid classroom layout and tailoring it to the needs of students.

Tailor Design, Day by Day

It is possible to shift and tweak design class by class. I know this because, as an awkward 16-year-old, I did it on a daily basis in my English class. Mr. Spero was the first teacher I had who shifted around our classroom design based on our current lesson. Seldom would we keep our desks in the same position for more than a couple days at a time.

My favorite was our Socratic seminars, when we would drag our desks into a circle (a U-shape would also work) and Mr. Spero facilitated a discussion based on the unit. All the while, he sat alongside us—Mr. Spero was a prime example of “the guide on the side,” before it was even A Thing. At the end of class, we dragged them back into rows for the next class to arrange as needed. It required some class rules and other management policies, but it quickly became routine, and worked well.

Look to Outside Resources

Reaching out to your PLN or reading up on innovative office design are two ways to learn about school spaces in a new light. For example, windows don’t have to be outlets for mind-wandering or distraction anymore. Instead, transform them into collaborative dry-erase boards (which will also encourage students to get up out of their desks and move). Adding new colors, patterns, or shapes to a classroom or furniture can also make a difference.

If your own classroom proves too difficult for a redesign, look to other spots in your school. School libraries are a great place to start, and working with your school librarian will bring new ideas and strategies to the table.

Pinterest is a haven for teachers feeling overwhelmed about revamping their classroom. Amanda Nickerson has a wildly popular board on classroom design, and there are many others to choose from, too. If you’re feeling passionate about a big overhaul, but are strapped for cash (as so many educators and schools are), DonorsChoose is always a valuable resource.

I challenge you to tackle this new year with a new vision for how your classroom looks and works! Learn more about classroom design for every learner through USC’s Rossier School of Education’s #inclusivespaces campaign, running all year long.

Additional reading:

“Dimension” by KT King is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

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