10 ways to think about your learning space…

We’re moving into a brand new school building in 2011, which will mean exciting opportunities for change. (More about that later). Meanwhile I have started to think about what to take. Here’s my current thinking…

Moving on

The latest in the series isn’t quite 10 ways, but rather 10 questions to ask yourself when setting up your class:

1.  Who owns the learning?

If the teacher controls all learning in this room, the desks will need to face the front. If you want your students to take responsibility for their own learning, they won’t need to face the teacher.

2. What’s more important, collaboration or quiet?

If you value real collaboration above silence, the students will need to sit in groups (ideally not more than four to each group), to facilitate conversation, cooperation and collaboration.

3. Does every learner have to do the same thing at the same time?

If not, your learning space will have areas for different kinds of learning to take place simultaneously. Places for a small group to sit. Place to gather round a computer or sit with laptops. Places to share learning. A place to work on your own.

4. How is meaning constructed?

If you believe that people need to talk through things, bounce ideas off each other, ask and answer provocative questions in order to construct meaning, your students will need to sit in groups.

5.  Do I value a culture of thinking?

Again, tables will need to be grouped. You’ll need a display space to make the process and development of thinking visible. Powerful central ideas and essential questions will need to be visible to promote and sustain higher order thinking and engagement.

6.  How can I promote inquiry?

Early years teachers do this best. They have tables with objects and artifacts that get kids interested. We can do it with older learners too. Use powerful pictures. Create a ‘Wonder Wall’ where students’ wonderings are on display. Post kids’ questions on the wall for others to think about.

7. Why is this on the wall?

Anything on your display boards or walls should be there for a reason related to the learning.  Don’t hang it up just because it’s pretty, or because you always have or to fill a space. Take it down if it’s old and no longer relevant. Keep it up if students can refer back to it, to make connections between new and prior learning.

8. Do I need it?

Clutter can hinder learning. If you haven’t looked at it in the past year, you probably don’t need it! Less stuff means more learning space. Less furniture means more flexibility, more space to move around. Throw it out!

9. Does learning only happen in the classroom?

If you don’t believe learning is limited to the classroom, you can  ‘flatten the classroom walls’ and bring the world in. Download Skype so that your class can communicate with people around the globe.

10. This one’s yours…

When I first started blogging, a friend warned me to take care not to write in a know-it-all style. Readers don’t like preachers, he told me. It sounded reasonable to me. And now here I am writing the 10 ways series, in which it might sound as if I am doing exactly what he cautioned against. I hope not! In reality, I am putting forward my ideas, pulled together from experience, my own learning, sharing with colleagues, reading and thinking about what others write. What I really want is for others to add their own thinking and challenge mine, collaborate with me on creating something bigger and better, each time…

It’s not too late to add to these:

Series of posts on ’10 Ways …’ #6

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning

10 ways to foster a love of learning

10 ways to create a culture of thinking

10 ways to grow as an educator

10 ways my thinking has changed


40 thoughts on “10 ways to think about your learning space…

  1. I like how you have put reasons for whatever is there in the learning space. We often do things but dont think WHY.
    You articulate the” why” so well.


    1. I think that is so important, so many people think about learning spaces in terms of practicality, not how space can influence learning and pedagogy. You have articulated this well here, and have made me think- thanks!


  2. Thank you for this list. I plan to use it when I put my room back together this Monday.

    One challenge for you- You suggest that if you don’t need it, “Throw it out.” How about, “find someone or some other building that might need/use it and donate?

    (I say this bc we have a teacher in our building who throws out crayons every year when the tips aren’t sharp. The custodians and I take them out of the trash. I have never bought a box of crayons in 7 years!)


  3. Agreed! I often wish for my old classroom (another time, another state) where I had a combination of tables and desks and students could move to a work space that best suited their needs. My walls tend to be rather barren at the start of the school year and as a learning community, we fill it up with the things we need.


  4. Thank you Edna… I will be keeping your thoughts in mind as I begin to put my classroom back together!! Having a vision of what you want from the learning space is key and your 10 Ways to Think About Your Learning Space really encourage thoughtful, purposeful design of learning. I will be asking myself these questions as I begin. How do you envision the learning that will be taking place? What do you want your kids to experience in that space? Good luck to all as we gear up for the new year!


  5. Edna, your posts are some of my absolute favorite reads. I have more of your posts bookmarked than anyone else I am sure! Thank you for the way that you make us think. Here is my addition:

    How can the classroom reflect your students this year? I think it is important for us to learn about our students and let them own the space and make it their own each year.


