In a rather long-winded manner I do concede, the point I am making is that if the learning spaces (or classrooms as more commonly and in some case, more affectionally known as) have changed so little, a very robust argument can be put forward that it can therefore be no surprise that teachers, teaching and learning have also changed so little. But what is so wrong with this lack of change? EVERYTHING.
In both images, the physical constructs imply rather explicitly a sense of transmission and powerful control from teacher down to student, from one to many with little visual evidence presented of reverse transfer. The fact that all the student desks are facing the same way also provides credence to the idea that there is one-size-fit-all teaching occurring. What about one-size-fits-all learning I hear you inquire? Yeah right! Compare these images with any photos of a kindergarten or daycare centre or even a primary school classroom; learning spaces that are multi-directional, work stations all over the place, individual agency (to a point) dominant, and individuals exploring their curiosity and creativity till the cows come home. Why should and are high school classrooms for the most part so different and smothering?
I argue it is to a certain extent, down to arrogance and ignorance on behalf of the secondary sector. At the recent Wellington GAFE summit, I was fascinated by a presentation by Scott Mackenzie from Hampden Street School in Nelson who explained to those of us in attendance that many of his students from certain year levels can learn anywhere within the syndicate location they want, on what-ever they want and work with any teacher they want. Surely such going-ons must be illegal or maybe just genius! I'm happy to be corrected but very few high schools in New Zealand allow such agency and student decision-making, let alone freedom to roam.
When a teacher is existing in such a traditional classroom, they default to traditional teaching and arguably therefore, comparable expectations of student independence and agency. I know this from very personal, professional experience. With tacit approval from the top, two colleagues and I one week night, drifted into the classroom where our Chromebook test class was located and subsequently took all the whiteboard-markers, all the individual traditional and rectangular desks, and then screwed the two Chromebook COWs (computer on wheels) smack bang into the front of the whiteboard so that it was basically impossible to access the whiteboard unless one was very, very marginal in stature; which unfortunately one of the pilot class teachers was! Think I'm joking? Sadly, not.
In rather stark contrast last year, I became increasingly frustrated with the physical confines of my Year 13 English classroom. With devices freely-in-play and the whiteboard pretty much redundant, I struggled to find the traditional classroom I was in, meeting my learning expectations and those of my students. Things had to change and promptly did.
Sadly in 2016, this space is not as freely available as it was in 2015. Armed with Chromebooks and timetabled in a traditional classroom, I remain defiant and adverse to traditional physcial confines. Due to the strength of our Wi-Fi saturation, most days up to half my class sit outside or in an adjoining area to the intended classroom. Monitoring of work through physical, verbal and digital checking affirms my belief that such freedom of space leads to freedom of learning, engagement and optimum student success. Even if student outcomes in terms of academic success remains the same as could have occurred through acceptance and location in and of traditional physical classrooms, the journeys that these students have been on to to arrive at their eventual destinations is and will be well worth the effort in my personal and professional opinion.
With such belief in the irrelevancy of traditional classroom constructs and in closing, I find it almost compulsory in such a discussion at this one at hand to duly invoke the famous words of one Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
So true. Couldn't have said it better myself!