Shaped by the purpose of those who use classroom space to learn, student voice was the catalyst to inform and create a ‘responsive’ classroom environment. Evidence collected indicates that changes in the physical environment combined with choice have an effect on improving students’ learning skills and work habits. Students who have opportunities to choose their workspace or seating within the responsive classroom design, appear more confident, focused, motivated and engaged with a task. As a result, they begin a task promptly and complete a task with greater success. When students have choice of learning partner, they demonstrate improved initiative on a task. As a result, they demonstrate confidence when working on a task and it is possible that they gain a sense of empowerment because they have control of their choices.
When students make choices about where, how and with whom they work best within the responsive design, the teacher guides students in maintaining accountability for their choices: (“Where do you need to be to do your best thinking and learning?” “How is this learning space working for you?”). Often, the question, “How much choice?” becomes a concern that equates to giving up full control to the students. Instead, the benefits of choice in responsive classrooms is both gratifying and liberating for both students and teachers (Kohn, 1993). In fact, the shift from assuming complete control to shared responsibility is profound.
“I think as teachers, we hinder students ability to be independent because we need control. That’s our biggest challenge. When we learn to let go of that we let the kids evolve.” (SWSI Host Teacher)
“Kids aren’t taking over. We’re letting them take ownership of their learning.” (SWSI Host Teacher)
“When teachers work with students to help them develop learning skills and work habits…it helps students become effective learners” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 10).
Although the experiences describe the successes students encountered within a relatively short period of time and the plausibility of motivating that internal ‘drive’, it is important to address some of the challenges encountered during implementation:
· consistent scaffolding to reinforce self-regulation mindset
· addressing the needs of students with special needs
· storage for student / teacher materials
· continue seamless entry over the course of students’ school years
· transition from personal desk to shared ownership
Perhaps one of the main concerns was requiring additional time to implement the ‘responsive’ design and gauge student successes over the course of an entire school year. We also wondered how students, who made gains this year, would respond the following school year in a new ‘responsive’ classroom design? Possible considerations include: funding for pilot classrooms across the three divisions to replace existing furniture and storage, investigating ergonomics of classroom furniture to match student size and age, investigate adjustable and movable furniture, and the role of colour and lighting in classroom.
This inquiry investigating the effects of student choice and changes to the physical classroom environment has had a positive impact not only with students but also teachers. In fact, host teachers have voiced an interest in continuing this inquiry in September, as many are already planning ahead for the arrival of a new cohort of students. Perhaps, this impact can be attributed to changes in deeply held beliefs and attitudes, as one host teacher reflects, “You cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction.” This supports our future intentions of continuing our journey in discovering what responsive design solutions work best for our diverse learners.