Vanessa Bianchi
Educator and learner. The opinions expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the York Region District School Board.

Consult with kids. Survey students about what they would like to study, then design spaces  that let them learn what they want to learn. (The Third Teacher)

I’ve cited the book, The Third Teacher on this blog before but I cannot mention enough how influential it has been in my practice. I look to the book for inspiration as well as reminders of schools that promote having student voice front and centre in the development of curriculum as well as design and classroom layout.

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This week the students of room 217 and I engaged in a classroom overhaul, it had become clear that the space was no longer working for us and so a class sketching session ensued. I had students silently and independently brainstorm their ideas in their sketchbooks. Together we listed all the furniture options we had in the classroom as well as stationery items that could not be moved, this was to ensure that all students knew what could be moved and what we had available to us. After the sketching period they had an opportunity to partner with others or have others give opinions on their designs and make modifications if necessary. This was followed by a gallery walk and dot-ocracy (voting with dots) to see whose sketches the class felt would work best for us.

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Make it feel good. Schools that are engaging, vibrant, great places to be foster a sense of belonging that’s important for all kids, especially those at risk. (The Third Teacher)

Here is a gallery depicting what we came up with. I am so proud of their work not only in designing the space but also in terms of how well they worked together and worked to have the space reflect who we are as a class and what we need to make our learning flow.

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Seating in the room is not assigned and students are able to flow freely throughout the space. What this means is that students are responsible for cleaning up after themselves as well as managing their materials. Previously we had been struggling with self-regulation and accountability with managing materials in the classroom, as well as being considerate to one another, while not perfect, the fluidity and feel of the classroom promotes a sense of belonging and ownership and I’m proud to share that students really do appear to be thinking for one another rather than themselves alone.

When I invited them to tell me what would make their space comfortable, they rose to the occasion. This is not a revolutionary idea, there is much great work being done in New York through Design Thinking For Educators that invites students to do the same thing.

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The central focus of our classroom has been the carpet/living room area. This is a welcoming, large space, complete with couch, chairs, pillows and blankets and looks upon a Smartboard which allows us to invite the world into our classroom. Whether the space is used for congress, to Skype, for knowledge building circles or as a work space, it has been a well-used space in the room.

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Dream big and be brave. The rate of technological advancement is increasing exponentially. When designing schools, don’t let today’s reality limit tomorrow’s possibility. (The Third Teacher)

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Lately, I’ve been working hard to create a learning environment that not only reflects who we are as a class and promotes student-lead collaboration but one that inspires students to dream big. I want them to feel as though anything is truly possible and to arm them with the tools to create things as well as change. In allowing students to see their thoughts come to life in the space around them and the curriculum being studied, we tell them that their thoughts matter, that they can impact the world around them and show them the road to make those things possible. In cultivating a space that allows for creation, tinkering and play, I hope that the students feel valued and able to dream, make and try.

Here is the view from our window, if that doesn’t inspire I’m not sure what will!

The Evolving Educator

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Filed under: The Third Teacher

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  1. Elsie:
    Beautiful and wonderful! Fantastic idea in having your students help design the room!! I am back in grade 4 next year, so if it's okay with you, I'm going to be stealing your room design ideas!
  2. vanessa bianchi:
    Thanks Elsie! Yes, please do! Eliminating the assigned seating really helped with students managing their own materials and "giving up" their seat when they went off to work on paired and group tasks! I was amazed at how quickly they attitude toward the space changed and the only thing that changed was that it was their design!
    • Elsie:
      Agreed! I currently don't have assigned seating either per se but it was really only out of necessity since my "classroom" is really the former computer pod. There is no space for traditional desks anyway, so I have two circle tables instead (I'm the Primary ELL teacher). When I go back to homeroom next year, I will definitely experiment with fluid seating again (and enjoy the luxury of having space again!)!
  3. vanessa bianchi:
    I tried it to honour their designs and I LOVE it! Let me know how it goes next year, I look forward to seeing it :)
The Evolving Educator
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