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It's not about the furniture - repurposing space ... & assessment

I've been impressed how quickly the architect community has picked up on the need to design the learning space to meet the needs of a new type of learning community. They have been listening to the futurists, educational visionaries, business leaders and school innovators and they have a clear idea that the classroom has to change.

They have come to understand that the fourth economy will need collaborators, creative thinkers and multidisciplinary inquirers. So the classroom clearly needs to evolve to offer a working environment that meets that need.

Hence our catalogues burst with modular desk solutions and the chance to buy sofas, room dividers and comfortable seat pods. If we are fortunate enough to start on a new building we are given the chance for write-on-able walls and more flexible open areas. Curves are a must.

I'm excited about these changes ... but it's not about the furniture ... it is about the mindset.

As a certain wise man once said:

"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined"

Trying to fit a new classroom or school design concept into a traditional approach to teaching and learning will test both to their breaking points. Teachers who have to deliver x particular unit within y weeks to meet the demands of z end-of-unit assessment could bemoan the lack of control that this new environment offers them and wall dividers and "proper" desks may well be requested.

The point I am making is that we have to build the environment around what we want ... and flexible working environments work only when we want flexible learning.

It's actually all about assessment

Education has for centuries been built on conformity. A set number of students per class working through a defined curriculum and measured according a reliable (standardised) assessment. It's been incredibly successful.

Until now.

The messages that our architects have been listening to it that this conformity model needs to adapt if it is going to meet the needs of the modern world. As teachers we need to backward plan to adjust.

We need to challenge the notion of the standardised assessment.

Nothing offers more flexible and creative opportunities than open ended outcomes. We need to offer assessments that are as open plan as the buildings we hope for them to inhabit.

Those of us lucky enough to teach criteria based curriculum have things often much easier. These criteria are often written in general terms (to allow for a wide range of assessment possibilities). Traditionally (even in the newest curriculums on offer) we were trained to use these generic assessment criteria and design an assessment that would allow students to meet them and be measured by them. We often rewrote the criteria to be tailored to the specific task we were asking of them. We then gave the whole group a fixed deadline for them all to complete this specific task, regardless of whether is was that child's "thing" or not.

But why are we doing this? What about we follow in the design thinking footsteps of our co-professionals, the architects:

In the spirit of the diverse seating arrangements, we'll keep the assessment criteria generic and then asking the students to produce something of their choosing to meet them. It keeps the bar at the required level - indeed it raises it because the possibilities are endless and this is daunting - and yet allows for creativity to get there. After all student autonomy is the key to motivation.

In the spirit of the open plan classroom, we'll believe in collaboration on assessments - don't we anyway all inherently know that we'll figure out the reliability piece as we go.

In the spirit of exploration and space to learn, we'll not box the students in with grades but rather focus our feedback on mastery - for this you just have to try the single point rubric.

You see it's not about the furniture, it's about the mindset.

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