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Investigating the Spacial Environment of Classrooms at Wairere School

Wairere School is a three teacher rural school near Matamata. Families are from farming backgrounds, the nearby settlement of Waharoa and from Matamata township. Classrooms each have four desktops, six laptops and data projectors. Thinking, learning and creating integrate thinking skills, SOLO Taxonomy, Habits of Mind and Discovery (Inquiry) Learning.

The Focus

To investigate and trial alternative classroom arrangements and furniture that enables students to learn more effectively as 21st Century Learners. 

The Rationale

The rationale behind this was inspired by our visit to Summerland School in Auckland which had several examples of modern (and new) classroom environments which empowered and enabled students to have more choice in the thinking, learning and creating settings which better enhanced their learning.  In conjunction with Distinction furniture they were able to research and put into practice the rational of the Herrmann Brain Model on how teachers teach and how children learn. Connected classrooms pedagogy.

One of the examples seen was quite removed from a traditional classroom with students on seats at their own desks.  Students were able to choose if they felt more comfortable at: tall tables with bar stool type seating; or at low tables with pillows on the ground; learning areas on the floor;  beanbags; standing at tall tables.  Student choice was a high priority, with the main focus being for students to learn in a comfortable environment which suited them and enhanced their thinking.

What we did…

Unfortunately without an extensive budget to purchase new furniture, our immediate focus was to work with what we had to best model the rationale behind creating different learning environments.  We have read extensively of the importance of classroom settings that were welcoming, gave students’ ownership of their environment, and created an atmosphere of inclusiveness, collaboration, and well-being.

From a professional development point of view it was difficult at times to relinquish the control and order that we may have been used to, however our focus was on spaces that were conducive to collaborative or independent learning, and best suited individual learning styles; whilst giving students opportunity to develop and become more collaborative in their thinking, learning and creating. 

Classroom computers were a focal starting point as we endeavoured to integrate the use and access of ICT more so to the environment.  Individual teachers had quite different ideas for this; however all have used this ICT access to its full potential in each class.  The Year 1/2 classroom has the computers in a central learning pod; Year 3/4 class has individual areas that still accommodate more than one student access at a time; and the Year 5/6 class has computer piers to give as much access as possible to more than one student.

Starting with the 2 junior rooms we all pitched in and moved everything to each teacher’s liking.  The senior class students made their own decisions with guidance and using the junior rooms as examples. Each teacher’s progress is documented with their stories and reflections available on the evidence wiki

What happened…

imageWe have been continually evaluating our classroom environments with a focus on what could we do better or change, and of course reflecting on how student achievement might be enhanced.  With this continual development in mind, teachers visited a classroom at Bellevue School to gain further ideas.  New ideas were incorporated especially with ways in which classroom management of certain aspects were dealt with for example, earning the right to choose seating especially in more popular areas like the beanbags.

Beanbags in the junior classes and more tote trays have been the only purchases made so far.  Once beanbags have been trialled and survive the rigours of classroom life they may be purchased for the senior class. We have certainly managed without an extensive budget and are currently investigating cheaper versions of bar stool type seating and more beanbags.

Reflection and evaluation will continue to be ongoing; however results to date have been very positive. Students are also evaluating their environments and offering suggestions for improvements.  Students have been very positive, and even those who found the changes difficult at first are now using different settings at different times for different aspects of their learning. 

Within the Self Review framework we are now at the reflection stage, where we are deciding and discussing, to evaluate the advantages or establishing if further development or investigation will be necessary.  From here our next steps will be to integrate more of the ICTs we are hoping to obtain through funding into the classroom setting for easy accessibility; and BOT approval and financing for more furniture once we are able to show evidence that environments do indeed impact on student achievement.

What we learned…

Overall this investigation has been very successful with positive reactions from both students and teachers.  Teachers have noted greater motivation and enthusiasm from most students.  Ongoing benefits to thinking, learning and creating are still under review; however many students have reported that they like learning better when given a choice of how and where to complete their learning.  It certainly does seem that the classroom environment does support and enhance student achievement; however we will continue to obtain evidence of this.

Where to next…

As previously mentioned our self-review process is continual, as we reflect on ways to further enhance our classroom environment.  Our next challenge will be to show how a more child orientated learning environment has impacted on student achievement as opposed to a more traditional style.  Our next steps are to explore further learning areas outside of the classroom, especially with Summer approaching, and how these contribute to having very responsible 21st century learners.