Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved. -Mattie Stepanek
So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about collaborative spaces and their importance and relevance in learning. Early childhood classrooms are collaborative by nature and the furniture provided in these classrooms allow for students to be in small groups. But what about other grades? Why is this important?
Think about your recent professional development experiences. Were they in a classroom somewhere with desks in rows or were you at tables where you could easily see your table mates? By their very nature, desks in rows inhibit conversation, eye contact, and community. Plus, they are not very comfortable. I start squirming after a short time in these seats. The times I’ve been in PD at tables, it is immediately possible to engage in conversation, share, and build relationships. It just feels better and more personal.
Our students are no different. They need the ability to learn from their peers, to question, to share, to feel safe in a group and not feel isolated. When we use collaborative groupings with tables, we are saying we are a community. We learn from each other and I, as the teacher, am not the sole disseminator of knowledge. The room arrangement instantly, and silently, shares your values as an educator.
As we use iPads, students are immediately collaborative. They want to share what they’ve done, and in doing so, their peers are able to participate in the collective wisdom of the group. Collective wisdom…so important for students and adults. The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” applies to many aspects of growing children. No where in that saying does it say “the village” has to all be adults.
As an adult, when I have to learn in isolation, I find myself sometimes feeling anxious. Especially if the concept is complicated. I may even feel like I just don’t get it…what’s wrong with me? Everyone else seems to get it. In collaborative learning, I might find that others don’t understand either. This immediately relieves anxiety knowing I’m not alone. As a team, we figure it out together. All students, from the smallest to the tallest, need to feel safe and supported in learning new content. By having the ability to work collaboratively, in a space that supports collaboration, students are more likely to take risks.
My classroom has many collaborative spaces. There are tables that seat 4 and 6. I’ve pushed 2 rectangular tables together for a larger collaborative space. There are rugs and pillows on the floor that allow students to spread out and be comfortable. As I stated earlier, early childhood classrooms are equipped for collaboration. I recently saw this video on Edutopia showing how a middle school teacher used what was already in his classroom to make the space more collaborative for his 35 students.
Take a good look at your classroom design and see what it says about what you value as an educator. Student input is also valuable. What changes can you make to increase collaboration and student engagement?
Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!
student desks photo credit: Creative Commons