We plan to rearrange a classroom. What can we do to adjust it to the needs of our students?
Our school is like other schools. Classrooms are arranged in a traditional way. We have rows of desks and flower pots on window sills. There is one advantage: ferns grow perfectly in such classrooms. It is quite obvious that classrooms should be tailored to the students’ individual needs, however. We noticed this at our school quite early. Not all students were able to adapt to the classical discipline and rigor of the classroom. This had an impact on the students’ achievements. But the students were not to blame for worse results. We wanted to impose our way of teaching on them. We also noticed that the way in which we arranged classroom space determined our teaching methods. A teacher-lecturer was standing in the centre, in front of the class and try to impose discipline on the students. It is not surprising that not all students like this way of communicating information.
We had wanted to introduced some changes for a long time. Our previous efforts were limited to desk replacement or room repainting. This time, we decided to approach the problem in a more professional way. Most importantly, we wanted to make classroom space more diverse to allow for both group and individual work. As a first step, we got rid of the ferns.
You must remember one thing: what happens before the rearrangement is more important than what happens during the process. In our case the task was made easier thanks to the help of an architect. But this was not the most important part of the process. The architect was only responsible for implementing our ideas. The concept was worked out together by the headmaster, teachers and students. In the course of consultations we reached the conclusion that we needed the school to foster the development of each student’s subjectivity and its use in collective tasks.
We decided that our classroom should be divided into two educational zones: one that would play the role of the students’ microcosmos – a space full of nooks, places that encourage exploration and enable students to study at any time; the second zone, on the other hand, is to be more open, conducive to greater concentration, and allowing for different arrangements (e.g. for group work, etc.).
There is an additional hole in the wall dividing the two spaces that matches the proportions of children. Another hole is adjusted to adult height. This is a symbolic link between the world of the children and the world of the adults. The smaller part of the room is dedicated to children and smoothly connects to the other part. Different materials were used to decorate the two zones. The smaller part of the room is covered in plywood for greater safety and concentration. The abundance of new elements encourages students to find their own favourite studying spaces. Besides, irregular holes have been introduced in the plywood at different levels to fit children’s height. Books were placed in these holes. As a result, children are surrounded by literature, with direct and unlimited access.
The plywood structure goes beyond the classroom to indicate what can be found inside. It’s function is to encourage students to use the space as often as possible. The lighting has also been changed. We used long narrow lamps fitted to the ceiling in a way that allows for even distribution of light across the classroom and enables free desk rearrangement at any moment. At the same time, in the smaller part of the room spot lights have been provided in the form of light bulbs hanging down from the ceiling, which provide additional light in closed-off nooks and enhance reading and studying conditions.
As a result of these works, we have changed our thinking about the school. Students were given some part of the space that was previously under teacher control. Thanks to these changes in classroom arrangement, more trust was put in the children and their changing needs were taken into account. And all this started with the process of getting rid of the ferns.
The changes were introduced during summer, in the period between July and September 2014. The overall duration of the works was 2 months. This was preceded by project design which involved the school’s headmaster, the teacher responsible for the classroom and the students. Project design lasted 1.5 months, which included: inventory taking and concept elaboration (4 weeks), and construction/implementation plan elaboration (around 2-3 weeks).
cost (free, low-cost, investment):
parties responsible, who to involve (teacher, students, headmaster, parents, local government):
private investor (financing), the headmaster, teachers (consultations), students (needs), architect (design), construction company (construction works, redecoration), carpenter (plywood structures), upholsterer and locksmith (furniture), students, parent’s council and teachers (inauguration of the room, presentations).
Author: Maciej Siuda