My previous post blends with this topic. My argument about the importance of the environment being interconnected is of great importance. The teacher, the students, the community and the disciplines are interconnected. “Knowledge is assumed to be the dynamic by-product of unique relationships between an individual and the environment; learning, then, is a natural by-product of individuals engaged within contexts in which knowledge is embedded naturally” (Choi & Hannafin, 1995, p.53).
Within these elements a structure for learning and knowledge building is grounded. Scardamalia and Bereiter (2010) state that “a supportive environment and teacher effort and artistry are involved in creating and maintaining a community devoted to ideas and their improvement (p. 8). Classroom environments that are interconnected, safe, and welcoming cannot be taken for granted, diminished, or understated. It appears seamless, but is ever so important in supporting deeper learning. When visitors or guests walk into a classroom that is conducive to knowledge building, they comment on how “nice” the room is, maybe it’s the lighting, maybe it’s the shape of the room—but most likely it’s more than that.
As an educator, passionate about functionality and about aesthetics, I have planned my environment carefully. At times, (as I have learned it is not always apparent) I must highlight what I believe makes it a productive learning environment, carefully structured to support the collective and the individual. Here are a few things I have thoughtfully and carefully structured in my environment.
My room has tables. Not desks in rows. When people enter, they can almost feel a sense of collaboration.I have also planned for many adaptable learning spaces. There does not appear to be a “front” to the room and I have often been asked “you only use that small board?” Knowledge and ideas are shared by the collective, not just from the teacher. Areas around the room allow students to sprawl out on the floor, pull up chairs, or huddle together around supplies or tools when they are working.
Students know, expect, and appreciate that we will work with each other, share our ideas and thoughts, question, or agree with each other. I provide opportunities for these experiences, but we also define what learning together is and agree on what we believe will work. We also discuss what it looks and sounds like, and I model productive working with a partner. At times, it is necessary to review this criterion, but at no time do I think (as the teacher) that we will no longer be collaborative because the students can’t handle it. I’ll be the first to admit, some years seem more challenging than others, but I believe collaboration, learning to work together, and sharing thoughts and approaches, are valuable life skills and necessary to build knowledge.
Scardamalia and Bereiter (2010) developed 12 “knowledge building” principles (p. 9). When reflecting on my classroom environment and learning, many of these principles are present. As my students collaborate, they are also building knowledge as a collective and improving ideas as they share, present, and listen to each other. In addition, through collaboration and sharing of their ideas, during exploration of authentic problems and presenting of findings, idea diversity emerges almost naturally.
All learning tools are available to students. Students can use the tools whenever they feel it is necessary. Students decide what tool would best suit the task and their learning. In order to build knowledge, knowing the destination is not enough; teachers need to consider the possible steps in-between or the possible strategies students might try, but also listen, observe and allow students to share ideas. By having tools available, students are able to use tools to help explain or work through their ideas. It also helps to “democratize knowledge” and give “epistemic agency” by allowing students to share their individual knowledge and value each others’ ideas as legitimate. These two principles are also part of the 12 knowledge building principles.
How we structure our learning environments, what our expectations for learning are, what we see and hear when we observe our students, and the way we present lessons and investigations, are all connected to what each individual teacher believes about teaching and learning. I know what I’ve done in my classroom has been firmly grounded in what I believe.
What do you believe? How does that shape your classroom environment and structure?
Choi, J. & Hannifin, M. (1995). Situated cognition and learning environments: Roles, structures, and implications for design. Educational Technology Research and Development. 43 (2), 53-69.
Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (2010). A Brief History of Knowledge Building. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology,36(1). Retrieved from http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/574/276