This year has been a time of changes for me in many ways. I took a new job in a bigger district and I changed from teaching Honors Language Arts to teaching in an alternative environment. All-in-all, this year has presented me with quite a lot to process (more on that in a later post, which will be linked here) and reflect upon.
After reading Rebecca Hare & Robert Dillon’s book The Space, I felt moved to make some changes in my room. One important distinction that Dillon makes in the book, and frequently on Twitter, is that making changes to augment your classroom and school spaces for learning is about much more than just decoration and frill. Decoration may make students comfortable, but purposeful and intentional design of student space should enhance how students are able to engage with and create content for your class.
Another important point Hare and Dillon make is that students should be given more control over the space and allowed to manage and mediate whatever possible. Just like with our curriculum and content, the space itself should be gradually released to students so they are its authors. What was “my classroom” is now “their space”.
After a quarter of teaching and navigating “my space” with my students and pondering what needs may look like in the future, I wrote a grant for “augmented learning spaces” through the Lee’s Summit Education Fund’s PEAK program. As I was writing it up, I reached out to Dr. Dillon, who gave me a few names of whom I should contact in my area about educational furniture and space planning. Scott Rice Office Works was kind enough to lend me some soft seating from a manufacturer called Norva Nivel. For two weeks, I let my kids play and design. I urged them to be creative in how they considered they needed and wanted to use the space. I put the honus a bit on them to help me get the grant.
Of course, the kids were excited and couldn’t wait to play with the possibilities. I had my own ideas and started off with a basic structure, but said the rest was up to them to figure out. The more creative they were and the more involved they were, the better support I would have to get the grant funded.
I learned a lot about how my students thought while they were tinkering with their space. They were challenged each day to come up with new ideas for that space, and they also slowly realized I was reinforcing the notion that this needed to become “their space” instead of “my space”.
It felt good to watch that lightbulb turn on in each of them:
Wait, we can really do this? Like, you don’t care how we arrange this?
Seeing their urge to author a purposeful space grow, it was easy to share that story and secure the grant we needed to get started reimagining this learning space. I think this moment matters in all classrooms, but in an alternative educational environment, student choice and control of near-academic concerns takes on a whole different level of power than a traditional space.
The Genga blocks from NorvaNivel are just the start. I hope to have an array of modular seating options in the next year which will make my space less teacher centered and more student and learning centered. More details to come!