The following explanations for the 6 shapes are by no means “the right answer”. They are examples of how I have attributed meaning to each one, in collaboration with my students. I hope they serve as a guideline but I would strongly suggest you begin the process from scratch with your students so that together, you can establish a shared understanding and ownership of what the shapes are to you. For further details on this, please read the The Shapes in Action section for how to set up the shapes in your learning space.
Type of learning – Collaborative discussion and sharing takes place. Here everyone is equal in their learning – there is no one leader and the no one is standing over the group. This can be a whole class or small groups of students.
Looks like – Everyone sitting at the same level either on the floor or on chairs in a circle. Only one person speaking at a time, and everyone else actively listening with their whole body.
Sounds like – one person is speaking at a time. The noise level is calm as there is only one voice.
Student responsibilities – Each member of the circle is responsible to the group and the collaborative work being included. Not everyone has to speak but everyone has to listen. Each person is part of circle with no one sitting in front or behind someone else. Problems are to be shared, ideas are to be collaborated and solutions found together.
Type of learning – this is independent thinking and learning. The individual can choose where to work and how to approach the task. They will not collaborate with others and will need to problem solve by themselves. The student will be focussed on their task alone.
Looks like – Students can choose where to sit or work based on their most effective learning environment or “sweet spot”. Once they are there, they stay put. They are focused on their task and have all the resources they will need with them before they begin. The student will not collaborate with others during this learning.
Sounds like – It will be silent as no one will be collaborating with each other.
Student responsibilities – They will need to make sure they choose a “sweet spot” to work where they can stay for the duration of the task and not be distracted by their surroundings. They will also need to have everything they need to help them problem solve by themselves (e.g. pencil case, dictionary, calculator, workbook, etc). Once they are sat, the student will need to be silent and think, learn and problem solve independently . They will not be learning in collaboration with others so will need to rely on their own understanding during this learning.
Type of learning – Two individuals or two groups work collaboratively with each other. Like the Venn diagram, they will need to talk to each other, finding where their ideas differ but more importantly, where they agree. This can sometimes be known as ‘Pair. Share’. They are equal in their views and take it in turns to listen and share.
Looks like – The two individuals or two groups sit either facing each other, or sit side by side solving the problem in front of them. They are equal in their sharing and therefore do not have someone sitting in front or behind each other. Only one person speaking at a time, and everyone else actively listening with their whole body.
Sounds like – One person is speaking at a time. The noise level is calm as there is only one voice.
Student responsibilities – There is no leader therefore students take it in turns to share and listen. They are working collaboratively and must look to find where they agree, but also knowing they might disagree in other areas. Each member of the pair is responsible to the other and the collaborative work being included. Everyone has to contribute for the learning to be effective and everyone has to listen.
Type of learning – There is space to collaborate and discuss but is led by an individual at the front. Often this is teacher directed, or facilitated by them if they choose to stand outside of the U. There is still turns taken in speaking but the learning is directed or work is shared by those standing up and not in the U. This can be done either as a whole class or in small teaching groups.
Looks like – All individuals are sat on the same level (either floor or on seats) in a U shape with a presenter/ teacher standing. They are looking towards them for direction or towards each other if indicated by the leader. They are listening with their whole bodies and are taking it in turns to speak, as directed by the leader.
Sounds like – The presenter or teacher are speaking to the group. Those in the group might be asked to contribute. The noise level will be calm as there will only be one voice at a time or the leader might allow for the class to make more noise as they discuss with the person next to them.
Student responsibilities – Each member of the U is looking to the presenter/ teacher for direction. Individuals might be asked to speak but everyone has to listen. Each person is part of U with no one sitting in front or behind someone else. Students must take it in turns to speak and have to listen closely to the direction of the leader as well as the responses of their classmates in discussions.
Type of learning – The learning is dynamic, organic and free. Learning can take place with or without others and can begin either with the students or the teacher’s intuitive. The trail of learning is discovered and direction is determined by what is found.
Looks like – It can appear messy as students might be indoors or outdoors, working in groups, pairs or by themselves. There is a mixture of approaches and a fluid change between different shapes of learning, according to the students’ or teacher’s preference. Not one person leads the learning, rather the different approaches are chosen out of comfort to help achieve the goal.
Sounds like –The rules still apply for each shape of learning they choose. However, the noise level is high as there are lots of people talking at the same time.
Student responsibilities – Students must understand the task and select a shape or shapes of learning that they feel would help them achieve the goal. The individual then must adhere to the responsibilities of their chosen shape so that the learning is effective.
Type of learning – This is where large classes come together and learning is directed by the teachers. The style of learning is dependent upon the space available and the task required but it can often change while the shape remains a central mass.
Looks like – A large number of students in one space. They are all looking towards the leader (s) for direction and might be asked to talk to each other or share with the group.
Sounds like – There is some noise as there are lots of students in one space and they might be fidgeting. However, there is still only one person speaking at a time, with the teacher(s) giving direction so the noise level is calm. The noise levels will become high when students are asked to turn to talk to each other.
Student responsibilities – Students sit where there is space and listen closely to the teacher(s). They will also have to ignore distractions around them that come from them being unable to choose their effective learning space, and the large number of students in one space. Students will also have to speak louder to be heard by everyone. Each member of the U is looking to the teacher(s) for direction. Individuals might be asked to speak but everyone has to listen. Students must take it in turns to speak and have to listen closely to the direction of the leader as well as the responses of their classmates in discussions.