Space Matters

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So, I’ve been mulling the notions of space and environment around for quite some time, since before the start of this school year as I prepared the spaces in my new classroom. I’d like to share two articles that I’ve read on the topic.

Ira Socol authors a blog called SpeEdChange. In a recent post, “Why space matters” (http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/04/why-space-matters.html), Socol asks the question, “What are your schools designed to do?” Two YouTube videos example Danish schools that have been designed with ideas of student choice, flexibility, and diverse learning needs and strategies. I encourage you to watch the clips and listen to the narrative. They include images of children finding cozy corners and learning collaboratively in small groups, while teachers travel (seemingly) from group to group to capitalize on personalized teaching and learning time. One of the comments from the video was that teachers are able to meet students at their learning – versus traditional, widespread school environments that demand students meet teachers at their teaching.

The second article comes from Edutopia. Grace Rubenstein contributes a brief article, “Room to learn: An Italian makeover” (http://www.edutopia.org/room-learn-italian-makeover), in which she describes the take-aways that a group of educators brought back from a tour of Reggio Emilia, Italy. (I read this article first – before Socol’s.) The pictures (with the natural colours and baskets and jars) and the captions (talking about student-created decorations and inspirational provocations) were useful and certainly “Reggio-inspired.” But I noticed a disparity when I reflected back on this article after reading Socol’s – perhaps about audience… perhaps about pedagogy… or perhaps a little of both.

It seems to me that Rubenstein writes to the teacher about what the teacher can do for the students – things that I could go into my classroom and “plug in” tomorrow. Socol’s article (and the two videos about Danish schools), however, speaks to teachers and their underlying philosophies that drive decisions about space and environment. Whereas the former told me what I could do for the students (e.g., make my tables lower and move something each day), the latter questioned the message communicated by spaces that students are required to be in versus those that invite teachers into students’ learning. That’s a fascinating switch for me – that I might create spaces that open invitations for me to engage in children’s learning, that I (not they) require the invitation. Their learning is going to happen where they’re comfortable, inspired and challenged. What does that space look like without me? And how then can I build and foster relationships that invite me into their sacred learning spaces? These questions compel me to consider environmental choices that I make not to invite the children into the learning that I’ve planned, but to invite myself (as it were) into the children’s learning that is already happening. Are inspirational provocations and student-created artefacts important components of such an environment (which I might consider invitations to children) – certainly; but considerations of space and environment run much deeper than such unilateral invitations.

Very interested in your thoughts. What considerations sway your choices for learning and teaching spaces?

 

Image:
cc licensed flickr photo by cdsessums: http://flickr.com/photos/csessums/4389889668/

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