Classrooms – does one size fit all?
Would the iridescent beauty of the butterfly exist without the humidity of the tropics; the magnificence of the polar bear’s white coat without the cold of the tundra; the speed of the cheetah without the great plains across which it runs? All creatures thrive when placed in an environment to which they are suited so why is it that people, in all of our diverse forms, are asked to reach our potential in the monoculture environment that is the school classroom?
Having taken largely the same form for the past 150 years, classrooms are typically a one size fits all environment. How can we build classrooms, and classroom practices, that are differentiated according to each individual’s temperament? How can we avoid a situation whereby students (and dare I say teachers) spend their days in either a sloth-like stupor due to lack of stimulus, or in the ‘fight or flight’ response of the overstimulated? Can a holistic education exist without encouraging an understanding of self and the environment in which each of us can thrive?
These questions can lead us to explore how we can encourage students to understand themselves whilst creating varied and flexible spaces in which they can make choices. In doing so they can be helped to find ‘the zone’ where imagination, creativity and questioning can occur.
We can offer an education that addresses the connection between each individuals inner and outer worlds; where understanding emotions and feelings leads to environmental choices conducive to academic attainment. Furthermore, such an environment can lay the foundations for differentiation by content, process and product. Students can be given autonomy by asking such questions as, ‘What would you like to learn?’, ‘How would you like to learn?’ and ‘How would you like to share and contribute what you have learnt?’.
Chaos or Creativity?
Whilst we still have a long way to go to create the conditions described above, it has been inspiring to observe students’ progress since introducing flexible classrooms (in both environment and practices) at Sotogrande International School. Where some suggested that in doing so chaos would reign, (describing apocalyptic visions of students running riot, jumping on furniture and screaming vulgarities instead of completing tasks), the opposite has been the case. The environment and the individual inter-are and so when students can make choices that enable them to find ‘the zone’, the atmosphere, in turn, becomes naturally ‘disciplined’. Offering choices regarding how knowledge and ideas can be shared has created balance between those who are spontaneous and quick to express their ideas and those who take longer to consider questions from multiple perspectives in order to offer a balanced response. Competitive debate has begun to give way to reasoned truth seeking. Furthermore, at a time when stress and anxiety are common issues faced by schools, students report a sense of relaxation, comfort and wellbeing.
If we are to empower young people to contribute to solution focussed, positive change then we must continue to explore how environments can be offered that are suited to their diverse and unique natures.
For more information on our flexible classroom project contact Davide Green at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this interview, David Green, Teacher of Individuals & Societies at Sotogrande International School, explains how he has introduced flexible seating into his classroom. Video by Jamie Templeton, Mad Hatters Film Camp