Remembering to what Winston Churchill once said -“We shape our building; thereafter they shape us,” it is important to understand that - it not only talks of the physical property but space and environment as a whole where students spend their crucial years of life to learn and get enlightened with knowledge.
That said, there is no denying to the fact that ‘learning in the real sense has no end to it and that it’s time we stop limiting it to just the academic aspects.
It is about time that we start to ‘REIMAGINE’ the Modern Classrooms, right from the seats to space and stuff that is idyllic for the learning environments. It is in the interest of our future students.
Even though we talk of the changes taking up in the education space, we continue to see the continuance of classical model of classroom and it certainly needs to be changed if we really wish to bring reform in education. As we spell the words modern day classroom, what comes to your mind? Isn’t it just the physical space?
However, if we go beyond aesthetics or appearance, say how to design the space so that it can impact learning and make the classroom more or less inclusive, you have to give due importance to learners and their varying needs, interests, and backgrounds. In fact, the learning environment expands beyond physical and even cognitive.
One cannot but forget that, the classroom environment is often called the third teacher and its impact and influence on learning can’t be underestimated. Each physical, social, cognitive and emotional element present in the classroom can have either a positive or negative effect on everyone, including the teacher. Research reflects that “stress interferes with learning, Stress and the ability to regulate it varies from learner to learner.” The design of the classroom, with spaces to stimulate or down-regulate, ‘helps all children stay calm, alert and learn.’
Foster an Inclusive Culture
Prominent voices in education from policy makers, teachers to activists and parents needs to look beyond laws, politics, funding and imagine a ‘Utopian System of Learning.’ There is a dire need for relationships and community to connect with people and give them a voice and role. Such is important because at times, the “hidden” aspects of the environment, the social design and emotional underpinnings, at times get shoved-off in the day-to-day functioning of the classroom.
Further, moving beyond setting rules and managing movement and transitions, these aspects of the classroom environment is’ key’ to creating an inclusive environment that strives to meet the needs of every learner. The classroom must foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
It is the power of students, understanding their individual role in co-creating culture which profoundly changes the limited role of students that they have been finding for so long and even today in the classical model of classroom environment. In fact, going a little beyond, the role that we are talking about of students is more than just deciding on classroom rules and jobs, it goes much deeper.
The culture can only be created if one creates a shared value, social norms and goals around the purpose and approach to learning by, for example, bringing students into the process of establishing and maintaining culture; setting up space and time for students to fail and not get demotivated but try again; establishing space and time for students reflection and goal setting; allowing students voice and choice in demonstration and evaluation of their competency.
Here the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is ideal for it is an educational framework that is based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. Because UDL is a research backed teaching approach so it helps all learners to be successful.
In fact, UDL is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that helps give all students an equal opportunity to succeed. Such approach offers flexibility in the ways students access material, engage with it and show what they know. It also helps in developing lesson plans this way, helping all kids but it may be especially helpful for kids with learning and attention issues.
The main purpose of UDL is to use a variety of teaching methods to remove any barriers to learning and give all students equal opportunities to succeed. It is about building in flexibility that can be adjusted for every student’s strengths and needs. That’s why UDL benefits all kids. Such an approach to teaching doesn’t specifically target kids with learning and attention issues. But it can be especially helpful for the 1 in 5 kids with these issues- including those who have not been formally diagnosed. It can also be very helpful for English language learners.
Tools to Foster Inquiry Based Learning and Project Based Learning
Modern day learning environment demands bridging the gaps in the learning space and for this, new pedagogical approach are surfacing out that helps spark inquiry and project based learning that helps attain deeper learning. These approaches help students relate real world problems with what they are learning.
Further, both Inquiry and Project Based Learning is considered to be an active form of learning process that is based on identifying relevant questions to research and gain knowledge as well as skills by working on it for an extensive period of time, in order to investigate and also respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.
To foster such kind of learning that stimulates students mind, there is a need for the schools to seriously consider how to create Makerspace anywhere in the school so that students get a chance to work on projects through the act of making and hands on activities. Such form of progressive classroom settings helps to create life-long learners through exciting and real world projects. In the classroom, the act of making is an avenue for the teachers to unlock the learning potential of students in a way that it thereby enables representation of best practices of educational pedagogy.
With regards to creation of active learning sessions for students, there are several tools that support both Inquiry and Project Based Learning. This therefore makes the job of a teacher easier to engage students in collaborative and interactive learning sessions. And talking of the use of education technology, it is not just helpful to kickstart Inquiry and Project Based Learning but today more than ever the role of edtech in teaching is of great importance.
Taking all of such factors such like creation of inclusive environment, use of modern day pedagogical practices and use of educational technology to make both teaching and learning fruitful, it is important that schools start thinking of ‘Recreating’ classroom environment to cater to the needs of the students in the 21st Century. Once such is met, creating an ideal setting of a modern classroom that supports learning for all finds its real essence.