“There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment.” – Loris Malaguzzi
Many in education say that teaching and learning have changed significantly in the last three decades. That may be so, but we ask you why are many newly modelled classrooms simply a modern version of the old design? Take a moment to reflect back to a classroom you had in primary school. You might be picturing your chair which is attached to your desk. Your school supplies are tucked away under the lid of your desk. In your classroom, desks are arranged in neat rows and columns in a grid format and your teacher is standing in the front of the class.
If you have ever visited the Grade 4 learning environment more than once this academic year, you will notice that it is constantly evolving and adapted depending on our focus as teachers and our devotion to meet all the needs of our diverse learners.
We believe a calm and clutter-free space is crucial to all students. We have not bombarded our walls with alphabet letters, calendars, and job charts. Nor do you find commercially produced bulletin board displays, or labels on every shelf and surface. We do not have teacher desks placed at the front of the class, as this often conveys the message of authority and control. With 36 energetic students, what could we possibly be thinking!?
We have created an environment which is intrinsically linked to and directly impacts both the learning and teaching. We have live plants, big carpets, soft lamps, hundreds of books, meaningful work displayed and both individual and collaborative spaces. You will see an environment that is rarely ever messy because it is shaped by our Grade 4 community who take ownership and great pride in their space. This has helped us to model and teach personal responsibility.
We reflected on the quote by Loris Malaguzzi and felt inspired to think more meaningfully about our Grade 4 environment and through a different lens. We didn’t just move walls around, we strategically transformed our space to meet the needs of everyone in our Grade 4 team.
As a team, we collaborated on the values that we wanted reflected in our environment at the beginning of the academic year. Our mission: for all students to feel empowered as critical thinkers, innovators and collaborators in a calm, inviting and warm learning environment.
Our research led us to mindfully set up within the Grade 4 floor, micro-environments to fulfill different functions. There are however common areas: Campfire, Watering Hole and the Cave. Each of this environment was created with the intention to empower our students.
In certain ancient cultures, elders pass their vision and wisdom through storytelling by the campfire and in doing so, hand over cultural knowledge to the next generation. We created our campfire space with this in mind. The Campfire is where students gather to learn from an expert. Experts are not always adults such as teachers and guest speakers, but are also students who are empowered to share their learning with peers and other teachers.
The watering hole
Also known as the Zen Zone, the Watering Hole is an informal area that promotes a sense of shared culture where students can share information, and collaborate, acting as both learner and teacher. Here, they can socialize, communicate, create, and collaborate in meaningful learning that reflects the world in which they live.
An inviting private space separated from the main classroom, the Cave is a quiet space where individual students can take control of their own learning, contemplate on the meaning of their work, as well as transform learning from external knowledge to internal belief.
In addition, we also have:
- Discovery Den:
Children are naturally curious and teeming with questions. We want to encourage and foster this curiosity. Our students post questions to the wall in the den (give an example) and every so often, we will choose one to research as a group. In addition to this, a teacher brings in an interesting object for the table, leads an experiment or challenges students to build something from our “innovation box”.
- Dazzling Displays:
Instead of teachers making the choice, each student chooses a piece of work that he or she feels proud of and wants to display in class.
The environment is a powerful teacher and we have discovered that when thinking about it as a communicator and shaper of values, it can stir up a new sense of the significance. It has been no less to us teachers as it has to our students - our very own “third teacher”.
When you find yourselves in environments that have purpose and are beautiful, soothing, full of wonder and discovery, then you will feel respected, and eager to spend your days living and learning in this place. Are these the feelings you want your children to experience daily? We want to challenge you to imagine the ideal 21st Century learning environment for today’s learner. What would the similarities and differences be? What environmental changes could you make at home which would inspire and teach your children? I would love to hear your thoughts!