Location, Location, Location

It’s often what you hear when you’re watching Love It or List It but I argue the same is true for learning. Do students ever walk in to your class, slump down in their chairs and wait? Do you ever walk into your classroom and feel like it’s the most limiting space in the school? I sometimes feel this way and try to use my enthusiasm to energize the class. However, after reading @ckirsh’s most recent post about her experience with #designthinking I knew I had to take a different spin.

Students at the secondary level just want to be treated like adults, and we expect them to behave as such. Then why is it that we ask them to check boxes, and instead feed them answers we expect them to remember on demand? When empathizing with students, I thought about learning space. We have a couch, and individual desks with uncomfortable chairs. It’s an unnatural space to learn language in, and language, in my mind, should be lived to be learned! So, with this in mind, I defined my problem, and didn’t ideate too carefully because I also had a need.

I decided to change the learning environment for my Grade 12 French class, so I held the class at my house! Now before you cry foul, please understand that I live at a boarding school and I team teach this course.

The whole experience began when my son Nigel broke his arm and my spouse and I both taught on a Saturday. We didn’t have childcare, and instead decided that I would teach at home. I made coffee, tea, and there were muffins and croissants as well. As the student filed into the house, they all sat around the dining room table and immediately I knew something was different.

The dynamic shifted. Everything I’d tried to convey in class pertaining to my role as a language coach and not their “teacher” seemed to take shape. The collaboration and feedback with one another was fluid – they were at ease. They were working on their spoken expression products and they’ve never been more focused! They are normally hard-working but this was different, this is what I’ve been trying to achieve for the past two years but couldn’t.

The time flew by. Nigel read them some French stories he brought home from school and never before had French been so alive and natural. It was like a homestay, an immersive experience that is so elusive for language teachers. At the end of class, students were jazzed and wanted to have class at my place everyday!

I have read a few articles on classroom design but really like this one from Edudemic. The learning environment is something I am very interested in and I especially like the idea of collecting data to help guide the exploration.

Clearly I need to spend more time coming up with myriad ways to make my classroom a more natural space for language living. I have a coffee pot, and tea available and a convection oven for when we bake in class. I am going for a café style atmosphere. What do you do to make the learning space engaging? How do you establish your culture of learning in your classes. What have you read about #ClassroomDesign?

11 Replies to “Location, Location, Location”

  1. Lots to think about when considering classroom design and the effect it has on learning. I have been doing some reading and exploring what different furniture is available to create a makerspace in my room. I will be doing some design thinking about classroom/makerspace design.

  2. Derek,
    Location Location Location is awesome other than the fact that it happened because poor Nigel broke his arm!!! 🙁
    Very cool thinking to bring the classroom and learning alive through location and changing it up. When I think of your classroom, I think Energy Energy Energy! You are always so happy and engaged in learning. Kids have to be excited coming to your class (I am excited visiting your classroom and talking to kids about what and why they are learning).
    I have to add that your energy and enthusiasm have inspired a whole faculty and staff to “grow a mo” on their upper lip – an accomplishment that is amazing and demonstrates that when a teacher loves what they are doing, they inspire others to want to learn. This is one of your greatest gifts.
    Thank you for being so dedicated to our kids, our school and learning.

    • Derek I too constantly reflect upon learning spaces and the infrastructure of our schools. With bricks and mortar, we are persisting in a very dated model of teaching and learning. For coaches, educators, like yourself, you struggle with the physical limitations the factory system of education developed over a century ago. When you look at photos from classrooms in the Industrial Revolution into the early 1900’s and today, by and large not a lot has changed: students in desks, with chairs, four walls, and flat area for content via the teacher to be displayed. Now, this may seem a bit bleak, for there have been great attempts and strides in many schools and classrooms around the world. Treadmills, Harkness style tables, flexible, adaptable furniture, Learning Commons (aka libraries) that are ‘Starbucks meet library’ concepts, etc. However, these are often pilots or anomalies. The majority of our classrooms today physically resemble classrooms of yesterday.

