The importance of our learning spaces

Ms Amy Woodgate | Head of Junior and Middle Schools

It may seem that the style of desk or chair, or the storage solutions in the classroom don’t play much of a role in whether a child is achieving in English or Mathematics, but these simple components of a classroom do have an impact.

In a recent article in The Conversation, the authors described their findings after speaking to a range of primary school students about their experiences with different types of classroom furniture.  The students surveyed in the article were able to describe how certain types of furniture can suit their physical and learning needs.  They discussed how they can actively work with their teachers to set up their own environments and make conscious choices about the space in relation to their own learning.

The physical space is an important component of the teaching and learning process.  It is a vehicle through which engagement with learning can occur.  Flexible, learner-centred spaces help children to collaborate and learn in group settings whilst also enabling quiet spaces for small group work and independent learning.  They are communal spaces that can be configured in several different ways to suit the learning.  There can be a mixture of direct teacher-instruction through to independent learning, as well as individual to student-directed group work within these learning spaces.

In looking to the future, we want to ensure that our learning spaces are relevant to the needs of students in the 21st century.  Our learners need to have opportunities to be creative, to collaborate, to communicate and to be critical thinkers.  Flexible learning environments are associated with deeper learning, to learning that goes beyond just the learning of facts.  They are spaces that facilitate conversation and curiosity.

As we seek to provide innovative learning experiences for our students in Junior School and Middle School, we also need to ensure that our physical environments are learner-centred and flexible to support our ability to provide contemporary learning experiences.  This year, the College has purchased new furniture for our Year 5, Year 6 and Year 7 learning spaces.  This includes desks of different shapes and heights, ottomans, stools, whiteboard desks and a range of storage solutions.  The aim is for students and teachers to be purposeful in how they use the space and the learning that it can facilitate.

Our students and teachers are excitedly exploring ways that this new furniture can be configured to support the learning occurring in the classroom in these year levels and subject areas. There will be times when you walk into these spaces and students will be engaging in a direct teaching lesson, or sitting in a configuration that fits a more traditional model of teaching based on the requirements of that learning experience.  There will then be other times where they are working in small groups, writing on whiteboard surfaces, moving around the space and sitting in different combinations to facilitate collaborative learning.  All are equally valid, as high quality, learner-centred practices.

We want all of our students to become autonomous, confident learners who can make choices about their learning and simply selecting the type of chair or stool they sit on within the room or the style of desk they work at are steps towards achieving this.