Understanding and managing classroom space
Classroom environment interacts powerfully with teaching and learning, so how can you ensure teachers throughout your school are making the best use of the space to maximise the learning that goes on? Jane McGregor explains how, even when changing the size of the space is not possible, there is much that can be done tochange how the space within classrooms is used
Space is fundamentally implicated in creating and maintaining the school and the classroom. In this understanding, rather than a predetermined place, schools may be seen as a result of relationships and materially embedded practices. As discussed elsewhere in this publication, the architecture of schools and classrooms embodies ideologies of educationand pedagogy through their physical arrangement and the interaction with social space. This is employed through timetables, rules and other habitual organisational practices. Space has such a taken-for-granted quality that it blinds us to the fundamental ways in which the school is spatially constituted. In secondary schools, the almost ubiquitous orderings of classrooms, laboratories, dininghalls and staffrooms obscure the way in which the setting is active in sustaining certain power relations between adults and students and between different groups of students (McGregor, 2004b). The environment can only make a difference if it is used by creative teachers with an appropriate curriculum and resources. Yet for many teachers their environment is still a blind spot: unchanging,unchangeable and beyond their control – an obstacle that they must work around, rather than a tool to support and enhance their practice.
Harmful effects of poor learning environment
The effect of low-quality learning environments can be to: ■ reduce the range of teaching and learning styles possible and affect the interaction between teacher and student ■ undermine the value placed on learning ■ notmeet individual needs by being poorly adaptable ■ hinder creativity ■ be inefficient, wasting time and effort ■ cost more in the long term.
General teaching spaces have been dominated in the last century by one type of design: tutorfocused, one-way facing and presentational, with seating arranged in either a U-shape or in straight rows. Technologies have subsequently been added – interactive orconventional whiteboards mounted on the wall behind the main speaker, ceiling-mounted projectors with cabling to a laptop, a wireless network and/or wired computers – but these have rarely altered the dynamics of the design. (Alexi Marmot
Yet, it does not have to be like this. If starting from scratch, there are more possibilities for innovation and, as a precursor to theBuilding Schools for the Future programme, a series of well-funded and innovative pilot designs for ‘Classrooms of the Future’ have been developed with 12 local authorities, sponsored by the DfES. The ideas are available on the website: www.teachernet.gov.uk/ futureclassrooms, although not all of them have actually been built or posted on the site as yet. The case study article on Yewlands School inSheffield, on pages 44–50, shows how one example Classroom of the Future is integral to a Skills for Learning curriculum.
(Design Council, 2005b)
Schools and classrooms that trace their origin back to the late 19th century present universally recognised images across nations and cultures. Their familiarity and continuity presents them unproblematically, somehow pre-existing and almost immutable.The ‘hidden curriculum’ is one way in which power operates and school space is increasingly understood to be important in constructing and maintaining it. People are shaped not only through social interaction but also through the material world in which they live. The physical setting, such as the arrangement of rooms and the objects within them, conveys subtle (and more overt) socialisation...