Interview: A classroom with variation
"Whether we are talking about today or tomorrow, a modern learning environment enables the teacher to move around the room and have direct contact with each student."
Peter C. Lippman, school designer, educational facility planner, researcher
The ideal classroom is created to build relationships between teachers and students, and between student and student. According to learning environment expert Peter C. Lippman, this is a matter of creating a classroom that enables the students to develop self-awareness, social awareness and spatial awareness.
Peter is a learning environment expert from New York and has been working on designing learning environments for more than 25 years. He also conducts research in the subject and is currently working on his dissertation on school environments at La Trobe University in Bendigo, Victoria in Australia. His research covers various projects in schools in Australia, USA and Sweden. Peter is also one of the people behind the innovative Skapaskolan in Stockholm, Sweden. With degrees in psychology, sociology and philosophy, he always bases his work on scientific evidence.
A classroom with variation
“This room for classes 7 to 9 has been planned to be used for large group meetings, group work and individual work. The best thing is that teachers and students can switch seamlessly between different activities,” Peter explains.
The hard architecture in the room, such as the walls and windows, is based on existing classrooms he has worked with in his Swedish projects. The concept of the arrangement of the room is based on his ideas and his work in the USA, Australia and Sweden. Right at the back of the room, perpendicular to the wall, are high benches designed for groups of four students, while the tables and sofas at the front are for groups of eight.
“The grouping of the furniture is based on research into group work, where the groups can consist of up to eight people, but then gradually break up into groups of four, and then two. The larger groupings are right at the front, so they are easily accessible for the teacher. By creating these various groupings, the teacher can easily integrate with all the students in the room.”
This type of furnishing has many advantages. A larger number of smaller groups is easier to manage. The teacher can focus on the whole class, and if necessary circulate among the groups and talk to them directly. Plus, each student can focus on the work tasks individually. To put it simply, every student has a place in the room. Another advantage of this arrangement is that all the students can focus their attention towards the front of the room at the same time as they have their own personal space - an invisible bubble around them – which can be extended or shrunk depending on what activity they are involved in and who they are cooperating with.
Even if the room doesn’t have a teacher’s desk, you can add a small table where the teacher can put a laptop, for example.
“The purpose of the room is that the teacher can move around in it, and see and understand how the students interact when acquiring knowledge,” says Peter.
CHOOSE THE PLACE TO SUIT THE ACTIVITY
The classroom is very flexible, which means that the students can move between and around the different furniture groups with their work material to accomplish the task.
For example, you can sit and work at a table, and when you need a break from standing or sitting on a stool you can sit and carry on working on the floor, sit at a table and go on working on the project on your own, or discuss it with the other students or with the teacher.
With the right kind of furnishing, the students can also show and make visible what they have learned, for example by using printable desk surfaces, movable writing boards with magnets or walls painted with whiteboard paint. In this way, a classroom with space for a number of different furniture groupings encourages the students to develop social and emotional skills, and gives them the opportunity to collaborate with others while the teacher observes what is happening at a certain distance. The layout is structured to support behavioural, cognitive and social skills at a high level.
INTERACTION: THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
How well a classroom functions depends entirely on the people who use it, according to Peter.
“Teachers need to feel that they have the self-confidence and competence to work in these environments and to understand that the only difference between a traditional classroom and this one is that it gives them easier access to the students.
The students will develop their self-awareness, their social awareness and their spatial awareness, while teachers will be able to strengthen students’ sense of well-being and belonging in a better way, by being able to interact with the students actively as they gather new knowledge. We simply move away from the feeling of performing on a stage, and instead enable the teachers to perform in a classroom where they get to know their students, learn more about their friends and families, what they like and don’t like and how they learn new things best.”
According to Peter, it is important to realise that classrooms are not perfect but are, rather, constantly developing. Architecture is one of the elements that help to facilitate teaching and learning, and we should aim to create an integrated spatial design rather than relying on fragmented solutions.
"Before we design buildings, we first have to understand what activities are intended to take place in them, and if necessary help both teachers and students to make the transition to these innovative learning environments. This is a journey, and we must embrace it so that we can develop students who learn for their entire lives."
Classrooms are collaborative environments where we can create various different layouts that support different ways of assimilating knowledge. The spaces must be integrated in order to encourage learning and motivate students. These are spaces for performance, and we should aim to make every day a new experience for both teachers and students.
Corners, which are built into the architecture and created with the help of furniture, make safe, secure places where the students can find calm and feel safe when they are working on their projects.
The teachers should be able to move around the room easily, which means that the learning environments cannot be crammed with furniture. There should be a number of different activity spaces in the classroom.
Make the walls places the students can use to find calm, as well as being other focus points in the room.
Try out different layouts, visit other schools and see how they do things, and find out what works and what doesn’t, and what challenges and opportunities different environments bring. Always ask yourself the question: what works best for you and for your way of teaching, and how do you want your students to learn new things?