Learning Monograph 2012-2013

Tara Kramaric (SWST)

Dufferin-Peel CDSB

“A classroom is like a business. You have to sell it to the kids. You have to advertise student work, set up the classroom for maximum learning [sales] and you have to keep the excitement alive everyday. Choice motivates them!” (SWSI Host Teacher)


Teachers are able to better understand how their classroom ‘space’ functions and identify the ways in which choice has an impact on student motivation, engagement and confidence, by examining their existing classroom learning environments. This monograph focuses on student choice within a responsive learning environment providing for students’ diverse learning needs in the area of learning skills and work habits. The learning theme addresses the conditions in the physical classroom environment that will help students, working their way through level two, move their learning forward. The term ‘responsive classroom environment’ and ‘responsive design’ are used interchangeably throughout this report and is defined as the physical classroom environment designed to support learners by actively responding through ‘choice’ (choice mode of workspace, choice of seating, choice of learning partner) and routinely facilitating opportunities for students to take ownership of their learning, both individually and cooperatively, to optimize their learning and to capitalize on student behaviour that is most important and personally satisfying to them. Representative examples indicate that a responsive design improves students’ learning skills and work habits, outlined in The Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Grades 1 to 12 document (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010).

The way classroom learning space is organized can significantly affect student engagement and learning (Duncanson & Volpe, 2009). In formal spaces, (pictured below) an established ‘learning zone,’ invites students to co-locate with their teacher, who acts as a facilitator guiding the learners and the learning process and offers opportunities to engage in open discussion.

Informal space offers opportunities for ‘serendipitous interactions’ amongst learners to experiment with partnerships and engage in accountable talk.

If classroom design invites specific student behaviours, in what ways does ‘choice’ impact student engagement and learning?

Specific questions guiding our inquiry:

· How are students accessing classroom learning space?

· How are learning spaces utilized by our students?

· When given choice, where do students prefer to work?

· When given choice, whom do students prefer to work with?

· How can we create a responsive design to improve students’ work habits?

This collaborative inquiry, consisted of twelve K-5 volunteer host teachers, who examined their existing classroom learning environments, both physical and social. Rooted in student voice, this monograph describes student experiences transitioning to a ‘responsive classroom environment’ choosing their mode of workspace, choice of seating and choice of learning partner. Choice Theory and Self-Determination Theory (SDT) shapes the basis of this study because both provide a framework in creating a responsive design that emphasizes the importance of students ‘acting with choice.’ The learning supposition that follows, addresses the needs of 49 primary and junior students from K-5 within the Dufferin-Peel CDSB. The theme of student choice and responsive design should not be limited to this range of learners, but rather it is suggested that this inquiry requires further implementation at the intermediate level.

A responsive classroom environment improves students’ learning skills and work habits.

When students choose workspace within the responsive design, they are more confident, focused, motivated and engaged.

When students have choice of learning partner within the responsive design, they demonstrate improved initiative on a task.