Physical and Psychical Space in the Classroom

October 27, 2007 at 11:47 am | Posted in best practices, collaborative groups, education, learning modality, strategies, teachers | Leave a comment

Lately, this topic has been on my mind.  I would like to examine a “case study” to illustrate how physical space and what I jokingly call psychical space must align in order to produce real learning.

Physical Structure

In this real classroom at my school, a teacher arranges the tables and chairs into groups of six students.  The students face each other.  The table groups are arranged throughout the overall classroom.  The teacher explains that this fosters collaborative group learning.

On the surface, this sounds like a good idea.

Psychical Space

The table groups are arranged in such a way that there is no “carpet space”, a place for the students to come together on the carpet throughout the day to interact as a whole class.  The students are expected to remain at their tables and not interact with students at the neighboring tables.  The teacher has a desk at the front of the class and stays there.  He does not rotate or walk among the students.  Students in the “collaborative” groups are expected to work quietly at their individual work, with very little small group work assigned.  In reality, the students are isolated from each other and from the teacher.  There is no real collaborative learning going on.  (Also, because I’m nitpicky, a third of the students face the back of the class, a third face the sides, and only a third face the front where the teacher is and where instruction takes place.)

Alignment

Almost any physical arrangements in the classroom can work to enhance learning, so long as teacher thinks through what the goals are in the classroom.

This teacher wanted a physical space that fosters collaborative group learning.  To make it work, he needs to arrange his teaching to foster collaborative group learning as well.  He needs to teach students how to work in groups in a focused manner and then have students actually work in groups in a focused manner, not just do quiet individual work sitting in a group.  He needs to collaborate with the students as well by interacting with them, moving among them, having conversations with each group and each student.  To further enhance collaborative group learning, he can change the groups for different activities, have students present to each other, have different groups converse with each other.  While not necessary, I prefer a carpet space where all students can come together and discuss as a whole group in close proximity to each other and with the class.  If the arrangement of the tables don’t have all students facing the “front” of the class, then have instruction take place all over the classroom. 

So, what’s your physical space and psychical space like?

Please leave comments with your reflection or link back from your blog.

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