Do you know What a Modern School Looks Like
We asked prominent voices in education—from policy makers and teachers to activists and parents—to look beyond laws, politics, and funding and imagine a utopian system of learning. They went back to the drawing board—and the chalkboard—to build an educational Garden of Eden. We’re publishing their answers to one question each day this week. Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Today’s assignment: The Space. Describe the perfect classroom.
Rita Pin Ahrens, the director of education policy for the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center
Students need to be in classrooms that inspire them—spaces that are light, airy, and filled with examples of work that they aspire to do. Each school will have a variety of spacious classroom settings. Some will be more traditional in the way that we envision classrooms now, but others might be set up outside or within an atrium or amphitheater. There might be desks, cushions, or benches arranged in rows or circles—however the teachers want them, as not every classroom will follow a template. Each classroom will be set up based on what is necessary to meet learning objectives. But schools will prioritize configuring classes to inspire learning first and foremost, and, where appropriate, reflect the diversity of environments that students are exposed to outside a school setting. Students will have beautiful spaces that make them feel good to be at school—with art, living plants, music where appropriate, comfortable seating, and fast internet access.
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Nicholson Baker, the author of Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids
Windows that open are a nice feature, as are clean bathrooms and individual desks that can be rearranged. Smaller schools and smaller rooms seem to work better than larger schools and larger rooms.
Teachers enjoy decorating their classes; the walls of the rooms in which I substituted often held a polychrome profusion of STUFF—posters and charts, and rules and exhortations, and cartoon characters and keyword lists. Sometimes the decor works wonderfully, sometimes it doesn’t. Less is more, in general. If you are forced to go to a place you hate going every day, any sentence on the wall can become an irritant.
Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education
My experience as a high-school principal taught me to never spend too much time worrying about the “small stuff.” I put the arrangement of desks in a room in that category. Students and teachers need clean, roomy, well-ventilated, and well-lit spaces for teaching and learning. Every school will have air-conditioning, and there should be sufficient heat in classrooms when it’s cold, but there should not be over-heating.
Hallways should be quiet, and classrooms should be as sound proof as possible. Desks or tables should be comfortable, and they should be configured in the room as the teacher sees fit, depending on the lesson. Everything about the physical space should be designed so that there is little to distract from teaching and learning.
I have seen movable walls come and go, and I have witnessed the debates over blackboards and whiteboards, and desks in a circle versus desks in a row. Yet in the end, we seem to come back to designs that are pretty traditional. I think that happens because those designs serve our students and teachers pretty well.
Catherine Cushinberry, the executive director of Parents for Public Schools
In general, there will be different types of movable desks varying in size and capacity—individual, long, and round. Chairs will be movable and will not have an attached desk. There will be large pillows near the windows. Students will be able to find a place that is comfortable for them. Standing will also be allowed, even when students are using computers. There will be a large open space that will serve as a community gathering spot. The classroom will have big windows to let a lot of natural light shine through. The room will be colorful without being obnoxious—colors will be blues, greens, whites, and yellows. There will be multimedia equipment in the room, along with the latest computers. There will be areas where students can post ideas to help make the learning environment more engaging and fun. The classroom will also be tailored to the topic, but all will have interactive stations where hands-on learning can be experienced by all students
HAYLEY GLATTER, EMILY DERUY, AND ALIA WONG