Education by Design: How can schools design its space to reach all types of learners?

I came across this fantastic and inspiring article about schools changing their design, layout and functionality to meet the needs of their students. I think as teachers, we try very hard to differentiate our curriculum, access the right materials and ensure the right supports are in place for out students, but I wonder how we can also think more about the layout of our school and classrooms.

Article here: http://neatoday.org/2017/02/21/school-design/

The article highlights a few schools that have taken an innovative approach to renovating or designing their schools, showcasing new ways of engaging their students and also making eco-friendly and energy efficient choices.

Can you imagine retractable walls to separate groups, but open it up when you need more space? Or foldable furniture the kids can use? How about lego walls and dry erase boards in the hallways? These school are doing it!

When thinking about special education and exceptional students, I can only imagine the possible advantages to some of these designs. Flexible seating could support student’s OT needs and give them the sensory feedback they require to stay focused. Height- adjustable tables and chairs could support the comfort of any child, and carpeted reading steps would be great for students in need of core support.

Schools are starting to knock down walls to create a more open and communal feeling. They are creating ways for children to interact with the space: “At Discovery, the walls, floors and ceilings thematically communicate the progress students make from one grade to the next. The first floor design scheme centers on earth ecosystems. Terrestrial shapes systematically orient kindergarten students as Backyard Adventurers. Upon entering first grade, students become Forest Trailblazers then Ocean Navigators in grade two…When students start school, they sign their name on magnetic disc attached to the entry wall and watch over the years as their disc moves down the wall. ‘This approach gives students a grade-level identity while also engaging them as they interact with the building,’ says Russo.” the school’s principal.

While this article focuses on certain schools and their new designs, I thought a lot about how teachers think about the layout of their classrooms. Especially when they are setting up and unpacking from the summer. As a teacher, we often think about accessibility, the flow, and making the centers in our room organized and perfectly labeled. But once our kids walk in those doors, what do we do with the environment to adapt to them? I have put bands on their chairs, sensory cushions on their seats, velcro under the tables… but the space itself is so small- I feel limited in options. However, I think perhaps we should stop every so often and look at our space.

Does the layout support all my students-or can I move the tables, desks, shelves?

Is the environment rich in text to support literacy development?

Are the walls reflective of their work? Is there too much on the walls and its over stimulating?

These are just some of the questions I am asking myself right now and I plan to do some serious restructuring tomorrow with their desks. I can’t fit another table, but the kids seems to be a but crammed. I will try to see if there is a better set up and I KNOW I can  find a better space for their folders….

On a final note, I am reminded of a time a few years ago when I read somewhere once that the fluorescent lighting can be harsh and draining to some learners. The following year, one of my students with autism asked if he could wear sunglasses to school. I felt awful and tried to get maintenance to switch out the bulbs. Unfortunately they couldn’t, so I draped sheer curtains over the lights that I bought for about $10 at Ikea and I could tell he was much happier. It was not easy, but it was such a simple adaptation for him that improved his experience and made him happier and that is all I wanted for him!

Maybe we don’t have the funds or work at a school thats willing to completely restructure everything, but we are teachers and are creative enough to find ways to make the space work for all of our learners! I can’t wait for some spring cleaning!

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