By Adrienne Cytto, SED 2015
As if student teaching in Sydney, Australia was not enough of a new experience, I immersed myself into the new depths of an open space learning environment at Claremont College Primary School. Although challenging, working in the modern and flexible learning space was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had through SED. When you walk into the space of the year four room, you see that the limits to the ways in which student learning can take place is much greater than that of a general education classroom, especially when you are trying to accommodate for a year group of 53 students.
This open learning space coupled with a co-teaching model was anything but what we think of as traditional U.S. classrooms. Yet the particular set up of the space provided an exciting learning environment, one that was constantly changing and redefying the limits of the classroom. As a student teacher in this setting, it pushed me beyond my comfort level – physically and intellectually as I honed my teaching skills to adapt to the new setting. Below I outline a few of the benefits and challenges I saw to the open learning space and how I implemented instruction to make it an effective environment.
- One of the great things about open learning spaces is that each nook and cranny can be utilized as storage for teachers and students as well as for displaying student work. Additionally, a majority of the walls and posts in the space were whiteboards, allowing students to practice solving math problems, brainstorm new ideas, and record something new they learned each week.
- The year four space, which was shaped like an “L,” included a mini-kitchen with a large conference-like table and chairs, curved and straight tables that could be configured in many ways, and a large meeting/carpet area. This arrangement made it easy for students to be active and constantly move around the classroom and transition from whole group instruction to finding a place to work individually or in small groups.
- As someone with a naturally soft-spoken voice, you can imagine how getting the attention of 53 students in a huge space can be quite difficult. Luckily, in addition to practicing projecting my voice (which did get louder by the end of my placement), I made use of management tools my teacher already had in place. These included ringing a bell, clapping and more to get the attention of all students as they were spread out, which was extremely helpful. While the classroom space was innovative in itself, I also had the opportunity to implement a trial microphone/speaker system that every high-energy classroom needs! As I carried a microphone box around my neck, different speakers were placed around the room. Instead of me having to leave the students I was working with in one area to go monitor off-task students in another area, I could simply use the microphone to give those students a friendly reminder of what they should be doing through a speaker. Not to mention, the system helped me amplify the sound of small, little me to reach 53 students. No system was perfect, but having multiple tools and classroom management routines in place was essential to captivating everyone’s attention at a given time.
I often find that the more choices I am given, the harder it is for me to make a decision. Free range in any given situation is not necessarily an easy task to acquire and I think this is something to remember when entering any learning space. In order to make a classroom successful, there must be a purpose for everything you do. Tables or other work areas should be arranged and rearranged as needed to give all students the best chance to be engaged learners. Also making students partners in the learning environment is crucial so that they take ownership of their belongings and individual space within the class, as well as the shared space and resources that they are fortunate to receive. Keeping these notions in mind, I think open space learning environments can be successful in the future of our classrooms and even more traditional learning environments can borrow modern and flexible tools to incorporate into the classroom as well.
Adrienne Cytto is a 2015 graduate of the School of Education with a degree in Elementary and Special Education