Taryn takes us through her two year design journey in which she experimented with classroom design to see its effects on students and their learning.
Taryn Braithwaite teaches grade 4/5 at Castle Park Elementary. Below is an article she wrote for Occupational Therapist, Lynda Swain.
The design of our classroom this year came about from my previous year students asking for a type of space that was missing within our classroom. My class last year was one of those rare gems that comes along every ten years or so. Their capacity to work together and collaborate never ceased to amaze me. While working through various types of projects they were always asking for different spaces to work and we constantly found ourselves moving furniture and laying down bits of carpet to get comfortable together on the floor.
It was at this time that I started to think more about the classroom environment and wonder how I could create these spaces naturally within my room. In weekly class meetings we started to talk about our need for these spaces and ways to create them. We came to the conclusion that we needed more space for students to work naturally and comfortably together and that we were going to have to get rid of some furniture to do it.
At the time I was also working with Holly Stibbs, one of our intermediate LSTs. I began to voice some of my questions and wonderings of how I might go about making changes within my room, and she connected me with Greg Miyanaga, who you might recognize as curator of the Bright Ideas Gallery through my43.
A visit to Greg's classroom made me see the possibilities that could be had within 4 walls. He put me on to the book The Third Teacher-- and agreed to come and see my classroom to make some suggestions. After a visit and sharing some ideas that matched the philosophy of what I was hoping to achieve within the classroom I was able to take the ideas back to my own room. In further discussions with my class they were able to give ideas of what the classroom could look like and helped me brainstorm the materials that they thought we would need in the classroom to make it work. The re-designing of the classroom would take a summer and a lot of time on Craig's List to transform.
Over the course of the summer I set up the classroom with the suggestions of my last year’s class, and Greg Miyanaga’s voice in my ear. We needed a "campfire area*" - a place to all come together and talk in a comfortable and trusting environment, "water cooler areas*", where students could come together in small groups to collaborate on various projects, and "cave*" areas where students could work on their own when they needed the quiet and solitude. As I began to place furniture I also knew that for my new students to accept and respect their new space they would have to have a hand in the design of it.
[*I took these from James Clarke/Isis’ Learning Journeys who adapted them from David Thornberg – gm]
September was an exciting time for me as well as my students- this was very new for all of us and we were finding our way together. Our most powerful moments came from our morning meetings in our “campfire area”. From our checking in on the mood meter, connecting with each other, to our mindful breathing, our mornings are a time of peacefulness and content. It is the best time to talk about what is working in our space and discuss changes that need to be made.
Since the beginning of the year these discussions have caused our room to morph many times and I have noticed that the way students use it has also changed. Initially many students preferred to be in chairs around tables and needed the structure of defined areas. Now I notice that most students gravitate to a lower position, laying on the floor or working from their knees. These changes in our comfort levels have necessitated changes in the configuration of our room. Much furniture has come and gone over the past few months and I imagine it will continue to do so.
The biggest change for me in the feel and mood of the classroom comes from the lighting. We no longer use overhead lights and instead use natural light from the windows as well as lamps and hanging lights. The softening of the light changes the way I feel in the room, and is the most common remark I get from the students as well as strangers that walk into our space. “The soft light makes us calm, comfortable and more ready to work.”
I am enjoying another amazing group of kids this year, and I do believe that part is due to the space that we have created together. By talking to and trusting one another we have designed a room that has a space to meet all the different learning styles and needs. Dialogue is the key to students expressing what is and is not working for them in terms of our learning environment. By being flexible and changing with the needs of the whole, our classroom design will continue to change and develop along with the students in it.
For more information, please contact Taryn: firstname.lastname@example.org