Reinventing the classroom learning environment

Adam Speight

Award-winning teacher Adam Speight is a Middle Leader in a secondary school in South Wales and also works as an FE lecturer specialising in ICT and Computer Science. Aside from Adam's teaching commitments he also runs his own education consultancy business - Mr Speight Consultancy and since qualifying as a teacher in 2011, he has worked in both Wales and England in the state and independent sectors in a variety of roles. He is always keen to share his ideas and is a frequent educational writer and speaker. Adam is always looking for new, innovative teaching ideas, so that no learner ever gets left behind.

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Is the traditional classroom setting too archaic? Computer Science teacher Adam Speight looks at how he’s designed his Kings Monkton School classroom with progressive learning in mind.

The traditional model of what a secondary school looks like from the outside is diminishing all the time. If you look at any new schools which are being built you will see that vast amounts of money are being spent on how they look cosmetically-speaking. However, look inside them and you’ll see the classrooms within look very much the same as those found within traditional school buildings. This is because these classrooms are normally designed so that the desks are arranged in long lines and the teaching experience is very much teacher-led. This is a big problem, because if learners are to be fully engaged within a learning environment, then the learning environment must be designed in a way which suits them and enhances both teaching and learning.

"There is a specific help station at the back of the room where pupils can go to get the additional materials. "

In terms of enhancing teaching and learning, one of the biggest problems I personally have is with the whole concept of differentiation, and this is because it is often used in a manner which indirectly singles out a specific student by giving them additional help sheets. Within my classroom, this doesn’t happen, and this is because I like all of my students to try and attempt the learning which is in front of them. Only then, if they require additional help, there is a specific help station at the back of the room where pupils can go to get the additional materials should they require them. I find that this help station really benefits teaching and learning as it enables learning to be personalised and student-led. Furthermore, it ensures all students have the same access to additional resources should they wish to access them during a lesson.

In addition to having this help station in my classroom, I also have individual help stations available to each of my students. These help stations come in the form of folders which are attached to each of the computers in my classroom. Each of these folders contains specific learning cards which are A5-sized and cover-specific; literacy, numeracy and Computer Science topics. Students are able to use these cards at any time during their lessons as a means of additional support for any work they are carrying out. For example, if students are producing a piece of written work they might be struggling to include connectives within their work and as such they can simply take the connectives helpcard out of the folder and use it. This means teaching and learning has once again been enhanced, as the differentiation is student-led and specific to the individual.

A big problem which any teacher tends to face with students is getting them to read. In order to deal with this problem I have a specific area set up in my classroom known as literacy corner, and my lessons are designed very carefully so that if a student is struggling with a specific piece of work, such as writing some computer code, there will be a book in the literacy corner which they can use in order to help them.

When a student doesn’t bring the correct stationary to a lesson, it is always a very awkward issue to address as there may be an underlying reason as to why a student doesn’t have the correct equipment with them. Therefore, in order to deal with this problem in my classroom I have a specific corner set out which contains stationary my students can use throughout the lesson. I find this station works really well, as it enables my lessons to start a lot more fluently than if I had to start the lesson by checking who had their equipment and issuing the sanctions to the students who don’t.

In modern classrooms, I find one of the biggest letdowns with how education has progressed in relation to the real world is that we still seem to have rows of tables - rows of tables which don’t reflect the real world; therefore, I believe this is a real problem. In order to resolve the issue, this year I have replaced rows of tables in my classroom with a nice, big, round table where students have to sit around the table during a lesson and plan activities in small groups just like they would in the real world. By implementing this change, teaching and learning has been significantly enhanced, as my students now have no option but to collaborate with each other. It also means the days of sitting in the front / back rows are gone, as all students are equal around this table.

Within a subject such as my own, a lot of equipment is often hidden away from students and is only used at certain times of the year; this is a problem, as it only inspires students at that specific time. Therefore, in order to address this problem I have worked very closely with one of my year 11 students in order to create a wall at the back of my room which contains a whole host of computer components hanging from it. This is really good for students; if they’re stuck with something they are free to take down the computer component that they are exploring, such as a router, and they can touch and visualise what that particular component looks like. Therefore, the student receives a kinesthetic learning experience. Not only do they receive that experience, but the component is always there for them, so even if the topic of routers isn’t being studied, they can still discuss and explore with me as to what that particular component actually is.

In order to conclude this article, it is very much right to point out that all of my methods to reinvent my classroom might not suit everyone, however I do believe it is important from time to time that as teachers we take a step back from our learning environments and think very carefully would this learning environment inspire me? Would this learning environment help me to succeed? Does this learning environment help me to prepare for the real world?

How do you handle to classroom learning environment? Let us know in the comments.

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