  6. Really helpful as I am returning to class teaching from consultant role last two years. I setup my class space next week.Was tempted to go with what I always do although have lots of new ideas in other areas. As always a great blog post thank you.


  7. My challenge: can you walk into a classroom and immediately see: “whose classroom is this – the children’s, the teacher’s or the educational poster company’s? Children’s words on display – from their oral language or from their pages – inject the personality of the group and show how the group makes meaning together.
    Further challenge: there is less visible evidence of learning on the walls of the secondary classroom. Why? How can this be changed?
    Thanks for the opportunity to have a say Edna.


    1. Excellent challenge, thanks.
      Further challenge is really interesting… If you have beliefs about how learning works and what’s valuable in learning, and these are reflected in your teaching as well as in your classroom, why should high school be so different?


  8. OMG My whole world is crumbling. Seriously, though, I really love my colorful, inspirational posters. And I have TONS of ’em…Sigh. But what you’re saying makes so much sense…and I always get amazingly creative posters and stuff from my students but have no space to display it. I think this is going to be a year of big (positive) changes for me. Thanks for getting me thinking!


  9. This blog post is so helpful. In my Diigo library, I have a tag titled “New Teachers” and I bookmark different article and blog posts that I will be able to use when I am preparing for my first classroom. I am a preservice teacher right now and plan to be teaching full-time by the Fall of 2012. Blog posts like this one are golden nuggets for me; I cannot wait to refer back to them and use them to supplement what I learn in my college courses. I have already opened up your other “10 things lists” and will be reading them tomorrow, if not tonight. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experience to the world.


  10. Dear Ed,

    I am a new coordinator and in a candidate school. It is wonderful for me to have your words as additional input for the teachers who are learners about the PYP and inquiry learning. They need to see and hear from other than just me. I thank you for your clarity of voice and thought. Keep speaking!


  11. This year we dumped the teacher’s desk and spread out the groups (4 desks to a group). The room still feels cramped, but it is so much nicer not having that beast of a teacher’s desk (cluttered, never used, wasting space) in the way. We are hoping to create learning stations/centers for more independent and self directed learning.

    Any suggestions for a tight space…we’ll have 30 desks, but want to figure out a way to open up the room even more.

    Thanks for your ideas.


  12. Hi Edna. Great thinking prompt. I always set up my tables in groups – would love to restrict to groups of 4 but not quite enough room so make do with groups of 6. I also try to leave some floor space so that kids can congregate on the floor for discussions etc. I definitely need to think about what’s on my walls though – and, more importantly, why!

    Thanks again for instigating some (overdue) thinking.


  13. Hello Edna

    I’ve just found your blog via twitter. Here’s my tuppence worth…

    1) Consider what is the learning space and whether this is most appropriate for children. Much effective learning comes from first hand real world experiences…outside the classroom.

    2) Consider the hidden messages of your learning space. For example, having displays with lots of crisp new paper and many bought resources may conflict with any teaching about environmental sustainability and the need to reduce, re-use and recycle.

    3) There is substantial research about the positive impact of having access to greenspace and natural materials. The more “green and blue” in your learning environment, the calmer and less stressed everyone is (Wells & Lekkie, 2000). Adults and children. Have lots of plants in your room (why not grow a forest). Furthermore a PhD student, Kathleen Bagot (2009) from Melbourne has conclusively linked the amount of vegetation in primary school grounds to concentration levels and subsequent impact on attainment levels within schools.


  14. Fab post, Edna. I love the idea of a “Wonder Wall”. A couple of years ago I stuck a big piece of paper on my cork board and coloured it to look like a wall. Then the students could grafitti their favourite English words and phrases onto it. It got students from other classes interested too.


  15. Another fantastic post! You really have me thinking about how I’ve set-up my classroom and what I can do to continue to provide the best possible learning opportunity for my students.

    Thank you!


  16. Great post. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the layout of my classroom this summer which crystalised in a debate on #ukedchat last week: I am a firm believer that children learn best in groups and was shocked to find that not only do many teachers still espouse seating in rows, they actually defend it! Here is the post I wrote on the subject: http://learningspy.edublogs.org/2011/08/26/how-to-sort-your-seating/
    Thanks, David


  17. Great post I am responsible for a learning spaces group here at City and find this blog very useful to include in our own City blog. This will make our academics think about how to use our seminar rooms in a more constructive way. I hope you don’t mind me linking directly to your post. Ours is on dreamweaver so I hope i can conbect the two! 🙂


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