Today’s post is a special guest blog post by Grant van der Kruk. Grant is an expert in classroom furniture and how to transform learning spaces. Grant works for Furnware and lives in Singapore, supplying schools in South East Asia (and around the world) with amazing collaborative furniture to support student learning.
I am delighted to be writing this guest piece on Craig’s blog. Craig and I have only been collaborating for a short time, but it doesn’t take long to understand how dynamic Craig is and to appreciate his passion and enthusiasm for young people.
I hope you’ll find my opinions and reflections thought-provoking.
I have had the enviable job of travelling around Australia and SE Asia for the past six years, assisting all manner of schools in their learning space transition with the use of innovative furniture designs. In the past five years I’ve noticed that learning spaces and their design have become an integral part of the overall school environment. The dynamic landscape of curriculum and pedagogy continues to drive innovation in most areas of a school but, surprisingly, the innovation in learning space design has really only just started to become a global “trend”.
When it comes to furniture, the desks and chairs that I sat at in school are still being used today, some 20 years since I graduated. Curriculum design, pedagogies and the way teachers and students interact, have progressed so much, yet learning space design has been left lagging.
In the past few years, attitudes towards space, colour, surfaces and furniture have taken a quantum leap. Where previously, spending money on these areas was considered a luxury, now many schools deem investment in their environment to be a priority.
The advent of MLEs (Modern Learning Environments) is playing a significant role in school transformation as “classrooms” adopt more of a café or airport lounge feel. (It’s where you’ll find me right now in fact).
As I type this, I look around the Singapore Airlines lounge in Hong Kong and I’m interested to see the parallels – different hubs set up to cater for different activities.
There are families reflecting on their trip and the flight home ahead of them. They’re sitting around tables that can be grouped together, or separated depending on how big the group is. In learning space design we would commonly refer to this as a Watering Hole.
I also notice the smaller areas designed for 2-3 people. These spaces contain more casual furniture with soft seating and a coffee table. These guests are reading newspapers or working on their mobile devices.
I’ve chosen to sit at a small booth so I can concentrate on doing some work without distraction (Office or Fortress).
Those guests I observe sitting up at the bar with their coffee are elevated enjoying views over the lounge – we would term this a Watchtower setting in a learning environment.
These concepts are the same in our modern school spaces. Although they may look less structured or “messy”, they have specific purpose assisting to engage students in learning.
The biggest change in attitude I have seen from educators, is that they are setting their spaces up to cater for how students want to learn, not how Teachers want to teach.
I have seen this challenge in many schools transitioning, but I have also seen an unbelievable change in students.
The stories are too many to tell, but I will never forget the change I saw in a 10 year old boy in a Western Sydney Public School.
His parents had no end of trouble getting him to school, fighting to even get him in the gate. You can imagine how well he did in the classroom! I worked closely with this school to design and supply furniture for their refurbished spaces. Day one in this new space saw a new young man as he went from being totally disengaged and affecting his peers’ ability to concentrate, to being able to focus for 15 minutes at a time. This was a huge progression for someone not achieving at all.
What was it that turned this student around? Choice.
He was now able to place himself where he wanted to learn, rather than where the Teacher placed him based on his behaviour.
When I visited he chose to sit on a stool at a standing height table with a Whiteboard surface on it. He went from not reading at all, to writing a full book report on a Whiteboard Table. He wasn’t embarrassed to make mistakes because he could fix it straight away. He had his own space and was not bothered by anyone…maybe more important, he didn’t bother anyone else.
Granted, not every student in every school will have such dramatic results.
We know that empirical research into MLE’s and the improvement of data is yet to surface, but if my eyes and ears are worth anything, learning spaces designed for students (by students…) can have amazing effects.
Have you thought about creating MLE’s at your school?
Here are some concepts I recommend you think about:
– What spaces do you think you students want? Ask them!
– How much flexibility do you require?
– Where can the students collaborate, conduct group project work, have intimate areas for private study?
– What colors and textures can add a new dimension to the space?
– What behaviours do you want to encourage?
There’s a lot of material on Craig’s and my Twitter feed, it’s that’s a great place to start!