Rationale: Why the Shapes?

Every classroom tells a story.

What does yours say about you and your beliefs about learning?

Walk into any classroom and the way it is laid out tells a great deal about the type of learning that takes place and what the owner of the room (the teacher) believes about learning.

Example 1: A room that has a screen/ whiteboard/ blackboard at the front of the room with individual desks, set in rows, facing it. Classrom 1A “classic classroom” depicted in movies and often the mental image we have when picturing our own schooling. The story in this classroom states that knowledge will be coming from the “front”, from the source: the teacher. Students are therefore required to listen and allow their heads to be filled. They may collaborate with the teacher but this classroom is not structured for any other effective type of learning. One would imagine silence and obedience is required for this type of learning to be “effective” although one night question who this learning benefits most: the students or the teacher.

Example 2: A room that has circular tables placed throughout the room with chairs seated to face inwards. Evidently, classroom 2the story here is of collaborative learning where the teacher encourages opportunities for the students to either work in groups or to complete their work in a social way. There are many advantages to this but does this suit individuals who wish to work undistracted, or a classroom where you require all students to be facing the presenter at the front?

There are different shapes of learning that take place in everyday teaching and it was with this understanding that started the journey of the Shapes of Learning. The idea came out of a need to maintain my classroom’s story.

There were new classrooms being developed and as a result, my Middle Primary team and I were facing potential disruptions in our current rooms due to the building work. We needed to be flexible with moving rooms at a moment’s notice, maintain effective learning amongst our students, and minimise the level of disruption that moving between fixed classrooms could cause. Furthermore, we wanted to teach our students independence in their learning as we’d observed that they had become quite passive in their learning and relied heavily on our instructions for independently-led project work. All of these challenges required a simple solution: the Shapes of Learning.

We looked at a series of shapes that covered the different types of learning that take place. Through critical discussion we have been able to identify six key Shapes of Learning and for each, identify 3 points of information: what learning would look like, what learning would sound like and, what type of learning that the shape enables.

It required us to rethink what role classroom furniture and it’s orientation played in the establishment of effective learning for us to be able to make this successful. it was challenging, scary, and confronting but as soon as we implemented the shapes with our students, we saw its success explode. What was once a difficult concept to explain, became as simple as showing a shape.

As a result, our hold on the structure of the classroom setup was given over to the students. I would still set up areas of the classroom to allow for a mixture of learning: collaborative spaces, individual desks, tables facing a whiteboard for small group teaching, and an area to sit as a class on the floor. But the furniture became a tool for the students to move an choose to best suit their type of learning – they were now in the driving seat for their own learning!

Students are nor empty vessels to be filled with knowledge and shipped off into the workforce when they graduate. Learning is a formational practice for both student and teacher, a dynamic thing that grows a individual through personal and social constructs. Therefore, a classroom show be responsive and dynamic also so that the focus in a classroom is effective learning and not the comfort of the teacher’s role.

Does the story of your classroom reflect what you believe about learning?

Do you rely on the comfort of a fixed classroom that doesn’t change its layout?

What would happen to the learning in your room if you allowed it to adapt to the needs of the learner?