How Do We Cause Learning?
This week, I am participating in a travel/study program in Auckland, New Zealand, with the Office of Innovation for Education (OIE) and K-12 educators from Northwest Arkansas. The trip is sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation.
The first school we visited was Stonefields School. Sarah Martin, principal at Stonefields School, shared how the school staff held ongoing conversations around the question "What is Learning?" Once the staff had a definition of what learning looked like, the adults moved to the next question, "How do we cause learning?" Learner Agency is a focus in every classroom throughout the school. In order to cause learning and learner agency, school staff designed open classrooms with flexible learning space.
A group of 60 students may be working in an open space with three classroom teachers. In one corner, I observed three students working independently on their laptops. In the personalized learning classroom, each student has a series of learning progressions. Five students were working on a draft for their writing assignment and were brainstorming on a table that they could write on and share their draft ideas. In another corner of the room, five students were reviewing feedback from a teacher and reflecting on their work. Students sat on stools, stood at tables, sat in gaming chairs that rocked, and sat on the floor around the room. The student body language was relaxed, unlike the body language seen in classrooms where students have desks and compete with one another to turn in the best assignment. You can take a Virtual Tour of Stonefields School at Visit Stonefields School - Where Learning Is Our Core Business.
At Stonefields School, the Learning Space focused on the whole child, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and contribution. The Learning Space was designed to meet the needs of each learner, not the needs of the adults. The Learning Space was designed to support student understanding and reflection. In several schools in the United States, the Learning Space is designed for compliance. Some schools even design the Learning Space to support whole group learning.
In order to transform teaching and learning, U.S. schools need to ask the following questions about Learning Space:
1. Does the current space support the learning goals?
2. How does the space encourage collaboration and communication skills?
3. Where can students brainstorm and develop their own ideas?
4. How does the lighting impact teaching and learning?
5. Does the learning space influence student voice and student choice?
6. Is the space age appropriate?
7. Do students have multiple seating options?
8. Are the walls used for “Learning Walls” or simply posters from college and pro sports teams?
9. How will students interact with technology in the learning space?
10. Can students work in isolation or are they required to work in a group at every seating arrangement?
11. Does the learning space provide students with opportunities to contribute?
12. Does the learning space encourage compliance over student contribution?
13. Does the space take into account the varied abilities or all students?
14. Is the space designed so students can brainstorm and write on the floor, walls, and/or desks?
15. Does the space encourage student innovation?
16. Does the space tap into students’ natural curiosity and imagination?
17. Is there a sound system to enhance student learning and opportunities to connect with multimedia?
18. Does the space encourage formative/ongoing assessment?
19. Is the space designed for project based learning?
20. Have you asked the students what the learning space would look like if they were the architect(s)?
Once you design a space that meets the students' needs and preferences, you may be surprised at the change in student performance. When you are blogging or reading the news at home, do you put your feet up in a chair? Do you drink a cup of coffee and sit on the back porch? We do our best thinking when we are relaxed. Students can collaborate, communicate, create, and think critically in inspiring learning spaces.
Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (Arkansas). He is participating in "A Learning Journey: Global Perspectives to Ignite Innovation in Education" with two principals and two teacher leaders from Fayetteville Public Schools, along with other educators from Northwest Arkansas. This is a study tour of New Zealand's educational system and selected innovative schools. Efforts will then turn to transforming ideas learned during the study tour into action. The group is focused on learning how to create the conditions to generate, enhance, and scale dynamic innovative approaches to education.