Deconstructing the Classroom
September 11, 2014 \ Creative Workspace
by Ana Teresa Cristobal
Everyone, everywhere is seemingly changing the way they teach in our increasingly fast-paced, constantly changing, and globalised society. Many questions arise. How do we strengthen children’s individuality, and prevent schools from becoming factories for learning? Has schooling become an industrialised process, like much of our societal experience – a linear process of ringing bells, separated facilities and compartmentalised subjects simply organised by age group? Is conformity and standardisation now the most important outcome? Introducing the event, Ana Cristobal of Briefing & Interiors at PagePark set the contemporary context for learning and posed the question:
Is it possible to deconstruct the classroom and assemble it in a way that encourages students to learn independently?
Learners’ experience is a key factor in evaluating and assessing education practice in Scotland, as explained by Patricia Leeson, Quality Improvement Officer at Glasgow City Council. Three high level questions form the basis for assessment: How well do children learn and achieve? How well does the school support children to develop and learn? How well does the school improve the quality of its work? Authorities are beginning to progress towards more flexibility in teaching environments through Active Learning initiatives and the Curriculum for Excellence. Patricia acknowledged that often authorities find it difficult to address the importance and impact of the physical environment on children’s’ educational experience, and to accommodate new teaching methods within the varying suitability of existing properties and estates. Teachers’ innovation and imagination can overcome even the most challenging environments. But, new ideas and ways of thinking will be needed to translate new academic practice into suitable and appropriate learning settings.
For some children, the school day experience can often result in multi-sensory overload. In the chaos of morning routine, school should be a calming, peaceful, focused setting for learning to take place – the position put forward by Teresa Catto-Smith, founder of Autism in Scotland. Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in history: besieged with information vying for their attention from every platform and angle, but then finding themselves penalised for becoming distracted. Teresa described a classroom for younger children, a highly stimulating, chaotic, distracting room and critically analysed the setting with evidence from the University of Salford (architects Nightingale Associates, and Birmingham LEA) that found that the classroom environment can affect a child’s academic progress over a year by as much as 25%.
Fundamentally, Teresa argued, we need to provide a variety of spaces and settings, internal and external, some can be vibrant but for the most part they should be calm and peaceful settings for children to learn in and be encouraged to become independent thinkers.
Independent learning should now, and always be at the heart of education. We are moving away from the passive classroom. Gavin Horgan, of Worksop College, shared his own experience in education. With early years spent in schools built during the Victorian-era contrasting with later experience in Sri Lanka and Argentina his own approach is a pupil centric drive to give children a voice – a launch pad for self discovery. Traditional schools seem to adopt an architectural language not shaped by the needs of the young. Perhaps their most crucial barrier to understanding is the lack of any sense of the relationship between the inside world of the classroom and the outside world.
Critically, some of the most memorable lessons learned do not necessarily take place in the classroom. Gavin asked why should we think of learning spaces in terms of ‘the classroom’ at all? We shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, and move away from the relative safety of traditional methodologies. Movements such as the Open Air schools, a reaction to the pollution and social issues in cities of the early 20th century, were a response to the social climate of the time. Should we begin our own reaction?
If the current education system was a response to the change in society created by the industrial revolution, should it not adapt to our current society and reflect its needs?
With so-called ‘soft skills’ becoming as important as academic achievements, our education system needs to provide an environment where these skills can be developed. Perhaps the boundaries between academic and social spaces can be blurred, to match the fuzzy boundaries between academic and social learning.
We are lucky to be involved with institutions that are breaking these boundaries, and encouraging us to dream up new learning spaces.