Powerful Learning

15 February 2017

Learning Spaces Design

Learning Spaces Design

What a difference a year has made in terms of learning spaces for our Junior School girls. With Week 3 upon us, we are thoroughly enjoying our new building. During our Parent Information Night last week I spoke about the evolution of both learning spaces and work environments over time, outlining the principles which underpin the design of our rebuild. I have included a summary of learning space evolution below and will share an overview of our building design next week.

During the 1900s the guiding principles of school design centred on uniformity, efficiency and standardisation. Schools were largely designed as factories for children to be educated in preparation for labour work. Large schools were built and run for economies of scale to educate children at the lowest cost possible. Single desks were arranged to allow the children to follow the instruction of the teacher. The design of schools reflects the design of workplaces throughout history, with the 1900’s workplace designed for individuals to complete repetitive tasks requiring minimal interaction with colleagues.

In the 1950s the notion of the teacher as the preacher at the front of the classroom continued and was reflected in classroom design. The teacher was ‘the font of knowledge’, filling the empty minds of the children through a process of listening passively, writing notes and absorbing information. Repetition was the order of the day and if you didn’t get it the first time you kept repeating it until you did. The workplace of the 1950s also reflected this approach, with single file resource-rich desks promoting minimal sharing and interaction.

In the 1970s the emphasis was on textbooks and copying notes from the board. Sitting in pairs was a revolution, but the teacher continued to be at the front as the font of knowledge. However, for the first time we see a softening of the space, with flowers and decorations and perhaps a slightly less formal tone. The workplace of the 1970s promoted segregation of employees through partitioning, favouring a silent and independent working environment.

The 1980s and 1990s brought the introduction of bulky computers in computer labs, with single computers dotted throughout classrooms. Gathering mats were introduced, with children gathering for stories or focused teaching sessions. For the first time we saw wide open spaces in a classroom.

By 2014 the notion of a silent classroom favouring students at individual desks had been relegated to history, just as the silent workplace has also become a thing of the past. Long days at your desk, facing the chalk/white board, were replaced gradually over time with a move to what we now describe as collaborative classrooms, learning spaces filled with the buzz and energy of learners constructing meaning. While at Ruyton we were working towards a more innovative model of education, with students inquiring, collaborating, creating and constructing meaning, the learning spaces were disabling rather than enabling such practices to thrive and prosper.

Teachers encouraged students to participate in inquiry-based learning, to engage in dialogue and to collaborate, but desks were designed for individual or paired learning, resources separated, and technology retro-fitted to a building no longer fit for purpose.

While we survived the industrial model of education, we were being prepared for a world that is very different to the one in which we now find ourselves. The skills and knowledge that our girls will require are vastly more complex than those we needed in order to move beyond the school gates. Hence the need to re-imagine the Junior School learning environment. 

Mrs Nicole Ginnane
Deputy Principal, Head of Junior School