Learning Commons in the Classroom

by mrsapia

I have a saying in my classroom: “Sorry about the laughter, volume, chaos, and mess, but we are learning here!” I am trying to harness the strengths each scholar possesses by providing them with an environment where they can thrive, using an educational philosophy that is “outside the box.”

Imagine a classroom that goes against the grain of everything you’ve learn from your upbringing in “traditional” education. Imagine a space where students have the choice to sit where they’d like.  Imagine a space where students are free to move around as they please in the name of engagement and achievement.  Imagine a classroom built on trust where students can own their learning. I can and I am currently in the middle of creating a classroom that I would like my son to attend when he begin his academic career and that I would have liked to attend growing up.  Growing up, I had a very difficult time sitting still, and it continues to be an issue, especially during one size fits all professional development.  Put yourself in the mind of a child who has to sit still all day.  Research shows that the brain develops and is more engaged when opportunities to move are present in the classroom.

Scholars learn best when given choices of how/where they can learn. Having two new stand up desks, two exercise balls, two high top tables, and a coffee table, students are able to freely move around the classroom and complete their assigned work using the materials mentioned above. Students read, complete literacy activities, as well as social studies assignments independently and in groups. Teamwork and focused collaboration is highly emphasized. Those are both very important skills to learn, in addition to academics. My students have mentioned that they focus better when standing up and working and/or sitting on exercise balls.  They have augmented on-task behavior to have no boundaries between them and their learning.  I’ve seen a significant decrease in off task behavior, not only because the lessons are engaging, but because student’s have the choice to work that will best fit their needs.

With regards to the couches, students are assigned days to sit on them, because it became an issue early in the year.  Once a schedule was established, everything flowed smoothly.  I also have a large blue carpet in the “front” of the classroom were we meet to conduct mini-lessons, reflect on new learning, and work collaboratively.  I also have a kidney table in the back of the classroom with erasable white paper for students to use during small group instruction. Additionally, I have started a “Reading Graffiti” wall using erasable black paper for students to write down book recommendations.  This idea came from Donalyn Miller from Reading in the Wild.  If you have not read this book, DO IT!

I raised the money for this project from the generous donations of parents and anonymous donors via Donor’s Choose.  I blasted out the link via my classroom website, Remind, Instagram, and Twitter.  Within five days, the project was fulfilled and the materials were on their way!  Anything is possible, so don’t be afraid to ask parents to help fulfill your classroom vision.

In what ways have you transformed your classroom?  What is your vision for a classroom redesign? Take a look around your classroom and see in what ways you can utilize your space to make it more student centered. I’d love to hear your feedback.  If you’ve made it this far, feel free to follow me on Twitter @mrsapia_teach