      The great news is while bricks and mortar, the infrastructure is often dated in our schools, the pedagogy and awareness of neuroscience has improved drastically. I think of you, Derek, as an example. You strive for mastery in personalised learning, you understand and are passionate about varied modalities of instruction and learning styles, you constantly reflect on assessment and evaluation and how to incorporate design thinking into your language courses. In short, it is amazing to consider what you are doing in a limited space.

      Your post echos the Edudemic article quite well in my opinion. There are creative solutions to working within the confines of our building, such as your experience holding a French class on campus in your home. Four walls, tables, chairs, couches, and most importantly, food! However, the point is, as in the article, being flexible, adaptable, and changing things up to stimulate the senses of our students is key.

      I look forward to thinking and dreaming more with you. This is an exciting time for education. As I mentioned in one of our meetings last year, this is the most exhilarating yet challenging times in the history of education. We have retained structural remnants of the past, we have too many post-secondary programs that are dated in pedagogy and assessment that we send our students to, yet, we have the data and inspiration to disrupt how teaching and learning has been to what it could and should be.

  3. Derek I too constantly reflect upon learning spaces and the infrastructure of our schools. With bricks and mortar, we are persisting in a very dated model of teaching and learning. For coaches, educators, like yourself, you struggle with the physical limitations the factory system of education developed over a century ago. When you look at photos from classrooms in the Industrial Revolution into the early 1900’s and today, by and large not a lot has changed: students in desks, with chairs, four walls, and flat area for content via the teacher to be displayed. Now, this may seem a bit bleak, for there have been great attempts and strides in many schools and classrooms around the world. Treadmills, Harkness style tables, flexible, adaptable furniture, Learning Commons (aka libraries) that are ‘Starbucks meet library’ concepts, etc. However, these are often pilots or anomalies. The majority of our classrooms today physically resemble classrooms of yesterday.

    The great news is while bricks and mortar, the infrastructure is often dated in our schools, the pedagogy and awareness of neuroscience has improved drastically. I think of you, Derek, as an example. You strive for mastery in personalised learning, you understand and are passionate about varied modalities of instruction and learning styles, you constantly reflect on assessment and evaluation and how to incorporate design thinking into your language courses. In short, it is amazing to consider what you are doing in a limited space.

    Your post echos the Edudemic article quite well in my opinion. There are creative solutions to working within the confines of our building, such as your experience holding a French class on campus in your home. Four walls, tables, chairs, couches, and most importantly, food! However, the point is, as in the article, being flexible, adaptable, and changing things up to stimulate the senses of our students is key.

    I look forward to thinking and dreaming more with you. This is an exciting time for education. As I mentioned in one of our meetings last year, this is the most exhilarating yet challenging times in the history of education. We have retained structural remnants of the past, we have too many post-secondary programs that are dated in pedagogy and assessment that we send our students to, yet, we have the data and inspiration to disrupt how teaching and learning has been to what it could and should be.

    • True Dave! After the #CISDELF mini-conference – I have some news ideas to disrupt the French program again! Nothing new, just things I had forgotten about. What I loved most about this post is that it lead to a great face to face conversation while we were raking leaves for community service!

      I really enjoy our chats and how I always come away thinking about something meaningful in learning!

  4. Learning is at its best when students are engaged. Sounds like you have found ways to make use of the environment to aid in this process. I particularly like the authenticity of the connection you are making between location and culture. Your continued resolve to continuously learn is a providing a great example to your students.

  5. Love it. I remember chatting with one of your students about this day. I asked why you were holding your class at the house, and the students replied, “So we can experience French in a different space…and Nigel broke his arm”. I’ve always loved out of class experiences – Cudos to you for taking the initiative to break down the walls and give your students an experience that they would not have had anywhere else. I love how just a change in space is all we need to engage our students at a different level.

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