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Blog: Monday, May 15th, 2017

Tiny Living of Learning

Space Based Teaching

By Cale Stanage
Grade 2/3

Teaching in a portable, which our class refers to as “The Fort”, has led me to think of our classroom as the “tiny living” of learning. To put into context, “tiny living” refers to a fairly recent movement where individuals and families have purposefully downsized their living requirements to fit into sometimes less than 200 square feet. The designs of these dwellings can be as simple or complex as one chooses and range from a variety of layouts offering all the amenities one needs to live while creating the illusion of a spacious living area. Over the years, my classroom has morphed into a space which provides multiple learning areas by taking advantage of height, mobile and stationary furniture as well as wall space in such a way that allows students the opportunities to learn in a space that suits their learning needs.

The Quiet Spot

We all enjoy our own space. Some have our own personal office while others have a man cave, a craft room or a workshop. It’s a spot that we call our own where we can focus on our own projects, interests and hobbies. It’s a place where we can think without interruptions or distractions. This would seem like the most ideal learning space, but how can this be a reality in a classroom with 24 little seven and eight year olds? This was what I was faced with as I started to realize just how significant personal learning spaces could benefit my students. As a solution, I noticed how my static furniture pieces, such as book shelves, tables and desks offered spaces in between and underneath them as places where students could think creatively without distractions. These spaces also offered the freedom for students to sit and relax in positions that they preferred instead of being forced to sit in the traditional chair. We decided to call these our Quiet Spots. Each student has their own space. Some are under a desk or table while others are in a corner between two shelves. There are even a few marked with stickers on the celling indicating that a student’s Quite Spot is directly underneath it. With a thumbtack to hang their mobile desk (clipboard), a name tag is attached to mark each student’s Quiet Spot.  Every second week, we rotate through a list where each student is given a chance to be the first to choose their new Quiet Spot with the intention to choose a spot where they can learn the best.

The expectation is that no interaction between students is to take place while working in a Quiet Spot. This expectation is reinforced by the use of Quiet Carpets which are available for students to use. These small mats are for students to sit or laydown on and indicate that they are in their own personal space. No one is to interact with them nor are they to interact with others while at a Quiet Spot or while sitting on a Quiet Carpet. The results have been very rewarding. Sometimes, a project is better suited for a student’s Quiet Spot such as focused writing or reading. It’s quite humorous to have a guest arrive wondering where all the students are only to have 24 little heads pop out behind desks, shelves or out from under tables!

The Wall

The wall of our classroom plays a valuable and influential part in the way we learn. Not only does it help define each student’s Quiet Spot, but it also effects the way my students learn and connect with their classroom. Extra effort towards decluttering wall space is made so as to limit distractions. No borders, posters or pictures cover the walls. At the beginning of the school year, most of the walls are bare and my students are encouraged to take on the classroom as their own by making it clear to them that what they create throughout the year will be what is displayed on the walls. When a map or poster is used for instructional purposes, students are focused on it and nothing else. By realizing that they have the responsibility of utilizing the wall space with what they learn, my students have developed a strong ownership of their classroom. So much so that at the end of the day, after students have completed their end of the day responsibilities, our classroom is left looking spotless!

The Desk

When we think of a traditional classroom we most likely picture desks in neat rows, equally spaced between them while all stationed looking towards the front of the classroom. I wanted something different for my students that offered the functionality of a desk, but provided more options for students based on their learning needs. My options were to either completely remove the desks from the classroom or to work with what I had. Since I needed desk space for storing student materials, I decided to have all the legs of my desks raised to their highest level. This now allows students to have the choice to sit or stand at their desk giving them the chance to choose how their body learns the best. I also clumped my desks into groups away from the centre of the room with the intention to use these spaces for group work instead of the traditional teaching space where students sit and listen to the teacher.

The Meeting Table

The Meeting Table is another option where students can choose to complete their work and show their learning. Situated down the side of the room with chairs, students enjoy the opportunity to sit at a single table with others who they can work well with.

The Blue Carpet

Since our desks were put into groups and moved away from the white board, what one might call the traditional teaching area, I have now almost 100% of the time devoted instructional time to the Blue Carpet. Students no longer sit at their desks during teaching time. Instead, they bring their mobile desks with them to this learning space and sit close together where instruction takes place. Students are much more engaged since their proximity to the whiteboard and instructor is much closer, they can turn and talk to a partner about what they are learning with ease and there are no distractions in front of them such as an open desk filled with pencils, erasers and paper. The most significant difference we’ve found with spending most of the instructional time at the Blue Carpet, is the difference in sound level. There are no squeaky chairs, no wobbly or creaking desks and no dropping of pencils. After instructional time, students are asked to show their understanding. This is sometimes in a group setting, but when asked to complete individual work, students are given the freedom to choose where they can work the best.

Choice

By providing multiple learning areas within the classroom, my students have become much more aware of how they learn and where they can learn the best.  They are able to make the right choice about where they can focus and can identify distractions that might hinder their ability to learn and apply their learning. For some, the Quiet Spot is the place of choice. For others, standing or sitting at their desk is where they can focus the best. Others choose the meeting table as the preferred option. While some students are given very specific seating options to suit their needs such as textured cushions or rocking stools, some prefer relaxing with their mobile desk on The Blue Carpet. The job of designing the class does not fall completely on my shoulders. My role, instead, is to listen to the needs of my students, observe how they learn and therefore co-design a classroom where each student can flourish.

Other ways in which our classroom utilizes the illusion of space to allow for a more relaxing and conducive learning environment:

Multiple carpet spaces with cushions (The Blue and The Green Carpet)

Mobile Garden

Wall space (Marble Wall as a centre)

Minimal colours (Blue and Green)