UDL & Agile Space Design

#UDLChat 02/06

Parker Palmer's Paradoxes of Learning Space

Often, the most inspired learning environments embrace the ‘tension of opposites’ in the design process. For example, allowing spaces to be traditional enough for the teacher to be in charge but also to allow for student-driven learning to take place at the same time. When done well, they are not only support ‘architectural’ tensions, but more importantly they support ‘human’ tensions and varying relationships/needs over time. In Parker Palmer's book The Courage To Teach he explores 6 Paradoxes of Space.


They are listed below and we will use them for reference in the chat.





  • The space should be bounded and open. Learners engaged in exploration need scaffolded focus. However, space needs to be open to the many paths down which discovery may take us.

  • The space should be hospitable and “charged”. When exploring we need places to rest and find nourishment.But if we feel too safe, then we may stay on the surface of things. Space needs to be charged so that we may know the risks involved in looking at the deeper things of life


  • The space should invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group. This involves building environments both so that individuals can speak and where groups can gather and give voice to their concerns and passions.

  • The space should honor the “little” stories of those involved and the “big” stories of the disciplines and tradition. We need to be able to explore how our personal experiences fit in with those of others; and how they may relate to more general ’stories’ and understandings about life.

  • The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of community. Learning demands both solitude and community. People need time alone to reflect and absorb. Their experiences and struggles need to be respected. At the same time, they need to be able to call upon and be with others.

  • The space should welcome both silence and speech. Silence gives us the chance to reflect on things.At the same time we need to be able to put things into words so that we gain a greater understanding and to make concrete what we may share in silence.

Wait... What's a Paradox?!?

A paradox is self-contradictory statement. Remember when Hamlet said, "I must be cruel to be kind"? That's paradox? Ever seen jumbo shrimp on a menu? That's paradox too!

The Questions


Q1. Palmer's first paradox is space should be bounded and open. How do the UDL Guidelines support the design of this paradox and what does this look like in your space?

Q2 Palmer's fourth paradox is space should honor little voice and big voice. How do the concepts of UDL create tradition and discipline AND honor individuality?

Q3 Learning environments have been called the "Third Teacher." How does (or could) your learning environment act as your third teacher? How does it embody UDL from a lens of space?
UDL Guidelines bt CAST